Golden Rules for Trainers

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Goldene Regeln für Trainerinnen und Trainer

Some things were learned a long time ago and should be taken for granted. Others have changed in the seminar routine over time. Let our short series remind you once again what should be internalized as ‘golden rules’ for trainers. These golden rules are about training in person, in a live online training, there are other things to consider.

Create an Informal Atmosphere

A seminar is more effective when you follow the golden rule to create a personal atmosphere:

  • Address all participants by name. If you don’t know the name of a participant, ask for it. Most people feel flattered when someone shows interest in their name.
  • Instead of standing in front of the group, try to sit at eye level with the participants (depending on the situation, e.g., by sitting on a chair but not behind a table). A more informal posture helps you and the participants relax. Avoid barriers between you and the group.
  • Sit, stand, and walk consciously, depending on where you are in the seminar or discussion. The trainer’s changed body language guides the group.
  • Breaking the ice is easiest with humor. However, if used incorrectly, it can backfire. It’s usually better to use humor on yourself rather than on others. If you can laugh at yourself without appearing too self-critical, you have a valuable tool for relaxing the group.
  • Eye contact is especially important for a new trainer, but even experienced trainers often struggle with it. Sometimes, for inexplicable reasons, people who find eye contact easy in one-on-one conversations will look out the window, at the ceiling, or at the wall in group situations – anything but into the eyes of the participants. Good eye contact is extremely essential. This makes the difference between whether the trainer is talking with the people or just talking at them.

Encourage Active Participation

Encouraging individuals to actively participate is one golden rule and also an important skill that can be learned:

  • One suitable method is to ask open-ended questions. Avoid questions that have a definite answer. Instead, use questions that provoke thought and allow for various interpretations. Many trainers are afraid they might ask a question to which no one will respond. This sometimes happens. You may ask a question and then not give the participants enough time to formulate their answer. Through our conversations at parties and other events, we have learned to fill every pause in a conversation with words. So, if you ask a question during training and there are five seconds of silence, you might be tempted to just keep talking. To prevent this, count to ten in your mind before changing the topic. Most of the time, someone will speak up before you reach eight.
  • If you have trouble getting voluntary contributions, sometimes a humorous remark with a relaxed, cheerful smile helps. The art of getting voluntary contributions is an important skill for trainers. Of course, some participants speak up more than others, but even quiet people sometimes enjoy being paid attention to. Look out for nonverbal signals: a twitch of the eyebrows, an interested facial expression, a hesitant hand movement. These signals often mean that someone wants to be asked. On the other hand, don’t encourage someone to talk who appears unwilling.

Avoid pressure and stay positive

Another golden rule is to avoid embarrassing anyone and find something positive in the answers
  • Let the key phrase guide you: Avoid embarrassing or pressuring anyone. If you frequently have trouble encouraging people to participate, you should ask yourself why. Are the participants bored? Is more information needed? Are the questions interesting enough to make the effort of answering worthwhile? Try to put yourself in the participants’ shoes.
  • When participants answer a question or comment on a topic, they take a risk. If this risk is also punished, they will take less risk next time. Therefore, you should find something positive in the participants’ response. This doesn’t mean you have to be dishonest and accept everything without criticism. But you should acknowledge the individual’s contribution. Give a balanced response that also considers the value of the contribution.
  • Another, even simpler method of positive reinforcement is to thank the participant for their contribution. Often, it is helpful if you repeat in your own words how you understood the participant’s contribution. Firstly, you can check if you understood the meaning of the question or statement correctly. Secondly, you can think about how you will respond. Thirdly, you can make sure the rest of the group understood the statement or question before they hear your response.

Avoid Playing the Expert

If you try to do this, you will experience some “mishaps.” When trainers pretend to have all the answers, some participants will try to trip them up.

  • Let the group know that you rely on help and cooperation and do not claim to know all the answers. Adult learners feel most comfortable in a cooperative learning environment with a trainer they see as a colleague. You don’t need to play the expert; you can be a “co-learner.”
  • Sometimes participants try to push you into the role of expert by expecting answers to questions they don’t want to answer themselves, or by wanting solutions to problems they can’t solve themselves. Don’t get involved. Pass the question on to the group immediately, something like: “That’s a good question. I’m curious to hear how the group responds. Who’s ready to start?” This technique encourages group participation in the learning process and forces participants to develop their own answers. If you give a quick, smooth answer yourself, it could stifle activity and prevent creative thinking.

Provide Examples

Everyone loves anecdotes and stories. They are the “engine of persuasion.” To have good examples is also one of the golden rules for trainers. 

  • When trying to explain a situation abstractly to your participants, you may notice their attention waning. Try explaining the same content with an example. A visual example speaks louder than a thousand words! You might be surprised how quickly attention is restored.
  • Good examples are usually genuine, lively, situation-appropriate, and human-centered. Where possible, use anecdotes from your professional or personal experience, adapted to the needs of the group. You can also use anecdotes about others, as long as you make sure no one feels offended or embarrassed.

Stick to the Schedule

You’ll find that the seminar runs smoother and is more entertaining if you stick to the schedule. Watch out for the following problems that can lead to deviations from the plan:

    • Avoid disturbing participants with phones. They disrupt the flow of the seminar and the concentration of participants. Please ask participants to silence and put away their smartphones.
    • Start the seminar punctually. Ensure that breaks and closing time are observed. If a delayed start cannot be avoided, stick to the schedule by shortening the introduction and moving directly to discussing the main topic.
    • Inform participants when coffee breaks and lunch breaks end. If some participants are late, start without them. Emphasize when announcing the next break that participants should return promptly, as many topics still need to be discussed, and you want to stay on schedule.
    • If you still fall behind schedule, forego the activities you marked as optional during preparation. If there is time later, you can delve deeper into the elements you only briefly mentioned. However, always remember the schedule. It is much more important to end the seminar on time than to cover every seminar element.

Do not exceed the time frame for discussions

Last golden rule for trainers (but not least): Set a time limit and be strict with it.


  • If too many delays occur, you will not be able to complete all activities within the specified time. Limit discussions to a predetermined time limit. If a discussion is particularly good and lively, you can extend the time on that topic. However, end the discussion afterward. 
  • Here are some examples of how to deal with verbose speakers and shorten prolonged discussions:
    “I’m sorry, but we need to end the discussion now. We can continue discussing this topic during the break.”
    “We should wrap up now so we can address all pending topics.”
    “Ms. Müller, could you please summarize what has been said before we move on to the next point?”
    “Before we continue, let me briefly summarize what we have discussed.”
    “The discussion was really interesting. I think we should continue discussing this topic during the break.”
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