Tip #521: What To Do When Your Audience Knows More Than You Do

“Who questions much, shall learn much, and retain much.” Francis Bacon

There are times when trainers may find themselves in the unenviable position of conducting a training program on a topic that the audience knows very well. For example, a trainer might be rolling out changes to a technical process or a procedure to skilled employees who work with those processes or procedures on a daily basis. As a result, the audience has a much greater familiarity with the content and its implications than the trainer does.

This can be a very uncomfortable situation for a trainer, particularly if the employees ask technical questions that the trainer cannot answer. In these instances, some trainers may feel that their credibility is on the line.

When this happens, it is important for the trainers to remember that they do not have to be experts in the content in order to be credible to the audience. The trainers are standing in front of the classroom or leading the webinar because of their training expertise. As long as the trainers do not misrepresent themselves as experts, that should help to minimize any discomfort when faced with difficult technical questions.

It might be wise for trainers to forestall any potential unpleasant criticism by saying at the beginning of the session: “The collective expertise in this group far exceeds my own. I am here in my capacity as a trainer, not as an expert in your field. So I will be relying on you to provide examples or explanations where necessary. In the event neither the group nor I know the answer to a question, I will check into it and get back to everyone after the session.”

As trainers, we are continually placed in the position of needing to learn new content and plan how best to deliver it to our intended audiences. We cannot possibly expect ourselves, nor should anyone else expect us, to know everything about a topic. No matter how well we may research our content, it is highly likely that there will be one or more participants in our class who know something that we don’t know or perceive something that we haven’t considered. That is what makes training so exhilarating. That is why we want to ensure that our training programs involve continual dialogue with our audience.

There is a bright side to the issue of participant questions, whether or not the trainers can answer them immediately. If the participants are asking questions, that means that they are actively engaged in the session. They are thinking about the content and taking it seriously. That is a good thing!

May your learning be sweet.


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