by Steve Adubato, PhD

More and more companies and organizations are opting to conduct training and professional development in-house. In theory, this approach can save money and give people an opportunity to coach and mentor others.

The catch is that the ability to lead a seminar doesn’t come naturally to most people. It is an acquired craft. It requires exceptional communication skills. It takes trial and error, and too many in-house seminars wind up being nothing more than huge “data-dumps” in which trainers deliver reams of content as opposed to helping seminar participants learn, participate and grow.

If you are conducting in-house training, here are some questions to consider.

Q—What are the most important objectives of any seminar?

A—Know exactly what your seminar goals are. Don’t simply look to cover the material, but rather to accomplish specific outcomes. It’s not enough to know the subject matter; you must understand the skills and tools seminar participants need to walk away with.

Further, know who the participants are. Often, participants have been forced to participate. You can’t control their attitude coming in, but you can greatly influence what they leave with. People have to be motivated. You also need to know if certain participants have concerns with the seminar content or other participants. There may be “turf issues” among participants. On a positive note, there may be participants who are leaders in the group who offer tremendous opportunities for a trainer to tap into their insight and expertise.

Q—How do you get people actively involved in a seminar?

A—Participants must be motivated to take risks and get outside of their comfort zone. Only then will they will never truly learn. Break them into small groups or teams and giving them specific assignments. Designate team captains and ask them to present the group’s findings. Post these findings on oversized flip-chart pages all across the room. When people see their work publicly displayed they feel it communicates a degree of ownership. Refer to seminar participants by name. Utilizing tent cards with participant’s first names is a low-tech approach that works wonders for a seminar leader.

Q—What about the seminar leaders’ attitude and approach to the seminar?

A—Seminar leaders must be high-energy who are truly engaged themselves. It’s not enough to know the seminar content. Being a subject-expert is important, but what will truly engage participants is to know that you care deeply about their mastering the content.

A seminar leader must create an environment that is conducive to learning. He can friendly, but not a comedian; outgoing, but not over the top. The seminar isn’t about him, but rather about what he gives to others. He must let participants know he is truly committed to each them gaining new skills that will help them perform their work more effectively.

Q—What are the best ways for a seminar leader to have participants evaluate the seminar?

A—After a seminar, one of the worst things you can do is hand out a boiler plate, numerically driven (rate the seminar from 1-5), questionnaire. Another counterproductive question is; “Did the seminar meet your expectations?” “Yes or no?” This feedback isn’t very useful. Evaluation tools must be open-ended asking participants to comment on what they took away from the experience; “What specific tools will you take from this seminar and how will you incorporate them into your work?” Or “What specific recommendations do you have to improve the seminar?” Leave ten to fifteen minutes for participants to answer these open-ended questions. Don’t rush the evaluation process. If done right, it provides a great opportunity to get the kind of feedback that will help you improve future seminars.