Greg Owen-Boger - Mar 5, 2018

Dry Runs: The Key to Training Readiness

In our new book, Effective SMEs: A Trainer’s Guide for Helping Subject Matter Experts Facilitate Learning, Dale Ludwig and I encourage trainers (and subject matter experts-turned-trainers) to conduct a dry run before they deliver their training for the first time.

What’s a Dry Run?
A dry run involves talking through the training content. Dry runs help you identify trouble spots, discover sections you may not fully understand, and get a better understanding of how everything fits together. It’s also a good way to find out if you don’t fully understand how an activity is supposed to be conducted. The time to learn about any areas of concern is before you have a room full of learners. For these reasons, we almost always recommend dry runs to our clients.

Oh, You Mean Conduct a Rehearsal?
No. Actually we don’t. Rehearsal is what actors do. As a trainer, you’re not an actor, and if you attempt to recite a script, you’ll fall flat in the training room. Dry runs help you to be spontaneous. They free you from content concerns and prepare you to engage learners in a learning conversation.

Learning Conversation?
The training you deliver should feel like a conversation to you and your learners. Thinking of it this way will help you steer clear of a lecture-style approach and it will help your learners engage. Adult learners, or, as we call them, “Busy People at Work,” crave efficiency and relevance. They want to feel part of the conversation. A spontaneous, listener-focused learning conversation helps them feel that way.

Who Should Attend a Dry Run?
We get this question a lot. There are two options, and both have pros and cons.

  • Conduct the dry run by yourself. The benefit of this approach is that you get to work at your own pace. The down side is that you don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of and no one to actually engage as you walk through the content. If you’re already comfortable in your role as facilitator, this may not be an issue, but if you’re new to training, having others in the room with you can be helpful.
  • Conduct the dry run with other stakeholders in the room. The benefit of this approach is that you’ll receive feedback from others. The downside is that the feedback you receive might be overwhelming and not particularly helpful.

Here’s what I mean. Often, dry run observers say things like, “I don’t understand why the content is laid out like this; we need to change it.” or “I’d say it like this…” Comments like those are not helpful during a dry run. First, because the time to make major changes to the content has passed. And it’s never easy to receive feedback that sounds like it’s coming from a theater director delivering a line reading. The goal of a dry run is to make the training your own. Reciting someone else’s script works against that.

Lay Some Ground Rules
So, if you do a dry run with others in the room, make sure you lay out some ground rules. Here are just a few examples.

  • The goal of today is to get me (or other trainers if there are more than just you) prepared to deliver this content. The instructional design is pretty much locked down. The feedback I’m looking for is not about the design of the class, rather my delivery of the content.
  • As you observe, try to put yourself in the mindset of the learner. You probably know a lot more than they do, and they need a different level of detail than you would if you were taking this course.
  • Familiarize yourself with the learning objectives so that you’re clear with what we’re trying to accomplish with each module.
  • Please do not suggest that I (or the others) deliver the material the way you would. This is my time to make this training my own. I’ll let you know if I need help describing something.
  • Please only interrupt me if you feel I’m being long-winded or if you are role-playing a learner with a question. We’ll debrief after each module, so please save your feedback for the debrief.

These are just a few examples of ground rules that you could set forth. I’m sure you can come up with some of your own. By setting the ground rules early, your observing stakeholders will be more likely to provide helpful feedback.

What are your thoughts about dry runs?

Written by Greg Owen-Boger

Greg Owen-Boger has been with Turpin Communication since 1995, first as a cameraman, then instructor, account manager, and now vice president. Schooled in management and the performing arts, Greg brings a diverse set of skills and experiences to the organization. Greg is one of Turpin’s facilitators and coaches. When he’s not with clients, he manages the day-to-day operations of the company. Greg is an active member of the Association for Talent Development (ATD) and was the 2015 President of ATD, Chicagoland Chapter. He is a popular speaker, frequent blogger, and the co-author of the book The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined. His latest book, also co-authored by Dale Ludwig, launched in 2017 and is entitled Effective SMEs: A Trainer’s Guide for Helping Subject Matter Experts Facilitate Learning.