Thursday, April 19, 2012

5 Tips for the Traveling Trainer (contributed by Matthew Kabik)

Matthew Kabik has worked as a corporate trainer and copywriter for Computer Aid, Inc. since 2009. You can read more articles by Matthew at

I’ve seen plenty of commercials by credit card companies, hotels, and the travel industry showing tired businessmen reaching their destinations after hours of driving or flying. They are worn out—disheveled even—and collapse into a bed without even kicking off their shoes.

Yeah—I can say that’s sometimes pretty accurate. After a six-hour drive from Pennsylvania to Rochester, New York, last year (through the snow and uphill both ways), I found myself very much in the mood to sleep until I needed to train the next day. Fortunately, I didn’t. And that brings me to the subject of this article.

Delivering training can bring along immense stress. That stress can fill your mind to the point where you forget about everything else, including how to make your journey a bit easier, your hotel stay a bit more pleasant, and your time away from home an adventure instead of a pain. Here I offer five tips to help keep the traveling trainer or consultant calm, collected, and well-rested.

Leave Home Early

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Leaving early gives you enough time to get a good night’s sleep at your destination and to deal with any unexpected delays. We all know that.

However, I’m talking about leaving a day early. This isn’t always practical, but if you can manage to arrive at your hotel a day early, you’ll have time to familiarize yourself with the area so you know where to eat, where to get gas, and where to buy any supplies you forgot. You’ll also be able to drive from your hotel to the training or consulting location as a dry run. This is a monumentally useful trick if you’ve never been to the place before. Not only does it help you figure out approximately how long it will take you to get there, but knowing where you’re going also calms your nerves the morning of your training or consulting event. At least it calms mine.

Even if you can’t arrive well before the event, try to avoid taking the last flight of the evening to your destination. Sure, that late flight will reduce your wasteful travel overhead time, but it also greatly increases the risk. Flight delays—and stranded passengers—accumulate during the day, especially during the winter. Any experienced business traveler knows the fun of being stranded overnight in an airport or reaching the hotel in the wee hours of the morning. The resulting combination of exhaustion and stress guarantees that you won’t be at peak performance with the client the next day. It’s also a good idea to have the cell and home phone numbers for your contact person at the client site in case you encounter unavoidable travel problems despite your precautions.

Check Your Materials

The very first time I taught a class at a client site, I forgot to bring pencils for everyone in the class. A small thing, to be sure, but it threw off my confidence and my timing, since we had to find fifteen pencils and pens, which took longer than anyone would think possible.

What I have learned since then, and what I recommend for anyone who is a travelling trainer or consultant, is to create a checklist to help you pack everything you need, and to run through it again the night before your engagement. If you find you’ve forgotten extra pens, a power cord, or batteries for the laser pointer, you’ll have plenty of time to run out and find replacements.

Be Nice to Everyone

When you’re at a client site, you’re a stranger in a strange land. That can be tiring for anyone. I have found that the people I interact with during my training trips (hotel staff, waiters, team leaders, and so on) are empathetic to your position and happy to help. Spending a little time saying “thank you” and “please” gets you far anywhere, but it really helps when you’re on the road.

By way of example, I made it a point to chat with the front-desk person while I was checking into a hotel in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Our conversation was nothing amazing; I just asked about good places to eat, talked about why I was there, and so forth. The next morning, the front desk called me at seven in the morning as a courtesy, without my asking, because of a note the night person I spoke to had left. It turns out that I hadn’t set my phone alarm correctly, and I surely would have slept well past the meeting’s starting time! That thoughtful hotel staffer really saved my day.

Being nice to the people who can make or break your training success is very important. A bit of kindness can mean the difference between a mutually rewarding experience and a frustrating failed attempt.

Arrive Early on the First Day and Test Everything

Students don’t want to watch you struggle with login credentials to get your laptop working, a laser pointer that doesn’t shine, or a silent microphone. It is, in fact, annoying to watch someone click every button on an LCD projector in an attempt to get it to work. You can avoid most technical problems experienced on-site by testing the equipment beforehand.

Bring your laptop and make sure you can get online if you need to. Test the projector with your laptop and learn how it works. Check where the electrical outlets are and where you’ll be able to stand or sit. You might need a power strip or extension cord to get all the equipment powered up. All of this can be accomplished by simply arriving early the first day. It may seem like a nuisance, but showing up early saves considerable time and stress.

Use Your Clients as Resources

The people with whom you’re working at an engagement are usually happy to help you out. They know you aren’t near “home base” and don’t have your own team members readily available. Being away from your home office (and your coworkers) can make you feel like you’re completely isolated. It’s helpful to remember that you have a whole room full of professionals who are as interested in the training running as smoothly as you are. Make it a point to ask them how they believe the training is going during breaks to adjust your speed or message. Make them part of the training or consulting instead of just talking at them. Create an environment that is cooperative and collaborative.

The best training I’ve ever delivered involved the group having breakout discussions about how they’d use what I was saying to help them in their daily work, applying it to their own language and processes. It takes some of the burden off you, and, more importantly, customizes the training for the group. Busy people are interested in practical guidance they can begin to apply immediately, so structure the class to help them get the maximum benefits when they return to the office.

By applying these tips to your own work, I think you’ll find that travelling to conduct training or provide consulting can be a pleasant break from your regular nine-to-five routine instead of a stressful, demanding event. You’ll be better rested and better prepared, and you’re sure to create a better experience for yourself and your clients.

(If you found this article helpful, please consider making a donation to the Norm Kerth Benefit Fund to help a consultant who has been disabled since 1999 with a traumatic brain injury from a car accident. You can read Norm's story or donate here. Thanks!)

1 comment:

  1. After at least 700K miles of consulting and training engagements, I agree with everything in Matthew's commentary. The pre-flight Checklist is critical. For years I have used a single page listing all of the tasks I need to accomplish before leaving for the airport, down to pack an appropriate belt, forward my office phone to my cell, pack whiteboard markers, etc. And I always drive from my hotel to the client site the night before so I know where it is and how long the drive might be in the morning. This has saved my cookies countless times and prevented the embarrassment of showing up late for a class or meeting. Good article, Matthew!