The Skills Backpack…


As a trainer you need many things…blutac, sticky notes, flipchart pens, a bag of numbered penguins…the list is almost endless.  However, one of the most valuable resources you need is a “Skills Backpack”.  This is the phrase I use for the collection of the (sometimes obscure) information, concepts, models and interesting facts that you may need at the drop of a hat in a training session.  It’s the bag that gets you out of trouble when a tricky question comes your way or when the discussion takes a turn you weren’t expecting…let me give you an example.

A few weeks ago I was facilitating a session about how to use and manage a 9-box grid to identify performance and potential in an organisation.  I had designed it as a short, relatively straightforward session to help the delegates understand the mechanics of using this type of model and give them some practical tips of how to use it to maximise the potential and performance of their teams.  However, as the session evolved the conversation turned away from them managing the process to how to communicate team member’s positions on the grid.  It was never the intention for this session to be about that (there was a follow up session planned with the HR Business Partners to take it to the next level and connect it to annual appraisal conversations) but, as all good facilitators know, sessions rarely follow the lesson plan especially when an emotional subject is involved…so you have to put your trainers notes to one side, whip open your “Skills Backpack” and find something useful to give the delegates!  In this case, I talked about the art of delivering feedback using a simple model that helps structure the message in a way that is more comfortable to hear and to say.  It wasn’t what I had intended to cover in that session – but everyone found it useful and somewhat reassuring…maybe this wouldn’t be so hard after all!

So, all good trainers’ need a “Skills Backpack” and you need to keep it topped up…but how?  Here are my top 5 tips to filling and maintaining your backpack…

  • Keep your ears open
    You will be amazed at how much useful stuff you can pick up from just listening to others. It might be formal training that you attend or it could just be in conversation with someone and listening to the language they use or the way they say something that you could then replicate in a training session to help you articulate a point.  I would say that 60% of what is in my Backpack has been collected from just listening to others and paying attention.
  • Spend some time Googling
    When you know you are going to be delivering a session about a topic that is new to you or that you are not 100% sure about, spend some time researching the topic and other connected material to help you feel extra confident. If you know more than the session notes requires you to know and you feel like the expert – you will deliver a better session.  Sometimes you don’t need to actually open the “backpack” for it to help you…sometimes it’s just the fact that its full which gives you the confidence you need to be great in the room.
  • Read , read, read!
    There are so many interesting books out there and so often when someone asks you an unexpected or tough question there is nothing more satisfying than being able to quote Daniel Goleman, Stephen Covey or Prof Steve Peters! Being well read (or read to via audio books!) and then being able to reference the content is a great way of keeping your backpack full and also usually impresses your audience too!
  • Keep a “backpack notepad” handy
    Something you might find useful is having a small notebook with you in meetings or other training sessions where you can make a note of anything that you want to read about or google later. You could also make a note of interesting statistics that you hear or funny stories that you could use in your sessions to help bring content to life.
  • Sign up for email newsletters & Blogs
    Although the constant emails can be annoying at times, having a good array of newsletters arriving in your inbox regularly is a great way of keeping on top of topical information especially if you are in a fast paced and innovative industry. Spending 15 minutes a week reading the latest articles from Retail Week, TrainingZone or Dezeen can give you the latest research, statistics and innovations without having to search for them…easy backpack filling material!

Thank you for reading, I hope you found this useful…I would love to hear what’s in your backpack in the comment below.

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