Stephanie Burns
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13 Questions and Answers is a transcript of an interview done some time around the mid-1990s when Training To Train was the highest rated development program for corporate trainers in Australia. The final TTT program was run in Adelaide in 1999. At that time I stopped teaching to devote my work time to solving problems emerging in the field of technology-based teaching.

I have placed this interview here in the biography section of the site because it does capture unique thoughts on the subject of training and my historical relationship to the field. For all those who wish to see this program run again in the future .. all I can say is you never never know! In the mean time, the book Artistry in Training is an excellent artifact of the content covered in the course.

I apologize in advance for the stilted style of this piece. Transcriptions of verbal interviews rarely read well .. this is a case in point. But the information is good .. so go for it!

13 Questions and Answers that demonstrate how you can increase your skills as a trainer by attending the Training to Train program with Stephanie Burns.


Stephanie Burns has earned herself the reputation of being one of Australia's leading authorities on Adult Learning. Over the past 9 years of her career in Australia, Stephanie has conducted thousands of events. She has trained in many different environments from classrooms to convention centres, churches to university halls, boardrooms to living rooms and once, even on board a boat. She has stood in front of groups from a dozen to thousands, delivered lectures on new research on human brain function, trained engineers to use computers, teenagers to increase their reading speeds, provoked teachers to raise their expectations of their students, explored drawing classes with prisoners, taught groups of 50 people to play the guitar, taught old people to juggle and young people to think.

Today she mainly teaches others how to teach more effectively and explores issues relating to the training skills of adults - how to influence others to learn and ultimately how to influence others to change.

In this interview, Stephanie explores and discusses her four month program Training to Train and her philosophies on the training of trainers.



Q1 Who is Training to Train for?

Training to Train, these days not only attracts professional trainers, although the program initially was geared toward that group. Today it attracts professionals from different fields who need to use communication as a tool to cause other people to change. This particular program tends to attract people from many different careers ... solicitors, counsellors and human resource people to name a few, as well as professional trainers, teachers and professors.


Q2 I get brochures all the time... courses that are called 'Train the Trainer' programs. How is this program different?

I think what is very different is how it was developed and what it attempts to tackle during the course of the four months. Many programs for professional trainers deal specifically with presentation skills - how do you become more effective and sound better when you are standing on stage. This course is different in that it covers the essential qualities found in the skills of masterful trainers or communicators. This course was designed to not be about quick simple training techniques of 'make eye contact' and 'don't put your hand in your pocket'… but to essentially say that, you are a human being standing up to influence others with your communication behaviour.

This particular course is geared towards the three essential qualities or competencies; the things that make trainers outstanding in the field. One of these qualities is the range of behaviours the communicator possesses. I noticed that trainers I admired have incredible flexibility in what they can do when they are presenting. Another quality is a sensitivity to what the experience is for the learner, so communicators actually seem to understand what the effect of their presentation is having on the members of the audience.

The third quality is the ability to take information from a wide variety of sources, be that books or through experience, and then present that material in a way that makes sense to people. As an example, take the writer who writes a wonderful story, or a wonderful piece of academic material, but when they stand up to deliver that material verbally they sound muddled. The material has not been organised in a way that makes sense verbally.

This course focuses on the three things that we find top trainers have mastered and teaches people to be able to access these qualities for themselves.


Q3 Is there an end phenomena that you would say is different, the end result from doing the program? Does someone look different, or how do they quantify the result?

Certainly my measurement and what I see during the course, is that the participants are able to do more when communicating and they look far more natural doing it. They reach that state, if you will, of a master trainer - when you see them working on stage - they don't use any notes and it looks like it's all just coming off the cuff and yet it all makes sense. And yet they seem to have the right strategy to implement in any moment depending on what it is that they are trying to get across, or how the audience is responding. So what I am looking at and what I see regularly is a competent trainer, who on the very first day of the program stand up and give a very pleasing presentation. But it tends to be fairly rigid and stilted and not to say it's bad, it just has that traditional training model. At the end off this program, they tend to be more vibrant and able to capture the audience with a hundred different techniques or strategies or ways that they didn't have available to them before. The other big change that we see is how many people within the audience they are able to 'get to' and work with. Often, their initial presentations tend to block out 20-30 or even 40% of the group who doesn't relate or have rapport with that trainer style. One of the big changes that we see at the end is in the capacity to do what they do on stage and build rapport across a diverse audience that they often time face.

