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Train the Trainer: Effectively Reaching Today’s Adult Learners

by John Hogan, July 23, 2010

While the US unemployment rate dipped to 9.5 percent in June 2010 (the lowest level since July 2009 compared to 9.7 percent in May 2010), the report showed 125,000 jobs were lost during the month, driven by the end of temporary census positions. The June figures estimated private sector job creation was 83,0001, marking the sixth-straight month of job growth among private firms, but government and financial market expectations..

In the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, job numbers began to rebound in the spring, but have since flattened. Financial markets around the world continue to jitter over concerns that the recession may return and only get worse.   The oil leaks in the Gulf of Mexico and China are prompting major stock market fluctuations.  Analysts are not consistent in their projections and many still say it could be late 2010 or early 2011 before businesses will once again be adding 200,000 jobs in a month in the US, a figure that is considered a positive growth.

A upbeat sign that our hospitality industry does appear to be rebounding was the posting of 20+ senior training positions I noted on one of the industry leading employment sites on July 16.  With listings globally in hospitality businesses of varying sizes, the emergence of recovery levels of business means that hotels and hospitality businesses must re-hire the training positions they either eliminated or left vacant.

Organizational Development and Associate Training are increasingly complex areas in the global hospitality field, and this is becoming more dramatic with four generations now working together.  Many industries in developed countries have permanently shut down job categories and will not likely replace them, which means additional people of all ages will be entering our industry for the first time.

This article addresses the professionals who will be influencing those people entering our job markets and it offers some of what I call “hotel common sense” in effectively reaching the adult learners of today.

When we were in school, from elementary to university levels, many of us tended to have similar characteristics with most of our classmates.  We were likely to be comparable in age, socio-economic background, physical characteristics and other similarities that might have included religion, political persuasion and many attitudes and life experiences.

We have learned in the past twenty years of the needs for continuous education. Today, “relearning” skills and developing new competencies regardless of age or past successes has become the norm and is expected.   The “adult” student of 2011 can range dramatically in many of these former shared attributes.   As an employer, manager or trainer, we need to stop and recognize the differences of today’s “student” attending a public workshop or a company sponsored training seminar.

As someone who has conducted an estimated 3,200 classes and/or workshops in my career to date, I am offering some characteristics that I have found in many of the programs I have facilitated. Understanding the “adult” learner’s perspective in recent years means using caution, as today’s diverse work force is not the same as it was less than a generation ago.

Some Principles of Adult Learning

Definition:   “Adult” can be defined from mature to experienced to fully developed or in their prime

1. Adult learners tend to pursue accuracy rather than speed.
2. Their background provides increasing self-reliance, autonomy and inner-directness.
3. They frequently rely on prior knowledge and experience.
4. They sometimes underestimate their ability to learn, or they may lack confidence in learning something that dramatically differs from what they have “always done."
5. Their short-term memory may seem to lessen when exposed to some new material, while long-term memory improves.
6. In some cases, vision and hearing ability can decline.
7. Their energy level may be lower and their reaction speed becomes slower.  The need exists for more breaks, as they are not used to sitting for prolonged periods in what they may perceive as “inactivity.”
8. Adult learners tend to be oriented toward solving immediate problems and making immediate application. 
9. They recognize long-term goals, but their life experience has also taught them how quickly 5-year plans can become of little value when the market or world changes every quarter or year.
10. Their individual differences are more pronounced than young learners are.
Unique Attributes and Characteristics of Workshops or Seminar Attendees
1. They have varied reasons for attending this session; not all want to be here.
2. Many may be experienced hoteliers or customer service specialists, while others are new to the industry.
3. Some have had mixed experiences with other brands or hospitality management companies.  It is our duty to explain the differences within our hotel, brand or management group.
4. Some are distrusting and may appear to be contrary in their questions; we must be patient, detailed and flexible in our presentations.
5. Many attendees come from a wide array of cultural and national backgrounds.
6. Almost all attendees are entrepreneurial in nature and want to learn as much as they can and as quickly as they can.
7. Many of them are not accustomed to sitting for long periods of time.  We should try to accommodate schedules of all trainers or presenters, but we must remember why we are here. 
8. Attendees may or may not expect professional seminar leaders at an orientation or at some informal programs, but they do expect well-prepared and useful material, offered in an interesting and understandable way by people who know what they are talking about.
9. They expect handouts, audio-visual, and technological presentations to be concise and helpful to them, personally or professionally.
10. Many attendees want to be able to talk with as many “experts” as they can, so they can learn how to effectively deal with new changes or systems.  Our presence at breaks, the evening social hour or other appropriate times is welcomed.
Helpful Hints – for experienced trainers and newcomers

To set a positive environment for your individual presentation:

