Archive | What Keeps Trainers Up at Night

I Love My Job and You Could Too!

No, I’m not hiring or retiring! It’s just that recently I’ve had several people contact me about getting into the field of learning and development.  They ask me what they can do to become facilitators/trainers/instructors, without going back to school full time.

When faced with this request, it makes me realize once again how much I love what I do.  I’m consistently energized by helping adults explore their own minds, skills, behaviors, and habits. I buoyed by the look on people’s faces when they’ve discovered something about themselves. And I’m humbled by the insightful questions and reflections shared among learners.  Finally, I love observing people practice new skills that will enable them to be more successful in their lives.

Being a learning and development professional gives you an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. It requires curiosity and creativeness, people and problem solving skills, flexibility and feedback to others and yourself.

So here are my 5 top recommendations for learning and developing your skills in the learning and development field


1. Join the international and local chapter of ATD 

The international ATD association provides a wealth of resources including conferences, job aids, and even program designs for the new professional.  I’ve attended the international conference twice. At my first conference, I was motivated by Heidi Grant Halvorson.

In one workshop, I met an amazing and talented colleague from Australia who has since become my friend.   Leonie- Cutts  and I bonded over a glass of wine and passionate conversation about the power of communication in workplaces and organizations across the globe. She also introduced me to her compatibility communication cards   I’ve found great value in using these tools for conversation starters and connections in my workshops, as well as finding a colleague across the planet who can share advice on challenges and strategies in our field.

Another benefit of these conferences is the opportunity to be a presenter, if selected.  I have had the opportunity to present at local, regional and the international ATD conferences. Gearing up for a presentation among your colleagues, including a group of more than 400 from around the world with my colleague Princy  Quadros Mennella , certainly motived me to learn more about my subject matter (neuroscience application in the workplace) and it sharpened my presentation skills for a large international audience.

Check out any local ATD chapters in your area. In Maine, we have an active chapter that provides wonderful networking opportunities and access to varied speakers and best practices.

2. Sign up for a professional development program at a local college or university.

Instead of an advanced degree, you can get a taste of our profession and learn valuable skills through a professional development program. For example, I offer Facilitating Effective Learning Programs  at the University of Southern Maine. This three-day program provides valuable and practice skills, lots of hands on practice and networking opportunities. You’re guaranteed to leave feeling more confident in your delivery skills. As a participant, you can learn from the content, your practice, and even observing what I do well (and not so well!)

3. Sign up for any course – observe and take notes on the instructor.

Whether you are taking a webinar or a face-to-face program, any time you sign up or are “volunteered” to take a learning program focus on not just the content, but also the design and delivery.   Keep a piece of paper near your notes that is devoted to the instructor’s design and presentation style.  Use a simple plus/delta at the top to note what you like and what could be improved. Write observable behaviors and impact.  This will help you build a list of skills that you will want to demonstrate in your programs.

4. Read.

While YouTube videos and blogs are great resources, I still enjoying curling up with a good book in our field. By taking notes while I read, I enhance my memory of important practices I want to repeat. Below are a few of my favorite classic books on the learning and development field.

Training from the Back of the Room by Sharon Bowman

The Skilled Facilitator by Roger Schwarz

Active Training by Mel Silberman

Flawless-Consulting-Guide-Getting-Expertise Used by Peter Block

(I recommend Block’s book to anyone wanting to start their own learning and development business before you speak to potential clients.)

5. Offer free programs for nonprofits and at conferences and local adult-education programs in your community.

I started Catalyst & Co.   in 1995.  While I had worked for a large health insurance company as training and development professional, my skills were not that well known in the broader community. By meeting with a few people and offering my services for free, I quickly connected to potential clients and enhanced my skills and reputation.

Connecting with nonprofits, associations, and other professional development programs can give you an opportunity to practice your skills.  If things go well, ask the group leader to write you a recommendation for your LinkedIn profile or your website.  Come early and stay late at the conference to network with attendees who might be willing to pay for your services in the future. Providing free programs benefits your emerging business and makes a valuable contribution to the learning in your community.


5 Strategies To Move Past Fear: Can We Practice What We Preach?

My colleague, Princy Quadros Mennella and I both are inspired by the great work of Carol Dweck on Growth Mindset, Carol Dweck Ted Talk on Growth Mindset. I even shared highlights of her work last April. Cultivating A Growth Mindset Blog

Growth vs. Fixed Mindset

Princy and I are enjoying teaching others the importance of developing a growth mindset.  We’ve shared Dweck’s research and the importance of: growing our abilities, learning from mistakes, asking for feedback and seeking challenges.  It was even with a growth mindset that Princy and I  got up the nerve to apply and be selected to present “Brain Hacking: How Emotions and Neuroplasticity Can Impact Your Learning Programs” at the Association of Talent Development’s International Conference and Exposition.

