The 6 Habits Every Great Trainer Must Have

Regardless of what field they are in or what they are training, the most exceptional trainers I’ve met share these six qualities.

I train, I train trainers, I train master trainers, and I coach trainers to greater effectiveness in their craft. I’ve worked with the entire spectrum of Learning and Development professionals, from novice to world-class. I’ve experienced the thrill of delighted and active participants, the agony of a completely disengaged crowd, the stress of students who just want to sabotage, and everything in between. I started my career as a clinical psychologist facilitating inpatient psycho-education groups for court-ordered drug and alcohol addicts. Talk about people who didn’t want to be there! I also have experience as a facilitator doing teambuilding, ropes courses, and adventure-based learning. I am passionate about the secret sauce of successful learning and behavior change.

It takes a certain set of attributes to be a good trainer. Comfort in front of people, knowledge of the subject matter, experience, a passion for learning, interest in people. I’d say these are the minimum pre-requisites. Anyone in a Learning and Development role should have these attributes. But while nice to have, none of these guarantees great results.

Regardless of what field they are in or what they are training, the most exceptional trainers I’ve met share these six qualities:

1. Process before content.

How you say something is often more important than the content of the message. The process of communication is all about the nuance of delivery and packaging. Words, tones, gestures, postures, and facial expressions all play a role in determining how readily a person will connect with the message. Relying on content while sacrificing process is a sure way to be boring, one-sided, and out of touch. Consider these two ways of starting a training event;

I have a lot of valuable information to share with you today designed to benefit your efficiency.”

I am glad to see each of you today and look forward to getting to know you and your unique experience at work.”

Which one engaged you? Each one connects with a different subset of your audience in critical ways that affect their engagement, learning, retention, and motivation to apply what they are learning. We all know that individual differences impact how people like to be communicated with, what they value, and how they learn best. Great trainers adapt their communication accordingly.

We require our certified trainers to obtain feedback from their participants that includes this question, “Did the trainer connect with me?” Our research shows this is one of the strongest predictors of outcomes and engagement.

How well do you connect with the people you are training? How do you know?

2. Being effective is more important than being right.

What do you do when your participants are skeptical or don’t appreciate the importance of what you are sharing? Battling about who’s right is pure folly. It doesn’t matter what you know. It matters how your participants experience it. Consider these two statements:

Here’s what you need to know to be more efficient.”


I am passionate about these strategies and welcome your opinions on their value in your life.”

The first one reveals the need to be right. The second reveals the desire to be effective. The first invites defensiveness. The second invites engagement. Great trainers choose effectiveness over justification.

Is it more important for you to be right or effective?

3. Want others to learn and grow without expecting them to.

This has been the most challenging habit for me to adopt. I get personally invested in what I’m teaching. I get paid to deliver results. I’m passionate about the value of the material. So it’s easy for me to expect my students engage, learn, and benefit. And as they say, expectations are the surest path to disappointment. Great trainers clearly distinguish the learning outcomes from their own and their students’ self-worth. They do their best, give their all, and let go of the rest.

Are you able to leave expectations at the door for greater effectiveness?

4. Self-aware and self-managed.

The best trainers are intimately in touch with their minds (thoughts, ideas, plans, agenda, goals), their hearts (emotions, physiological responses, comfort level, boundaries), and their actions (behaviors, motivations, impact on others). They are constantly evaluating and balancing these three for maximum effectiveness. They know their bodies, manage their stress, take care of themselves, and stay out of distress while training. They are aware of how their behaviors affect others and how their attitudes and beliefs come through in their work. They know their triggers, hot buttons, and areas of weakness, and have strategies to respond effectively.

What are your triggers? How do you stay emotionally, physically, and psychologically healthy every day? How do your behaviors affect those around you?

5. Be a coping model.

Did you know learners feel less confident around an expert who does it perfectly all the time? This makes you unrelatable and intimidating. Your job isn’t to be the expert. Your job is to facilitate learning. Great trainers role-model coping instead of perfection. They are willing to admit mistakes, share vulnerabilities, and self-correct. They aren’t condescending because they know they don’t know it all. Facilitating is about creating environments where people can discover, engage, and take ownership over their learning experience.

When was the last time you learned from a mistake, in front of your students?

6. Compassionate accountability.

Compassion without accountability gets you nowhere. Accountability without compassion gets you alienated. The best trainers balance the two by fostering environments of safety, curiosity, and consistency. They know that the best outcomes occur when people are open about their hopes, fears, and motives; resourceful in creative problem solving; and persistent in following through with the tough work of practice and application.

Are you open? Are you resourceful? Are you persistent? Where do you need to develop to be more effective?

Practice these six habits and experience greater effectiveness and satisfaction as a trainer.

Dr. Nate Regier is the co-founding owner and chief executive officer of Next Element, a global advisory firm specializing in building cultures of compassionate accountability. A former practicing psychologist, Regier is an expert in social-emotional intelligence and leadership, positive conflict, mind-body-spirit health, neuropsychology, group dynamics, interpersonal and leadership communication, executive assessment and coaching, organizational development, team building and change management. An international adviser, he is a certified Leading Out of Drama master trainer, Process Communication Model certifying master trainer, and co-developer of Next Element’s Leading Out of Drama training and coaching. Regier has published two books: “Beyond Drama” and his latest work, “Conflict Without Casualties.”