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5 Things Consultants Should Never Do When Training Clients

Our company has helped many expert consulting firms, in fields ranging from sales to finance to cybersecurity, create more effective training programs for their clientele.  

Without naming names, here are five things we’ve seen consultants do in their training programs that might cost you points with participants.

  • Don’t feel you have to be a comedian. While it never hurts to be entertaining and effective, there’s a difference between speaking engagements and training.  Training should allow participants to learn through discussion, reflection, and hands-on practice.  Even if you deliver the most entertaining monologue, you’re still denying learners the chance to actively engage.

  • Don’t assume your audience shares your personal interests or cultural touchstones. The best piece of advice I ever received from a client was on a presentation for agriculture experts in Ethiopia.  One slide I’d prepared used a metaphor of “fast lanes” and “slow lanes” on a highway. The client said, “We should avoid automotive metaphors – car ownership and car culture aren’t so pervasive outside the United States.”

    Metaphors can help people understand complex ideas and quotes from famous people can lend weight to ideas, but unfamiliar references can be alienating.  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 might resonate with a given audience, and if that fails just ask your client: they’d probably appreciate the consideration.

  • Don’t use your own business as a case study. By all means share stories of how other clients applied your methodology or – if you share your audience’s professional background – war stories from your former career.  But don’t use your current business as a case study.  

    Nobody wants to hear how you use your own sales method to sell sales training or apply your leadership philosophy to lead your leadership consulting company. This undermines your credibility, like one of those unctuous D-list motivational speakers who say “I was a bankrupt failure… until I became a successful motivational speaker!”

  • Don’t lie. While I’m sure you’d never deceive your audience, set realistic expectations for performance improvement.  And if you’re training front-line staff, make sure leadership and management are aligned with the program and won’t contradict your messages once training participants get back to their regular jobs.

  • Don’t let content go stale. If you have an amazing story about the fax machine market in the 90s, that’s fine – 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 last worked in it can cause younger participants to tune out.

    On a related note, failing to take advantage of the latest technology for delivering your training can also turn off younger audiences (and tech-savvy older audiences), but that’s another topic for another day.

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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Emil Heidkamp is the founder and senior learning strategist at Sonata Learning.  He works with NGOs, corporations and government agencies to implement training and knowledge management initiatives impacting thousands of learners in over 50 countries.