Confessions of a Terrible Trainer

By Francois Basili, CEO, HumaNext

Yes, that’s me on the right side of the above picture delivering a training session some years ago.

 And yes, my audience, with a bit of exaggeration but not much, looked like those sleeping on the benches as they suffered through my training “lecture”. This happened to me exactly three times in my early days as a novice trainer.

Those three times, even though they occurred over 25 years ago, still bother me today. I finally thought that the best way to get over the pain of memory is to come clean about it, offer a confession of what happened, how it happened, and why it never happened again in twenty five years of delivering training to people from around the world.

You could say that I’m an accidental trainer. My bachelor’s degree was in engineering, and my master’s was in public administration, not human resource development. I became very interested in training after attending two workshops in my early years as an engineer.

The first was a multi-session supervisory training program I enjoyed and found to be very helpful professionally and personally. It made me love and value the training field.

The other workshop was on effective presentation skills. The trainer, for almost the first half an hour, kept tripping over the cables connecting the various audio visual equipment. Then he spoke in a mumbling manner we could hardly hear or understand. He kept moving the slides back and forth helplessly looking for the right one. He was giving his back to us most of the time as he read from the slides. He looked tired, totally bored, and hopelessly boring.

I was waiting for the moment when he would finally turn to us and shout, “Now, this is the way NOT to deliver a presentation! I was demonstrating everything you should not be doing as a presenter.”

But to my amazement and despair, the session finally ended and he never did that. It turned out that he actually was, ironically, that unbelievably bad presenter, and giving a workshop on effective presentation. It was a terribly sad joke, except that it was very real. I thought to myself that training is such an important and valuable function that it shouldn’t be left to people like this poor trainer to ruin it for all of us. I decided to leave the field of engineering, for which I didn’t have real passion, and go into human resource development and employee communication.

Even though I took a number of courses in training and development at New York University to prepare me for my new career, they never taught us how to design and deliver good training sessions. I started to deliver some workshops thinking that, no matter what, I certainly will be much better than that poor presentation skills trainer. That’s what I was confidently thinking, until I saw an attendee, sitting front row in my classroom, struggling to keep his eyes open while listening to me. What a disaster! What could be worse than having trainees visibly fall asleep in the middle of my training session?!

After much pain, more learning, more practice, and more experience, I was able to understand one of the main reasons why my training style drove people to sleep in my sessions. I simply had the wrong view of my role as trainer. I thought my mission was to give as much pertinent information as possible in the time we have so that participants leave equipped with maximum knowledge. And I, the trainer who possessed the latest and best knowledge, was the one responsible for imparting this knowledge and bestowing it upon the innocent trainees.

It was only after seeing attendees sleeping in my sessions that I searched for a different way. I reluctantly gave up the notion that “content is king”, and that my role was to pile up as much of it as possible on the trainees. 

 After starting my own training company, HumaNext, I made it my mission to search, develop, and test the various ways to create the necessary “inspiration” without which the information, and the entire training effort, will be completely wasted. I put the lessons I learned in a program we called, “Heart & Mind Learning”, which is a methodology for training the trainer and for “turning any training session into a great learning experience”. Ir is part of our 3-in-1 Trainer Certification Program.


For Best Training: Arouse the Heart!

Looking for ways to help people remember the learned lessons of their training long after the session for maximum impact on their work-life?

One effective way, proven by scientific research, is to arouse their hearts before delivering your training, no matter what the topic is. Findings from recent research make clear that our cognition, and our memory of it, are highly influenced by preceding emotional experiences.

These findings have a profound impact on the way we deliver training. It basically says that if we deliver information and skills in a dry, straightforward, non-emotional way, we have much less chance to influence trainees for a long time after the training than if we deliver in a way that involves the emotions.

The findings came from a study by a team of New York University scientists that appeared in the journal Nature Neuroscience. The team found that motional experiences can induce physiological and internal brain states that persist for long periods of time after the emotional events have ended. The study also showed that emotional "hangover" influences how we attend to and remember future experiences.

"How we remember events is not just a consequence of the external world we experience, but is also strongly influenced by our internal states--and these internal states can persist and color future experiences," explains Lila Davachi, an associate professor in NYU's Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Science and senior author of the study.

“During the aftermath of an emotional event, we can actually remember more. That’s because the amygdala, hippocampus and medial temporal lobe (all parts of the brain linked to memory) are stimulated for longer than we thought”.

The question for us trainers is how can we make use of these findings?

Interestingly, we at HumaNext Training have been instinctively using and applying this idea since 2005, years before this study came out. One of the principles of our Heart & Mind Learning (H&ML) methodology we’ve used to design and deliver our training workshops says,

“First seek to arouse the heart so you can engage the mind”.

And another principle of H&ML emphasizes this by saying,

“Without inspiration, you waste the information”.

Basically, the Heart & Mind Learning methodology is a set of “Insights” (or techniques) that enable the trainer to design and deliver workshops that “touch the hearts and minds of participants” so they can get deeper into the learning during the session and remember it for a much longer period afterward.

One example of these “Insights”, as we call them in the program, states that, “Session openers must be remarkable”.

