Why are Corporate Trainers like Swans, Clowns, Ballerinas And Aliens

Sep 6, 2019

When budding trainers attend one of my workshops, I sometimes see innocence and vulnerability. Some of them are under the impression that training is about following a training manual that works for every group in every situation and that they will be required to stand up and talk about a topic competently and confidently for a few hours. They’ll eat their lunch and check their emails and when they wrap up, they’ll go home for dinner and a glass of wine or hit the gym for an hour.


Many of those ideas filled my young mind, but after a few weeks I realised just how far from the truth my expectations were.  Now after almost 15 years, I’m confident to describe the intriguing creature known as a corporate trainer.

Trainers are like Swans

It’s our job to know where we are on the learning roadmap and how much we have yet to cover. Always. We must know how long activities take and how long to leave for questions and debates. Sometimes we run overtime because the group needs to clarify a point or vent a frustration. Sometimes we can’t open a video file or realise that we didn’t bring the correct handout. No matter how stressed trainers feel, we need to be swans-graceful on the surface even though under the water we’re paddling like crazy to avoid drowning. Leave out the video. E-mail the handout after the workshop. It’s okay to feel panicked but don’t let it show. Just glide.

Trainers are Like Clowns

What’s the job of a clown at a party or circus? You know. So how different is that to what learners expect of trainers? If trainers are not juggling (tasks), entertaining (using light humour), engaging (asking questions, using assertive body language), colourful (with paper, tekstas and slides), fun (using games and apps), energetic (positive and warm), surprising (using novel items), magical (using simple magic tricks) and fascinating (being interested and interesting), we may as well send them the slides in PDF format and a video clip. 

Trainers are Like Ballerinas

Once I wore heels to a training workshop. Never again! Gym fit and training fit are different and equally gruelling. Trainers spend a lot of time of their feet and so need to focus on what dancers call ‘feetness.’ I’ve fallen in love with elegant flats, massage my feet most nights and have learned to shift my weight equally on both feet to reduce pressure. There’s also nothing wrong with trainers who sometimes sit with the group. It’s engaging if done mindfully and well-timed.

Trainers are Like Aliens

Ask any trainer and most will admit that one of the hardest things to do is to write well on a flipchart. Not many do it with finesse. I mean straight, with bullet points, writing word for word what is said and accompanied by an appropriate heading. The trick is to develop the skill of listening with your back. It looks strange to see a person twisting around again and again to make eye contact and then to capture thoughts. When stream of consciousness is flowing, trainers can simply turn 45 degrees to the chart and capture what people are saying. An invaluable skill in keeping conversation flowing is to observe group dynamics even when writing. So trainers need to listen as though we have eyes in the back of our heads. 

Trainers are constantly ‘switched on’, even during the breaks. That’s when people talk and reveal deep stuff. It also happens just as you’re heading to your bus stop to get home for that glass of wine. Welcome to the life of a trainer.