3 Tips for Selecting Trainers

It takes more than being a SME (subject matter expert) to be a great trainer. Having information down cold is an important attribute of a good trainer, but it’s just the beginning.  Trainers with “the edge” are continuously reading the room, engaging participants, managing time, and checking for knowledge transfer. Here are three tips for selecting people who have potential to be great trainers.

Attributes of great trainers

Carefully describe the criteria for the type of person who will be a great trainer for your environment.

Obviously, the trainer needs to know the content cold. However, as we say in the training business, you only need to be a few steps ahead of the learner.  At the same time, training is not about being the smartest person in the room. Training, or ‘facilitating learning’ is about engaging people and making the content memorable.

Who make the best trainers?  It may be tempting to assume that people who don’t enjoy the spotlight will not make great trainers. While it’s true that being comfortable in front of a group is important, great trainers come in all personality types.

What skills or attributes make a great trainer?  Here’s a quick checklist:

  • Has good rapport with others
  • Is respected by coworkers and peers
  • Is credible/knowledgeable in their field
  • Has a positive attitude
  • Truly wants to help others shine
  • Is eager to continuously improve their skills as a facilitator of training

5 Things great trainers do

  1. Are learner-focused. The trainer who is focused on themselves is likely to ‘present’ more than train. The most effective trainers don’t try to be the smartest person in the room. Great trainers pull ideas, questions, and conversation out of participants.
  1. Manage time. It takes practice and experience to balance content with time allotted for training. Tangents are the greatest culprit of derailing training, and skilled facilitators learn how to manage various types of such derailments.
  1. Manage their energy. There’s a lot going on inside the head of a facilitator. At any given moment they are delivering a message, reading the room, planning the next engaging activity, and checking the time.  It can be exhausting for even the most seasoned trainer. Maintaining high energy over an entire session, whether it’s 2 hours or 2 full days, takes a conscious effort. It may require new habits, like keeping high energy snacks on hand, or trading in that afternoon coffee for a glass of water.
  1. Practicing helps people who don’t love public speaking to get over the jitters that show up in the first 5 minutes. Practicing also helps the trainer work out examples and stories that will help make their point more clearly. Great trainers practice presenting complex ideas in an easy to understand manner.
  1. Test knowledge. (see next tip)


Great trainers continuously test knowledge

There are three primary types of testing that will convince the facilitator that the audience is ‘getting it’. They are pre, embedded and post-tests. Testing knowledge transfer doesn’t have to be complicated. Work with the resources that you have, whether it’s index cards or a complex LMS (learning management system).

Pre-tests provide the baseline for the level of knowledge with which people are coming into the training. Reviewing the gaps in the pre-test can shape the areas of focus for the trainer.

You may choose to produce a simple 3-question survey that is self-reported, up to a full 360° survey engaging a dozen respondents.

Embedded testing happens throughout the training. It comes in the form of pair shares, group discussions, written questions, or verbal questions to the group. The key to using embedded testing is then reading the room to ensure that the majority of people are ‘getting it’. Reading body language and facial expressions is an important skill for a trainer.

Post-tests occur at the end of the training and answer the question, “Did they learn it?” Comparing post-test scores against pre-test scores is a great technique for measuring learning. Again, it doesn’t have to be complicated and does not require a full-blown LMS to be effective.


In our train-the-trainer programs we work with SME’s to elevate their training skills. There is plenty of practice time and meaningful feedback built in to support people in their growth.

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