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Train the trainer

Here are some gather thoughts on how to train people to make and run training.

Most aspects of training are on a slider: there are trade-offs and compromises to be made. For example: having a packed agenda means covering more material, but covering it in less depth. Having a light agenda means covering less material, but covering it in more depth.

Good facilitation happens before, during, and after the actual session. It’s worth doing a little “too much” work before and after the session to get the best outcomes for the attendees.

Some preferences

Prefer active, short, varied content to keep learners learning.

  • Prefer active to passive. We learn by doing. Attendees should spend most of the session doing the thing and getting feedback on how to improve. Prefer writing to reading, and talking to listening.
  • Prefer shorter to longer. Keep things to 10 minute chunks. Have a short break activity between parts of the session. When sessions are longer than an hour, have regular breaks.
  • Prefer different to same. Humans are wired to seek novelty. Mix up formats, types, channels, and lengths to keep people awake and interested. Work solo, in pairs, and in groups.

For longer sessions, prefer a flexible curriculum to a fixed one. Have modules that can be chosen by the learner.

Planning the session

Make it relevant

Learning is strongest when it’s relevant.

  • Use the piece of work they brought with them, mentioned in the warm-up activity.
  • Help people make connections between what they’ve learned, what they’re doing, and their work.
  • Show how to get started with small wins that stack up and lead to big ones. Make small but meaningful milestones.

Ask for tiny bits of feedback during the session. Tweak things as you go along, where possible.

Make it varied

  • Mix up formats: reading, writing (including annotating), watching, thinking, doing. Use images to make it more memorable. Use metaphors to make connections.
  • Mix up groups sizes: solo, in pairs, and in groups.
  • Mix up activity length: one-minute reviews, 20 minute working sessions, 10 minute group discussions.

Make it active

  • Prefer writing to reading, prefer talking to listening.
  • Spend most of the session Doing The Thing and getting feedback on how to improve.
  • We learn by retrieving from memory. Use one minute reviews to ask people to recall something from earlier in the session.
  • Use pair-share and teach-back activities where attendees pair up and teach each other.

Example activities

Mix up format, group size, activity length.

Looking forward

  • One thing you want to learn.
  • What you’ll do with what you’ve learned.
  • Vote for which module you want to do next.

Looking sideways

  • How what you’ve just learned fits with what you already know.
  • Do a basic mind map for the concepts of the session.
  • Explain a concept to a partner, then switch.

Looking backward

  • Three things you’ve learned.
  • The most important concept so far.
  • The most valuable thing you’ve learned today.

Before the session

Help the attendees get ready for the session and arrive ready to learn.

Be clear on what one topic the session is covering, and to what depth. Learners should be able to answer “Is this session for me?”


About a week before the session send a tiny warm-up activity to help them connect to the topic and/or their learning goals.

  • The deadline for responses is a few days before the session.
  • The response acts as a final Yes RSVP for the session. No response means a No RSVP.
  • Have two or three questions and ask the learner to choose one to answer.

Remind people to bring something they are working on, or have recently finished, to the session. They’ll use this during the session.

When we’re requesting an action, we prefer individual messages to group messages. It’s more work, but it tends to have a higher success rate.

Example warm-up questions

Ask about the learner’s existing knowledge, or their plans for after the session.

  • What are three things you already know about the topic?
  • How do you already do the activity?
  • What do you want to learn?
  • What do you plan to do with what you learn?
  • What do you want to get out of the session?

Starting the session

Don’t start with logistics. Do something high energy to get started.

  • Start by referring back to the warm-up questions. Ask learners to share their answers with at least one other person. This connects learners to each other and to the topics.
  • Share the session agenda, noting that times are approximate.
  • Ask attendees to commit to the session: close Slack and put phone away.

During the session

  • Start on time and finish on time. Respect the time of the people who made it on time, and respect the time of the attendees. It’s better to finish on time and not cover all the material than it is to run over time or rush through material.
  • Aim to finish early. Leave enough time for questions and wrapping up. Let people know when you’re about 10 minutes out from the end, and remind them that you’ll be ending on time, even if you haven’t covered everything.

Ending the session

Help attendees help themselves by giving them a clear direction for after the session.

  • Have a strong closing, with a celebration. Something like a tiny retrospective.
  • Ask attendees to set a goal, then share it with a partner / the group / in a Slack thread.


  • The best part of the session.
  • What did you appreciate?
  • What surprised you?

Setting a goal

5Ws and 1H

  • What will you do?
  • When will you do it?
  • Where will you do it?
  • Who will be involved?
  • How will you do it?
  • Why do this?

Write a sentence starting with “I will…”. Include as many of the 5Ws and 1H as you can! Rewrite it a bit to be more effective at helping future-you.

SMART goal

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Write a one-sentence goal, then test is against the SMART criteria. Rewrite it a bit to be more effective at helping future-you.

Refining a goal

  • How likely are you to do this? Give it a score out of 5. 1/5 = Nope. 5/5 = Very yes. There’s no judgement about your score, so be realistic!
  • Why isn’t your score lower?
  • What can you do to make your score higher? Think about what has (and hasn’t!) worked for you before.

After the session

Check-in with them individually a few days later and ask about the goal that they set at the end of the session.

Ask for feedback

  • Ask for feedback during the session (with tiny questions) and soon after (with longer questions).
    • There’s a sliding scale: short, multiple-choice, questions tend to have a higher rate of completion, but provide less-detailed feedback. Long, open, questions tend to have a lower rate of completion, but provide rich detail.
    • Anonymous feedback tends to be more honest. Prefer that if you can.
  • Ask for feedback with a specific deadline that’s not too far away. A few days is usually good. This tends to increase the rate of completion.
  • Let attendees know where the session has been updated based on feedback. It shows that you listen, and that the feedback is read and used.