You can have the best content in the world but if you don't have a method a way of being that puts across that content in a way that's convincing to an audience you can actually end up having people minimise the content that you worked so hard to put together. So it is an essential quality that top trainers have and very few places have the skills to teach that.


Q4 Why is Training to Train spread over four months?

I looked at this particular course, and what I felt it honestly took for trainers to develop the kind of skills that they are looking for. I really looked and examined what it takes to change human behaviour … and one of the things that it takes is time. I don't know of anything that we can do in a day …or three continuous days that will change a trainers behaviour on stage. That doesn't mean in 3 days we couldn't take lots of notes and that these things would make sense. None the less, the next time they stood on stage they virtually would not have any kind of new ways of expressing themselves in that context. So the reason for the four months is to allow people between the actual class days the opportunity to go back to their environments, and do either practise or see their classroom environments differently, to do things in their own life content that allow them to develop skills… and all over four months. That's a pretty nice gain when they are working.

If for instance a trainer came to me saying 'I want to be more precise in my speaking' or 'I want to be more articulate' - well that's a whole body experience, that's a way of speaking, of thinking a way of holding themselves a type of posture of gesturing that can't be built in a day. Now, if they were to try to act that, it would look acted and it would look stilted and incongruent. But over four months they can gain enough experience and engage in other activities, that will develop their new behaviours naturally so they're available to them when they are working on stage.


Q5 What would you nominate as major benefits of taking part in Training to Train?

If you were to talk to individuals who have done the course, they would all give you a very different list of benefits because they all came into the course with different types of agendas. They were already successful in their careers, be it training, management or whatever. With these different agendas, they took the material and worked it in their own personalised way. So it's hard to answer this in the individual sense. But I think in the broad spectrum I might say this:
1) Honest feedback - they really get a chance to take a look at how an audience perceives them as they are standing on stage. Most of us stand up and present and do the best we know how to do and often we don't have any idea how what we do is seen by the audience and what actual effect we might be having on them. So it's a safe environment for people to get honest feedback and for them to give themselves feedback about what is working for them when they are in front of a group. Perhaps what kind of behaviours are nice to have at home but maybe aren't so nice to have standing in front of a room. Also the chance exists for them to say 'What kind of new behaviours would really serve me well in the context in which I do training … and then do I go about developing those'. So I think there's a notion of critical feedback, and by critical I don't mean negative, but critical honest feedback that I've not seen produced in any program other than this one at this point in time.

A second benefit is that the course is very theoretically sound. All of the notions and ideas come from two angles. Number one, from the experience of all the top trainers that I have worked with throughout my career. There has been a tremendous amount written about influential communication, about the psychology of the adult learner, about how to affect change in others. This course draws very heavily upon a very sound and rigorously researched set of data that is brought to the awareness of the trainers in the course. Most trainers of course being very busy, don't have time to go comb through the university libraries to gather and piece together this data. We have been able to distil this data to educate trainers in not only an experiential way, but also in a truly theoretical and academic way. They come out of the course a lot smarter about using communication to affect human behaviour than they often times walk into the room with at the start.


Q6 You talk about catering for the adult learner. Does this imply that there is a group that this really doesn't work for? For kindergarten teachers or people dealing with children particularly. Is this material applicable for those presenters or educators?