It requires the following:
·       Like giving birth, the session opener must be remarkable, as it signals the birth of a new day of learning.
·       Build anticipation for something different right at the start of the session
·       Open with a dramatic experience that ushers the start of Discovery!    

We call for starting the training session with a series of mind-opening, attitude-altering, fast-paced exercises that deliver a jolt of surprise and anticipation to participants, signaling the transformational nature of the training.

 By starting the training with a remarkable, dramatic, emotional experience you will be helping participants get more immediately involved in the learning, as well as helping them remember the learning for a much longer time after the session.​

You can learn to use Heart & Mind Learning in your training. Click to learn how..

Elevate your training skills, add coaching, and deliver top workshops, all with HumaNext 3-in-1 Certification Online.

American Public University System's Testimony 

Humanext training (2015) was one of the best I have been to in years.  Excellent workshop!  I or my staff or both will be back in the future. 

Dr. Grady Batchelor, CM, CMC®, Associate Vice President, Center for Teaching & Learning - American Public University System

Why Training Is the Best Career Ever

 By Francois Basili, CEO, HumaNext

I’m fortunate that I’ve worked in several different fields before ending up working in the corporate training field, first as an inside training director, then as an outside training consultant and trainer of trainers. I thought to share with you why I consider training to be the best career ever.

Because of my college studies in civil engineering, I started my employment journey as a Design Draftsman, then a Junior Engineer in a large sugar manufacturing company. From there I moved to work for Bechtel, one of America’s most prominent engineering and construction companies that worked on the engineering-wonder, the Hoover Dam.

Bechtel was one of the companies mentioned in Tom Peter’s landmark book, “In Search of Excellence”, which launched the excellence movement in the United States and around the world. I spent seven years with Bechtel overseas where I moved both horizontally and vertically among several practice areas, from Supervisor of Community Services, to Senior Contract Administrator, to Manager of Commercial Operations with responsibilities for overseeing several projects of multi-million dollars each.

From the view point of an operation manager in these various positions I saw how training was done, and how it fell short of meeting people’s needs even in a company known at a model of excellence in the world. After leaving Bechtel I worked in a large healthcare organization in New York, holding executive positions with responsibilities for employee communications, marketing communications, and finally training and development.

Now let me explain why I found training to be one of the most rewarding careers anyone can have. When you work in a corporate department such as operations, services, engineering, accounting, and so on, you often find managers and staff from other departments complain, or even fight, with your department’s staff for credit for work done right or blame for work gone wrong. Managers and staff working in human resources for example, are often viewed with suspicion and mistrust as they tackle employees’ hiring and firing, evaluations and compensations, discipline, benefits, union grievances, contract negotiations, sexual harassment, and employee relations in general.

As a corporate trainer, on the other hand, people will come to you to develop their leadership capacity, enhance their effectiveness, and learn new skills. People usually view those who teach them and help them grow with gratitude, affection, and admiration. People will come to you seeking advice on performance issues, team building solutions, emotional intelligence training, diversity and inclusion strategies, and leadership coaching. I’ve seen first-hand how the organization’s managers and staff from all departments feel excited and energized after learning new skills from a well delivered workshop, or becoming filled with enthusiasm after a retreat on engagement or change.

Often the rewards of your work as a trainer will be obvious and immediate. I received the following note from a manager after attending a workshop I was giving on “Critical Conversations”, “I wish I took this class before my secretary quit.” Another note came from a manager after attending a mandatory diversity training I delivered saying, “I thought the session would be a waste of time. I learned a lot.” And here are a few other comments I got from people after attending training:

Learning from you has changed the way I see the world and helped me build a vision far greater than I’d ever imagined.
I left the training inspired and energized, excited about applying it to my life and work. Thank you for making the learning so impactful for me.
I definitely felt I was taking part in something very special in the past three days.
Terrific and amazing work. Only time will truly tell the enormous impact this training has had on my life.

Now, tell me honestly, what other career would give you the enormous pleasure and satisfaction of receiving written notes and comments like these almost on weekly basis?

I love to hear your experiences, both as trainer and non-trainer.

Francois Basili trains and certifies trainers to deliver workshops on emotional intelligence, diversity, inclusion, and cultural skills, creativity and innovation, critical conversations, and leadership coaching and development.

Ideas for Training

​"I never shared with you how meaningful the New York experience was for me. Listening to you all and learning from you has changed the way I see the world, and helped me to build a vision far greater than I'd ever imagined.

- Holly McLemore, Training Manager.

​ One of the lessons I learned was that good content by itself is not enough to ensure effective learning. Content that goes directly to the mind without passing through the heart will not make a lasting impact. It’s the “experience” of the content in action, by the heart first then the mind, that results in learning that makes a difference.

I formulated this in the following principles of Heart & Mind Learning:
- If you don't arouse the heart, you can't engage the mind.
- If you don’t offer inspiration, you waste the information.
- People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.

​Based on my painful but very beneficial early experience as a “terrible trainer”, I developed twenty one “Insights” of Heart & Mind Learning, woven together with main themes, concepts, and principles, and supported by a wealth of activities, exercise, stories, puzzles, poems, case studies, role-plays, and applications. Using these principles led me to facilitate training sessions that prompted attendees to write evaluations like these:​