Tip #391: What Makes a Trainer Credible?

businessman speaking at

“To be persuasive, we must be believable. To be believable, we must be credible. To be credible, we must be truthful.”  Hellmut Walters

Why does a class pay attention to a trainer? The fact that the trainer is most likely standing in front of the room will establish initial authority. However, to maintain the class’s attention requires something more: the trainer must be credible. There are three key components to achieving credibility:

1.   Explain the basis for statements and beliefs

There are three common avenues to information: experience, education and research.

Experience is always valuable to a trainer, particularly if the trainer can give real life stories and examples. In this case, those who have done it themselves have immediate credibility.

However, less seasoned or experienced (and often younger) trainers can still be credible if they have relevant education or have researched what more experienced and respected individuals have determined.

For example, a trainer who was much younger than the audience said: “Although I have not worked as long as the rest of you in this field, this is a topic that I have studied carefully by reviewing the most recent and validated research findings. My conclusions are drawn from those findings.”

In such cases, trainers then need to speak with confidence about what they know rather than be apologetic about the experience they don’t have.

2.  Model the skills that are being taught.

It is difficult for an audience to believe trainers who do not practice what they teach.

For example, a trainer giving a time management seminar gave the class a ten-minute break. The trainer then proceeded to have a private conversation with a trainee for the next thirty minutes, while the rest of the class just sat and waited for the class to resume. Due to her actions, she lost all credibility because she had demonstrated that she lacked basic time management skills herself.

It is incumbent upon trainers to model what they are teaching. A trainer who teaching active listening skills needs to use them when communicating with participants. A trainer who is teaching non-defensive communication skills needs to respond in a non-defensive manner when confronted by a participant.

Trainers are much more credible if the participants can observe how they put theory into action.

3.  Admit limitations.

Trainers who are open and honest about what they know and what they don’t know are much more credible than trainers who pretend to know what they are talking about.

However, it is not enough to simply say: “I don’t know the answer to that question.” The trainer then needs to promise to find the answer and follow through in getting the answer back to the participants.

In general, it is diplomatic and disarming for a trainer to begin a class by admitting: “The collective expertise in this class far outshines my own, so I’m going to rely on you to fill in the blanks whenever necessary.”

Even the most experienced trainer can learn from and be humbled by participant insights and stories.

Trainers cannot assume they have credibility simply because they are standing in the front of the room. Learners are much more likely to trust trainers who are open and honest about the source of their information, actively use the skills they are teaching, and are willing to admit when they don’t know something.

May your learning be sweet.



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