Dr Holly Powell-Jones is a qualified broadcast journalist and media trainer with several years’ experience creating content for television, radio, print and online news platforms.
Slideshows that never end, awkward silences, tutors who love the sound of their own voice… We all know what a terrible training session feels like as a participant. But when it is you who runs a training course, how can you avoid disaster?
I have been designing and delivering media courses since 2013, so I have seen, heard, and made every mistake in the book when it comes to training. Here I describe common clangers to avoid if you are thinking of hustling for gigs as a media trainer.
Fail 1: 'Educating the market'
Most people when they want to offer training start by focusing on their own expertise first, and how to sell it second. Particularly if it is a new or niche area, you can waste a lot of energy educating clients on 'why they need your training'.
When I started pitching online media law to businesses, I spent a lot of time explaining the risks of libel, contempt, and copyright to people who simply did not understand why their staff needed to know about these things.
Schools, on the other hand, were already desperate for advice for pupils about the risks of social media misuse. The market demand was screaming out. By pivoting to focus on schools as a major client base, I hardly ever have to explain why the training is important. In fact, the repeat and referral bookings I get from teachers means that I rarely need to even 'pitch' this product at all.
Fail 2: [Insert vague topic here]
New trainers often focus on broad subject matter, and not enough on specific practical abilities that participants should develop. Vaguely learning 'about' an area is something they could theoretically do in their own time. Providing training means focusing on developing skills, as well as sharing knowledge and insights.
When a friend wanted advice on developing training, I asked him to make a list of all the course objectives (i.e. "By the end of the session, students will be able to…") He came back with a long list of bullet points, each starting with 'know about X' or 'understand Y' – to which I replied, 'But what will they be able to do?'
By the second attempt, he had come up with various abilities they would develop, such as making assessments, interpreting and analysing examples, critically evaluating methods or creating a concrete plan to put into practice.
Telling someone how to do a good interview is never going to be as useful as running them through a mock. Learning is best achieved by doing, so training should include practical objectives.
Fail 3: One size fits all
You would not send the same generic pitch to different publications, nor would you send identical CVs to different companies if you wanted the best results. Instead, you would try to tailor your offering as a bespoke fit for the target audience and this is the same for education, too.
Early in my career, I would feel anxious to ensure different clients had the exact same training product for consistency. All my case study examples were from the corporate world or the media industry, meaning participants were sometimes unclear on how it was relevant if they were not from those sectors. When I ran an event aimed at charities, I researched specific examples from that sector instead (including the imagined 'scenarios' for them to troubleshoot).
One size rarely fits all. Even if the learning objectives are identical across courses, the content should be adapted with your target audience in mind.
Fail 4: All mouth and no mind work
One of my favourite activities when training teachers is getting them to describe their version of educational 'Heaven' and 'Hell'. What is remarkable is how often the same droning, monotonous, soporific lecturer pops up in everyone’s 'Hell'!
We have all sat through classes that bore us, and this is often because they involve little or no interaction. Humans are problem-solvers, and most enjoy being given a task or activity to complete when they are learning something new. Engaging participants means encouraging them to think for themselves and discover their own answers.
Even 'one-way' forms of teaching, like a lecture or video, can be smattered with prompts for reflection, key questions, true or false statements, case study examples, or anecdotes to get that grey matter clunking into action.
Fail 5: Pricing
When it comes to staff professional development training, I was once told by a client that they paid between £30 and £800 per session. Maths is not my favourite, but that sounded like one person is getting 2,500% the rate of another for quite a similar gig.
As with all business - and freelancers will know - value is in the eye of the beholder. Plus, different clients have different budgets. I have earned £1,000+ for one day of training but have also delivered sessions 'pro bono' to causes I want to support voluntarily. Navigating finances remains a cringe point in British culture, but it is something you will have to do for every new client.
Ideally, set some 'fixed rates' - and try to stick to them. But remember, always ask what clients’ budget for training is first, in case they offer a higher rate than you would have expected.
And if they say, "between £30 - £800"? Politely enquire what makes the difference. They may just give you a list of key pointers to include in your negotiation…
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