1. Watch the choice of language…”Not just what you say, but how you say it.”  Be careful of acronyms that are not universally understood, such as CRO, CRM, QA, etc.   Many companies have their own brand descriptors and codes and these need to be communicated clearly.
2. Body language really does make a difference in how you feel when you are making a presentation.  Wear comfortable shoes and find an at-ease stance that allows you to make your presentation the way you want to.
3. Be yourself - relax and be natural.
4. Speak in a manner that is appropriate to the topic, the situation and the mix of the audience. 
5. Practice the visual, vocal and vitality elements of your delivery to reinforce your message and handouts.  This means actually practicing aloud the presentation and coordinating it with any audio-visual support until it goes smoothly. 
6. Avoid distracting mannerisms, like twisting your hair, incessant pacing, scratching the palm of your hand, etc. These idiosyncrasies take away from your message. 
7. EVERYONE should use FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) sheets whenever possible in your handouts that are included in the attendees’ workbook. These can answer many basic questions and make your time more valuable to everyone, so you can stress new programs or explain in more detail complex issues. 
8. Watch your timing. Work to begin and end on schedule whenever possible.
9. Anticipate questions. If you do not know an answer, it is perfectly acceptable (and preferable) to respond with “I am not sure of the exact details on that question, but I will write it down and get back with the answer before you leave today.”  That diffuses an uncomfortable situation and as long as you do get back to them that day with a response, you are a hero!  If you have a question that is obviously of interest to only that one person, politely suggest that you and that person can discuss the situation privately immediately after your presentation.
10. Use humor carefully and in moderation. 
• It should make a point. 
• The most successful humor is that which is self-deprecating. 
• If you have the slightest concern that the humor might make someone uncomfortable or embarrassed,    DO NOT USE IT. 
• Avoid humor involving race, religion, sex, politics and offensive language.

We have all listened to people who read an entire speech or presentation. While we may expect certain entertainers and newscasters to read a script, we usually do not appreciate most other speakers who do so.  We should NOT read every word on power points, as that insults everyone

Keep in mind that each of us can be an authority in our particular expertise and we should know more about our topic than the audience should.  Using the FAQ sheet, reasonable handouts in workbooks and appropriate audio-visuals usually makes our presentations more concise, complete and comfortable for both listening and presenting. 

It is acceptable and actually preferable to work from an outline that highlights what is most important in your presentation. 



“If you don’t do your homework, you won’t make your free throws.” 
Boston Celtics star Larry Bird 

Keys to Success Hospitality Tip of the Week:   Focus on Hotel Marketing

Review and update your hotel web site THIS WEEK, whether you are branded or independent. You must keep your information, photographs and other details fresh and current!  Schedule this essential task for review every other week on a calendar and assign someone responsible to monitor it.

All rights reserved by John Hogan and this column may be included in an upcoming book on hotel management.

John J Hogan, Ph D, CHE, CHA, MHS 602-799-5375

KEYS TO SUCCESS is the umbrella title for my 2010 programs, hospitality services and columns. This year’s writings focus on a wide variety of topics for hotel owners, managers and professionals including both my "HOW TO" articles and HOSPITALITY CONVERSATIONS. My segments Lessons from the Field, Hotel Common Sense and Principles for Success will be featured at appropriate times as well.

Feel free to share an idea for a column at  anytime or contact me regarding consulting, customized workshops, speaking engagements …………. 
And remember – we all need a regular dose of common sense.

Autographed copies of LESSONS FROM THE FIELD – a COMMON SENSE APPROACH TO EFFECTIVE HOTEL SALES are available from THE ROOMS CHRONICLE,  and other industry sources. 

John Hogan is a successful hospitality executive, educator, author and consultant and is a frequent keynote speaker and seminar leader at many hospitality industry events. He is Co-Founder of ,  a consortium of successful corporate and academic mentors delivering focused and affordable counsel in solving specific challenges facing the hospitality industry.   Services are designed to help individual hoteliers and hospitality businesses improve their market penetration, deliver service excellence and increase their profitability. 

Hogan Consulting Expertise and Research Interest
1. Sales Management and training 
2. Turn-around and revenue management
3. Professional Development for the Organization and the Individual 
4. Customer Service 
5. Making Cultural Diversity Real 
6. Developing Academic Hospitality programs
7. Medical Lodging Consulting

If you need assistance in any of these areas or simply an independent review or opinion on a hospitality challenge, contact me directly for a prompt response and very personalized attention. 
Your Hospitality Resource for Hotel Owners, Innkeepers, Managers and Associations


John Hogan, CHA MHS CHE
Phoenix, AZ 
Phone: 602-799-5375


Also See: The Changing Landscape in Global Hospitality Education and Training / John Hogan / June 2010
An Open Letter to Hospitality Students in their Junior Year / John Hogan / April 2010

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