Checklist: The definitive guide to conducting soft skills training

Conducting training can be tough, depending on a number of factors. The weather is bad and people are late. The attendees don’t want to be there. Or, worst of all, you’re unprepared.

Training is more art than science, and while a savvy sense of humor and positive, upbeat attitude form the majority of a successful training session, everything depends on your having the right tools for the session to go smoothly. Soft skills, in particular, can be confusing to audiences.

Obviously, you need your computer and your presentation. But there’s nothing worse than a one-sided training, with a presenter reading PowerPoint slides to the audience. Here’s a checklist of items that might be helpful.

Checklist of must-haves

  1. Easel and easel pad: This is probably the most expensive and bulky item on the list, so if budget or travel are a concern, this one may not be practical. But if you can swing it, this is a valuable tool. Easel pads may have an adhesive top; use these to hang on the walls around the room and invite different groups to use them as brainstorming tools during activities. An easel and accompanying pad of 36 sheets can be acquired for around $70. Bring tape if the easel pad is not adhesive.
  2. Markers, markers, markers: Everyone loves markers! Bring as many colors as you can, as it will allow the flexibility of being able to categorize by color in activities. Nothing brings out the inner child and creativity like being presented with a panoply of bright colors. The amount of energy that colorful markers can generate is surprising. Make sure they work, and discard any that are starting to dry out. If you will have a whiteboard, bring a set of dry erase markers along as well. Markers that are bright and have a thick tip work best.
  3. Letter-size paper: Someone will always have forgotten something on which to write, and you may need them for activities. Make flashcards, chits for a game or name tents on the fly.
  4. Extra pens: Because if they forgot paper, they have nothing with which to write, either.
  5. Power bank and portable WiFi: Most trainers can tell you of arriving at a training site, to find there’s no WiFi or access to a power outlet. Make sure you have the data and battery to support a WiFi connection if you are using a smartphone.
  6. Backup mic and speakers: You may only need this is you’re presenting to a large group or in a room with high acoustics. Not every training site has an audio/visual staff member who will be there to set up for you and provide these basics.
  7. USB flash drive: You never know when you may need to download something from someone else – a driver to access a printer, or a document that a working group has put together.
  8. Snacks: Training audiences expect treats. No one knows how or why this came to be, it just is. Popular favorites are miniature Halloween candy, suckers or any other small, prepackaged item. You can use these as prize incentives for a quiz, or as a currency in group activities. Some trainers just leave a few snacks at each setting in the room.
  9. “Fidget box”: It works for kids. Adults are nothing but overgrown kids who have been taught that they need to sit perfectly still in order to be professional. In training, the audience can relax a little. Kids (and many adults) often need sensory input in order to focus more successfully. This can look like frequent shifting in the chair, pen clicking, jiggling feet and knees under the table, doodling, chewing, playing with hair, and so on. Provide a box of items that might address these sensory needs: fidget spinners (all the rage right now), anti-stress balls, a fidget cube, a sensory board, bike chains, coiler keychains, inside-out balls, wiggle seats, and so on.
  10. Wake-up exercises: Many trainers start out with a brief group exercise meant to get blood flowing and focus the audience. One good exercise uses movements that cross the midline. The body has two medians – one going down the middle vertically, and another across the middle horizontally. Exercises that cross the midline “wake” the brain up. For instance, crossing the right wrist over the left, and the left ankle over the right, and then switching sides, can be an effective chair-based exercise. Other exercises include: touching the left foot with the right hand, the left knee with the right hand and then the right ear with the left hand; standing and touching the right elbow to the left knee and the left elbow to right knee is another version of this exercise. Repeat in reverse.
  11. An assortment of paper clips, balls, tape, balloons and other small office supplies: There are a numerous activities that can be played using these objects. You never know when these can come in handy.
  12. Lots and lots of engaging, energizing group activities: This goes without saying. Start with some icebreakers and exercises in the morning, and save the really high-energy activities for the afternoon, when a post-food lull sets in. Intersperse these at short intervals with lecture. Always keep the audience engaged. Move around the classroom, learn and use people’s names, tell jokes (even bad ones), funny stories and remember to lighten up! Even serious subjects can be active and energizing, and don’t have to be dry and low-energy. Find a balance between treating the subject with respect and some amount of humor.

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