This is an interesting question. Obviously the audience predominantly works with an adult market. They are dealing with adults and their experience with the learning or change process. However, we have had, unsolicited by us, a large number of people who do in fact work with children. It is always amazing to me, the capacity to take the data from the course and translate that into a way that makes sense to them when they are communicating with children or in a young childs environments. So, although I don't teach specifically into that context, there isn't anything or there is very little about human behaviour and change that would be transferable into the context of working with young people.


Q7 So you're saying that the material seems to be applicable to most situations?

Well it certainly seems to be. I don't want to say it's a be all, end all. But to the degree that as a professional, you use verbal communication and visible gestures to get a point across, then it is applicable. There are a myriad of contexts, whether it's the manager working with an employee, or the supervisor on the shop floor, or the trainer standing up in front of a group. All of us share a particular skill in doing that, and our effectiveness and success in our careers is dependent on how finely tuned that particular skill is.


Q8 What benefit could training managers expect to see as a result of one of their team participating in the program?

From what I hear, there are some significant things that they come back with. The first that I think most noticeable, is the increase in the confidence level of the trainers, not only in the classroom environment, but in their willingness to tackle new challenges within that environment.

Another thing that the training managers tell me is that their people tend to be able to quickly assimilate new materials, new ways and new methods into their classroom environments. They might say 'Before, they were a competent trainer, certainly competent enough to get the job, and they could walk into the classroom and manage the day. After the program they seem to have a lot more flexibility, ways and ideas'. Of course, what that leads to, which is critical to most training managers, is that the trainer now hits a large number of people within the audience. They produce better outcomes across the board as opposed to the traditional model which says, we go in and some should do really well, and some we know won't do very well and everyone else will be kind of mediocre. The trainers now seem to get a higher percentage of high results across the board in the classroom environment.


Q9 So what is the benefit of that for the training manager in terms of the people that are being trained? I presume that it must have a wider impact on the operations of the organisation.

Well it certainly does … obviously the training manager is being seen as the implementor of these things. Yes they have a staff that does the actual hands on work, but it's the training manager who is seen as responsible for helping people understand the meaning of their job and understand and develop the skills that they need to perform better. So, it's like the training manager sits in that central position between the organisation's need for change and improvement in the skills of their people, of the dissemination of information and the actual trainers who are standing on the floor and actually doing that. The better they are able to have their trainers skilled to do more effectively and efficiently, the better, obviously the people are going to work when they're back on the job.

Also, the training manager begins to have an easier time convincing people within their company that their courses are valuable, which has been a problem in the industry for a while. Many people within the corporate scene have gone off to do training that they didn't find to be as effective as they would have liked. And now when they are invited back to courses they do so with less than enthusiasm. I think that companies that have top trainers working within them, create as a by-product, an excitement in the population to be invited to one of these courses.


Q10 So is it applicable for training mangers to attend the course?

I do get training mangers doing the course and obviously the agenda for them is often different. They may have a training background and they certainly benefit from the skills of improving their own work when they are working on stage. What I think the training manager essentially is getting out of the course is a way of assisting their trainers back on the job doing it. In a way, they have the capacity to take the Training to Train program out of the course, and ensure that what it teaches is accessible and available for a large portion, of their training staff.

I think another benefit that the training manager gets comes from the notion that although they manage trainers, these trainers are also going through their own path of growth and change. They are having to tackle new challenges and learn new skills. So the training manager themselves in a way is somebody who is guiding and influencing a learning process. Although they happen to be trainers, it doesn't necessarily mean that they are the best learners. Often, people who stand up on stage, don't do the learning process as well as could be done. So, of course, what the training manager has been able to do, is to go back into their community and almost see and work with their trainers, as learners to guide their own process.


Q11 There is a lot of talk and use of skills like NLP and Accelerated Learning. Do you teach these techniques in Training to Train?

Processes like NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), and accelerated learning certainly, have captured the media's attention and certainly trainers' attention over the past 15 years. In this particular course I don't teach this work directly. They are specific techniques and methods that tend to work well in some contexts depending upon the skill of the trainer. But when I find excellent trainers across the board around the world who are out there influencing audiences, one of the things is that most of them wouldn't know what terms like Accelerated Learning or NLP are.

