Train the Trainer

Training and Facilitation Skills: creating powerful learning experiences by connecting people on the intersection of process and content.

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” – Steve Jobs

I like to keep things simple, and that isn’t easy. When I was new to training, I spent a lot of time collecting participative training tools and techniques. I was very focused on acquiring new tools and techniques that I could take away and use. To some extent I still am. However, it isn’t the number of tools in your kitbag that makes you a good trainer, it’s how you use them. What really matters is how you work with the group, and how you empower people to learn. If you come on a Train the Trainer course with me, what you will learn is how to create a powerful learning experience by connecting people on the intersection of process and content. You will see for yourself why people learn more from trying out new tools and methods rather than having theory and models shoved at them. Good trainers create opportunities for learners to experiment, and then reflect on what they have learned. Working in this way helps people to discover what they know, and to realise that they know a lot more than they thought. Because of this, participants go away feeling more confident and able to put into practice what they have learned.

What I have learned

When I graduated with a degree in French and Russian, I was quite sure I didn’t want to teach. About ten years later I experienced different kinds of training and learning at work, and as a volunteer. The owner of the recruitment consultancy where I was working had been a teacher, and she knew how to draw out knowledge and experience from the group. Learning together was inspiring, motivating, and confidence building. I would come out from a workshop with a new sense of purpose. The trainer made what she did seem so easy, and I thought, ‘I want to do what you do’.

In 1989 I became a volunteer with the Terrence Higgins Trust, one of a number of HIV / AIDS charities in London. I took part in a number of life-changing training courses run by a dedicated and highly skilled team of volunteers. The trainers were open and honest, what I would now call authentic. They used a whole range of participative exercises and tools I had never encountered before: energisers and games, life stories, visualisations, pair work and learning logs. And though we worked with themes like grief and loss, the shared experience was life enhancing. The trainers and the people I met on these training courses had a huge impact on me as a person and as a facilitator. The way I work now is inspired by their creative, generous, and inclusive approach to group learning. The value of ‘Train the Trainer’ courses is that once people know how to design and deliver engaging learning experiences, the possibilities for cascading knowledge and skills become very exciting.


Training and facilitation skills are not the same, but they are closely allied. In my opinion, to be effective, a trainer must be able to facilitate. I have delivered ‘Train the Trainer’ and facilitation skills courses in Africa, Europe, South East Asia, and Latin America, and I have experience of adapting the content to different contexts and cultures. I cut my teeth running ‘Train the Trainer’ courses for the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), The HIV Project (North West Thames Regional Health Authority), The British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV), and The Environmental Trainers’ Network (ETN). I have also delivered ‘Train the Trainer’ and facilitation skills courses for the Environment Council, LEAD, and the British Council.

In some countries, people are still accustomed to a top down style of learning. There is an expectation that training courses consist of lectures given by experts who tell you what to do. That is not my style. I once ran a leadership course for unemployed Russian soldiers in an eastern outpost. People told me that Russians liked lectures, and that my participative methods would not work. With some trepidation, I stuck to my guns, and so, as I will explain, did the participants. At the end of the course, I asked the ex-soldiers to draw a ‘good leader’. They all drew something, quite often a man with a gun. There could be little doubt that they were accustomed to a hierarchical style of leadership. They were soldiers. Some of the detail in the drawings, such as a large cat ‘leader’ that was keeping a close eye on a mouse performing a task, had a dash of stark Siberian humour. Nevertheless, the pictures showed that they had taken on board at least some of my messages about how to lead and manage a team. In my experience, once people have experienced participative learning, they don’t look back.

Developing and maintaining a consistent training style across a global network

Two of my biggest challenges at LEAD were how to provide effective support and development to the global team of trainers and facilitators, and how to ensure that the core learner experience was broadly similar across the LEAD global network of 12 programmes. Time and distance prevented me from working as closely or as often as I would have liked with my colleagues. Three things helped me to develop a ‘house style’. First, I was lucky to have an international team of trainers who were hungry to learn and thrived on the challenge of intercultural communication. Second, I always ‘piggy-backed’ a train the trainer session onto programmes that required a team of trainers, and encouraged the trainers to co-deliver sessions in order to maximise peer2peer knowledge and skills sharing. Third, I built an online library of generic training courses that trainers could access and adapt to local needs. Once I heard a participant in Francophone Africa say of an external presenter, “He was not ‘LEAD-Like’”. This proved to me that LEAD trainers had an instantly recognisable training style, and that even participants who were new to the programme could identify the authentic LEAD way of learning.