5 Mistakes to Avoid When Training Clients

Sales associate leads unsuccessful customer education meeting with potential clients

If you’re like most consultants, you probably started out as a subject matter expert and only started training people later.  And while you’ve probably figured out how to deliver a decent work shop through trial and error, here are five common mistakes even experienced consultants make while training, and how to avoid them:

  • Don’t make it a monologue. While there’s always an element of performance to consulting, there’s a difference between delivering a keynote or presentation and facilitating training.  Training workshops should be interactive, with participants actively engaging through discussion, guided reflection, and hands-on practice.  Even if you deliver the most entertaining monologues, you still want to make sure participants get equal or greater air time. 

  • Mix up your metaphors.  Like many Americans, I’m a bit obsessed with automobiles, and given to sayings like “in the fast lane” or “put it in gear.”  However, after delivering a training workshop for agricultural scientists in East Africa, I received feedback from one participant saying, “Don’t use so many automotive metaphors – car ownership and car culture aren’t as pervasive outside the United States.”

    While good metaphors can help people understand complex concepts, and quotes from famous people can lend weight to your ideas, unfamiliar references can be alienating.  So, just because you’re a sports fan, don’t assume audiences will appreciate the wisdom of Vince Lombardi or Sir Alex Ferguson (and if any of my fellow Americans had to Google “Sir Alex Ferguson”, now you know how it feels).  

    LinkedIn/Facebook research can offer hints for what metaphors might resonate best with a given audience, and if that fails just ask your client: they’ll likely appreciate the consideration.

  • Be careful using yourself as a case study. Have you ever heard a would-be motivational speaker say “I was a bankrupt failure… until I became a successful motivational speaker!”  If so, then you know how dubious it sounds when someone is their own favorite case study.   

    So go ahead and talk about the success other people have found with your methodology.  And feel free to share stories about lessons learned in your past career.  But maybe think twice before bragging how you use your own sales method to sell sales training workshops, or how your leadership philosophy makes you such a great leader for your consulting team.

  • Play to the back of the room. It’s a great feeling when training participants seem interested in what you have to say.  Meanwhile it’s tempting to write off those who appear to be ignoring you.  But – awkward as it might be – you should avoid playing to the teacher’s pets, and occasionally direct a question to someone who hasn’t spoken.  Just make sure it’s phrased as an invitation to contribute (“Daniel, have you ever been in a situation where ________?”) rather than a “gotcha” quiz about whatever you just said.

  • Don’t let your content go stale. While it’s tempting to take an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset with a successful training workshop, you should still revisit and revise your material at regular intervals.  For instance, if you have a favorite anecdote about the fax machine market in the 90s, that’s fine – and if it’s still the best example of a particular point, keep using it.  But at least check if there’s a more recent anecdote that makes the same point.  Also, failing to acknowledge how recent developments (e.g., social media, online trading, globalization) have transformed a field since you started doing your workshops can hurt your credibility.

If you’re interested in reaching a wider audience through online training and coaching, feel free to contact Sonata Learning for a consultation.


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