Growth Mindset Meets Reality

As seasoned presenters, we knew to arrive early to the conference (the day before) and check on the logistics, room set up, etc.   While we semi-confidently walked into the Convention Center, once we opened the door to our dimly-lit, vacant room, with more than 400 empty chairs, our “growth” mindset went out the window. (And there were no windows!). The room was so big. It was HUGE!! Princy and I kept staring at the rows and rows of seats that might be filled tomorrow. We glanced at the HUGE screen where our slides would hopefully be displayed. And then we stared at the elevated stage where we would be talking to learning and development professionals from around the world. Our fears escalated as our fixed mindset took hold!

Fixed Mindset Starts Talking

With eyes wide open, and a few sounds of nervous giggles, each of us just stood there. Our individual brains were entertaining chaotic thoughts. “We can’t do this.” “What if we say something stupid?” “What if our slides don’t work?” “What if someone stands up and says, you don’t know what you’re talking about?” “I bet people won’t show up.” “I’m sure people will walk out in disgust.”   “I think I’m going to throw up.” A fixed mindset and self-doubt filled our brains.

Can We Practice What We Preach?

And then, slowly, we took hold of our thoughts. We began to realize we had the resources to get back to a growth mindset and actually practice what we preach.

So here are 5 strategies we not only recommend to you, but we employed at that conference.

5 Strategies to Move Past Fear and Encourage Your Growth Mindset 

1. Meet Brene Brown

    1. Princy with Brene Brown

      Princy with Brene Brown

      Well if you can’t meet her, at least watch her Brene Brown Ted Talk on Vulnerability. She not only talks about vulnerability, she lives it. Seeing her behind the scenes at the conference (she was a keynote and going to speak to 10,000 people!) validated our admiration of her. Brene  was authentic, approachable, funny and gracious. She helped us feel comfortable and supported. We were inspired by her for not being, claiming, or acting “perfect.” She reminded us that we could make mistakes, errors, and be okay too. That’s a model and resource for all of us.


2. Imagine a Visual that Helps You Manage Your Fear

Working with Princy has reaffirmed my belief in the value of supportive friends and colleagues. Early in our collaboration, we developed an analogy of being in a river of rapids. We decided one of us could be in the river, in other words, feel overwhelmed, as long as the other person was on the shore – semi-confident. Periodically, one of us would say to the other “I’m in the river.” or “It’s okay, I’m on the shore”. This visualization and communication helped us recognize that both positions are possible and okay. Having someone on shore who understands the river and those feelings is really powerful. We listened to each other’s fears if we were in the river, and offered a hand to get back to shore. And yes, when we walked into the HUGE room, we both were in the river!

3. Make Stress Your Friend

Imagining the HUGE room filled with peers, made my heart beat faster. The good news is that when I felt my heart pounding, I recalled Kelly McGonigal’s 14 minute TedTalk on this topic. Watch it now to recognize the benefits of a beating heart!

4. Practice. Learn. Repeat.    

Whether watching the Olympics, listening to a great musician, or witnessing a colleague give an awesome presentation, it’s good to remind ourselves that those “greats” engaged in a lot of practice to get there. Most people we admire apply a lot of effort.  They recognize that they are not ‘done yet’ and make tweaks to continue to get better and improve.

Princy and I feared we had to be perfect. We were worried that people in the audience would know more about parts of the topic than we did. So we kept reminding ourselves that this was a ‘learning’  conference. We were asking the audience to learn from us, so we wanted to view this as an opportunity to learn from them. We told each other that we are not done learning yet!

In addition, the two of us spent countless hours researching, designing, and practicing our presentation for the conference. When confronted with the HUGE room, we knew we could logically remind ourselves that we had put in the practice time and effort to be there. We showed respect for our audience by being prepared. And this hard work also added to our respect for ourselves.

5. Talk to Yourself Like You’d Talk to Your Best Friend   

As I mentioned in my last post and discussed with good friends,  how many of you are your toughest critic?

Looking at the empty room the day before our presentation, Princy and my fears grew.  As our concerns gained momentum,  Princy and I were silently criticizing ourselves. Yet, certainly we weren’t criticizing each other.

If you’ve found yourself calling yourself “stupid” “idiotic” or other derogatory label, ask yourself if you would talk that way to a friend? What would you say to a friend who was struggling or who had made a mistake? Might it sound like: “That’s okay?” “Look what you’ve done so far.” “You can try again tomorrow.”

Fortunately, when Princy and I started encouraging each other in that empty HUGE room, we realized that supportive advice applied to ourselves as well. Changing your thoughts (internal voices) to encourage yourself like you would a friend is a great resource we can all tap into.

Did We Practice A Growth Mindset?

So our presentation in the HUGE room filled to capacity went really well. We received a lot of enthusiastic support from our peers. Many said our message about emotions and neuroplasticity would be useful in their learning and development programs. But one of the biggest benefits of presenting in this HUGE room was the opportunity for each of us to practice what we preach and increase our self-awareness of our thoughts.

We intentionally had the “opportunity” to seek and engage in a growth mindset. We learned a lot by having to struggle with our own self-doubting chatter and harness the resources we have within us. This experience sparked our desire to continue to work together, to continue to learn and grow, and to continue to practice developing our growth mindsets in our next stretch. We know we will be applying these strategies in our future. We hope you can use them for your next challenge too!