10 Clues That You’ve Signed up for a Crappy Training Program

They say trainers are the worst trainees, and I think there’s a lot of truth to that. Especially “seasoned”, errr…., “experienced” trainers like myself. It’s like trying to sell to a salesperson – they already know all of the techniques and tricks, so you can’t get away with anything.


New salesperson: “So, could we start by you telling me about your company strategy, goals, and pain points?”

Experienced cynical salesperson and potential customer: “Come on, let’s cut to the chase and tell me about whatever product or service you’re trying to sell me”.

I’ve gotten to the point where I can usually sniff out a bad training program, and try to avoid them at all costs. And if I happen to end up in a program and it looks like it’s going to be a waste of my time, I’ve been known to just not come back after the first break.

How can you spot a bad training program, without having the benefit of years and years of bad training experiences? As a training provider, I’m more than happy to pass along an insider’s secrets to recognizing a crappy training program. If you recognize any of these signs, save your money. If it’s too late and you’ve already shown up, then don’t be afraid to cut your losses and save yourself a wasted day that you can never get back.

1. A one day, mass-marketed, under $200 training program with claims that sound too good to be true. These are the puppy mills of the training industry. They are tempting because people often justify their choice by saying “well, it’s only $179.00, what do I have to lose?” You’ll lose a day of your life, and they’ll probably try to soak you for some books and CDs too. Save yourself some time and money – just buy the book.

2. A training program that sound like therapy or a religious experience, uses a lot of cosmic sounding code words, and incorporates chanting, meditation, or fire-walking. These cult-like training programs often use words like “transformational”, “life-changing”, and “empowering”. OK, so maybe not all of these programs end up being crappy – but many of them can be downright harmful. Just know what you’re getting yourself into, and don’t feel pressured to attend if you don’t really want to.

3. Lack of attention to the little details. If there’s no pre-work, vague or incomplete logistical information,  errors, poor seating arrangements, AV equipment that doesn’t work, a trainer that can’t manage breaks, late lunch, etc…. how much confidence can you have that the “meat” of the program is high quality? I know what goes into getting all of these little things right. When a trainer or organization slacks off here, it’s because they really don’t give a darn, and are just in it to make a fast buck.

4. When a trainer says something like “You’re not really going to learn anything from me – I’m really just a facilitator. The real learning is going to be from each other!” Oh really? You mean I’ve got to listen to you all day and you’re not even a subject matter expert? Sure, contributions from others are interesting, but let’s face it, they’re here for the same reason I am – it’s because we’re not experts.

5. Being forced to watch any video over 10 minutes in length. Come on, we all learned this trick in grade school, when the teacher made us watch bad science movies so they could use the time to grade papers.

6. Overuse of small group or paired discussions and journaling. Again, in moderation, these techniques can break up the monotony, encourage reflection, and enhance learning. When they are overdone, it’s usually because of lazy design or a lack of content.

7. Death by PowerPoint. Nowadays, trainers and presenters can do some amazingly creative things with tools that used to require professional production. When I see examples of these, I can really appreciate them. On the other hand, when a trainer is just reading from the slides or making me go blind with eyestrain, I start looking for the nearest exit.

8. When you see these signs of a bad trainer: shows up late, reads from notes, can’t answer questions, doesn’t even acknowledge when a hand goes up, gives condescending or arrogant answers, can’t remember your name (even after you’ve filled out one of those tent cards or stickers), can’t manage break time, disappears on breaks (instead of being available to participants), a lack of energy, dull and boring and/or doesn’t know Jack about the content. On rare occasions, I’ve seen great content and participants overcome a bad trainer, but it’s very rare.

9. A lack of course material. I don’t believe thick notebooks or slickly produced training material really do much to enhance a training program. They drive up costs and often end up either in the airport trash cans or gathering dust on shelves.  However, I hate it when a trainer takes this to the extreme and hands me a blank pad and tells me “You’ll learn more if you write it down”. OK, I don’t mind taking notes, but as least give me a copy of the slides and a few handouts and job aids.

10. No Food (other than a bowl of those little mints). “What, no morning muffins or coffee? No, I didn’t notice this was a “brown bag” session, and I didn’t bring a sandwich. And no cookies!? That’s it, I am so outta here!”  Well OK, I realize it’s supposed to be a training program, and not a free buffet….. but I have my priorities.

How about you? What are some of your favorite bad training experiences?