My goal in this particular course is to see that regardless of the environment and regardless of the resources that the trainer has that they can still produce the results. For example, it might be nice if you had coloured pens, flip charts and the right temperature in the room. If that were always available certainly that might be useful. But what about the trainer who goes back to the environment in which he or she is teaching on a shop floor, with loud machines and people sitting on cement and it's quite uncomfortable and very steamy. Well my goal would be to say that there are trainers out there who regardless of the environment produce excellent results, and how is it that they do that? It's not about the music or the pens or the temperature of the room… or specific techniques that can be said to work in all situations at all times. So certainly I am aware of those and other methods and many of the trainers who come to the course in fact are quite skilled in these methods. What we get a chance to do is to teach them how to use those skills in an even more finely tuned way. But this particular course does not teach those students to go explore those methods, if they happen to be appropriate for them in their work or in their context.



I've heard you talk about 'training being a lifestyle' - what do you mean by that?

When I looked at trainers and when I've interviewed trainers throughout my career, one of the things I found was that they weren't only training when they were on stage, nor did they only develop their skills in their time performing on stage. Trainers seem to have an uncanny way of seeing the world a bit differently, because of their education and because they deal with human behaviour and how to change human behaviour. So it seemed to me that it wasn't so much a switching on and switching off like - 'now I'm a trainer standing on stage and off stage I'm a something else'. Trainers in fact pick up messages and lessons and metaphors from the grocery store or from watching television. They learn as much from watching a Whoopie Goldberg monologue as they do watching another trainer. When I say Training is a Lifestyle, it's a way of seeing the world that's constantly giving us information about people, what makes them tick, how to motivate them, and how to influence them in positive directions. It's those lifestyle skills that we tend to bring on stage with us in an effective format. So when I said training is a lifestyle it's simple to say that we don't just train from 9-5 during the hours that we are standing in front. But all hours of the day are opportunities for us to be learning more about the artistry and the skills of training as a profession.


Q13 You're known as one of Australia's leading adult education specialists and the study of Adult Learning seems to feature heavily in the program… why is it so important?

The study of adult learning to my mind is critical in training and it is one aspect that is missing in many training programs today. We teach the trainer how to stand, how to talk and how to design courses but rarely do we consider the effect on the person sitting in the audience. For example, if I design a nice activity to use as an icebreaker for the start of my course and I think this is a nifty way to get some outcome…but if I don't know the kind of effect it will have on some personalities in the room, I've got a good likelihood that half of the class is going to leave because they feel embarrassed, or threatened or uncomfortable in that situation. So to me the whole notion of adult learning needs to be brought into the context of training because that's who we are working with. I'm trying to add that component which tends to be missing in many 'training programs' although it certainly isn't missing in the academic literature. My goal with the trainer is to create sensitivity to the adult learner's experience of sitting in the classroom. If we understand how what we do as the trainer affects them as learners, we become much smarter about making choices that tend to move people along without feeling of threat or anxiety or fear that is so present in the adult learning environment.

So, when I say what I say, what effect does that have on the members of the audience? Do they resist and shut down? Do they start to question my credibility? Do they buy in and if so for what reasons? The more the trainer understands what is being perceived and what the effect of what they do has on the audience, the more likely they are to get successful results in larger numbers of people across the board.

The whole notion of training is changing. Trainers are much more being seen as, not only a stand up presenter of canned material that was designed by someone else, but they are now involved in the design, they are even involved in the meetings around what should be taught.

I think the trend is that trainers want to know more about the theoretical premises, or the psychology if you will, of learning. It's no longer enough for them to say 'I am a trainer who has a course book and these are the things I need to say and these are the things I need to do in order to get the outcomes'. Trainers know instinctively now that they need to know more about the whole process of learning in order to be effective in their jobs given the kind of tasks and challenges they're being asked to tackle today.



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