Dale Ludwig - Sep 14, 2016

“I Hate Dry Runs” (How To Make Training Prep Less Torturous)

Recently we were working with a group of trainers in a facilitation skills training workshop. During a conversation about how they preferred to prepare, one of them, we’ll call him Steve, said, “I hate dry runs, but we do them all the time. It’s a tortuous process for me.”

As a leader or manager of trainers, you have probably heard this type of grumbling yourself. You ask your team to do dry runs, though, because you want the training they deliver to meet your quality expectations and the business’s needs.

But it is true: dry runs, dress rehearsals, walk-throughs (whatever you call them) can be frustrating for your team. This is especially true if you’re preparing for learner interaction, facilitated discussions, and role-plays, all of which rely on an unknown learner contribution.

So, then, what is the best way to prepare to deliver training?

The answer to this question always begins with “It depends.” It depends on individual preferences. It depends on the amount of time available. It depends on how much your trainers already know about the topic. It depends on the technology and whether they’re working alone or in teams. In other words, there is no single best way to prepare. But there are three important things to keep in mind.

  1. Don’t have the team practice to be perfect

Training delivery cannot be perfected, and trying to make it so destroys the genuine connection between trainer and learner that is essential to the process. A trainer’s success is measured by the moment-to-moment reactions of individual learners. While one of these moments might be “perfect” for one person, it probably won’t be for others.  Assuming that it’s possible to string together a long string of these moments for a group of people is misguided.

  1. Don’t confuse rehearsal with other types of preparation

There are many ways to prepare. Some of them—memorization and rehearsal, for example—are inappropriate for trainers. Rehearsal is a process used by actors and musicians to nail down a performance. By repeating their performance over and over in the rehearsal room, they are able to recreate it on stage. This process undermines the training process and leads to stilted, inflexible, and disengaged delivery.

  1. Remember that everyone on the team is different

The goal of preparation is to build confidence and control, to make every trainer as comfortable as possible with the process that is going to take place. Given the complexity of that process, trainers’ needs will vary. Some thrive with a series of dry runs in the room where the training will take place; the approach that Steve, our workshop participant, would do anything to avoid. Others prefer talking through training content at their desks or while driving. Still others simply need to review the slides or outline to feel confident with the overall arc of the training day. Knowing which technique is best for your team requires knowing which approach gives them the control they need without stifling spontaneity.

Effective preparation requires, above all, understanding what the goal of preparation is and insight into what does and does not work for individual trainers. Whatever technique you use, remember that preparation should lead to a flexible, responsive learning conversation.

Written by Dale Ludwig

Dale Ludwig has a Ph.D. in Communication and, prior to Turpin, taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He founded Turpin Communication in 1992 with the mission to provide the best presentation and facilitation skills training possible. Since then he has worked to do just that. In addition to being one of Turpin’s lead instructors, he also serves as our Chief Learning Architect when tailoring learning engagements for our clients. Dale is a frequent blogger and the co-author of the book "The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined." He’s excited about his latest book, also co-authored with Greg Owen-Boger, "Effective SMEs: A Trainer’s Guide to Helping Subject Matter Experts Facilitate Learning."