I have a unique job that covers many areas. One of the things I have to do is give an in-person training course teaching adults how to use software. It’s a small aspect of my job, but one that I, as an introvert, absolutely dread.
I took public speaking in college, and like most introverts, I hated every moment of it. In fact, I think it was my most despised class (worse than math!). The class taught me one valuable thing: I am not cut out for public speaking.
You see, when I signed up for this job, I thought “trainer” maybe referred to making documentation and tutorial videos, as well as working one-on-one with people. I mean, I wasn’t entirely wrong. But it also involves teaching a six-hour-long (you read that right) class to adults who really kinda don’t want to be there all that much. Yep.
Before the day of my very first training class, I printed out probably eight pages of extremely detailed notes. Realistically, I knew that this wasn’t a good idea, but I didn’t have any other way to protect myself if suddenly my mind went blank — as it often does when I am the center of attention.
By the end of my six-hour class, I had drunk two extremely large bottles of water (think those really tall SmartWater bottles) and nearly lost my voice. As I trudged back to my office and fell into my chair, my office-mate took one look at me and said, “You look exhausted.”
And I was.
Since then, I have been trying to work on restructuring both my teaching methods and the class layout to make it less painful for me. I think I’ve been pretty successful. I’ll never be a pro public speaker, but making these changes took just enough attention off me and instead put it on the material I was teaching — which made me feel just a little more comfortable. Here are four things I did to “introvert-proof” my job as a trainer.
1. I arranged the tables into a horseshoe to create a less-formal learning environment.
Just the thought of a bunch of tables with seats facing forward — at me — is enough to make me queasy.
As an introvert, I absolutely detest being the center of attention. I can almost feel the burning of people’s eyes on me as I talk — and it makes me stammer.
I remedied this situation by moving the tables into a horseshoe shape. This way, the trainees are more likely to look at each other rather than directly at me, at least most of the time.
I defended this change to my boss as breaking up the structure of the class and making it more of a cooperative workshop rather than a formal class. I mean, no one likes attending a lecture and just staring straight ahead for six hours, right?
2. I gave my trainees something else to look at.
When I started out, I had this 10-year-old projector that blurrily displayed what was on my laptop. The screen was right behind me, so as I spoke, all eyes were on me. Yuck.
I “fixed” this issue by looking into screen mirroring software, many of which I knew cost way too much for my boss to want to pay for. What this does is project what’s on my laptop onto everyone else’s laptops, so they can look at that instead of me. I ended up finding an open-source solution that was completely free, and not too difficult to set up.
Now instead of using a blurry projector behind me, I project my laptop screen onto everyone else’s. It keeps them focused on the laptop in front of them instead of me!
I defended this change to my boss as giving the trainees in my class — especially the nearsighted ones — a clearer way to see what I was demonstrating. It also helped to keep them focused, since they cannot use the laptops to check Facebook while I am demonstrating.
3. I talked my boss into letting me give shorter classes.
A six-hour class is absolutely brutal. It was no wonder I lost my voice after almost every class. Not only that, but sometimes I was stammering to come up with content just to meet an arbitrary time limit.
I (and a former-trainer colleague of mine) was able to convince my boss that teaching trainees for 5+ hours was not beneficial to them. After a certain point, their minds would wander and they would get antsy and visibly bored.
Now my classes cap at three hours. It is much more manageable to work a class agenda around that, plus, I’m sure the trainees are relieved that they don’t need to block out an entire day just to listen to me gab.
4. I do lots and lots of preparation.
When I know I’m going to have a class, I spend almost the entire day before it practicing. I run through the entire class agenda (in my head), and I create a short, large-print outline that I can easily reference during my classes.
Everyone emphasizes it, but it really is true: Practice makes the whole public speaking thing so much easier.
I like to print out my outline and go over the class with my boyfriend during dinner. I never “perform” it word-for-word; I just give him a quick overview of each topic I’d be presenting.
I’ve led lots of introvert-proofed training classes this summer. I almost never lose my voice anymore, and it greatly decreased my inevitable introvert hangover.
I spent a lot of time evaluating exactly which parts of my training courses made me so uncomfortable, and I did everything in my power to re-think them into clear, concrete solutions. In the end, my hard work paid off!
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Learn more: The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World, by Jenn Granneman
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