Sep 7, 2008

[Call Centers] How to Pass a Demo Teach

Picture by myselfImage via Wikipedia My "day" job, in case you didn't know, is the role of a training manager at an outsource contact center here in Manila. In recent weeks I've been screening applicants for the position of Product Trainer, and frankly it's not been going great. Then again, it seems that this always happens time and time again.

When it comes to trainers, the most important aspect of the application process is demo teach, when the applicant really gets to prove his skills within a mock classroom setting. No matter what flowery words you get to use in your interviews, they all mean nothing if your demo doesn't go well, at least from my perspective. While the demo is not the most accurate approximation of a person's skills, it's the best way to get to see at least some of the applicant's principles and tendencies when it comes to handling classes.

Training is not the same as teaching, after all. It's perhaps even more challenging in the context of the call center environment given the diversity of the workforce involved in terms of background, age, education and many other fields. After watching so many demo teaches, I've developed certain principles and beliefs around the screening process, which I think are pretty much universal in the training field. Thus I think it rather prudent (and potentially helpful to applicants) to share some tips on surviving your demo teach and pretty much what you need to do to get the job of a trainer.

Dress Well - I know this first item is rather cliche, but many people forget this. At the very least wear a good button-down shirt and slacks or for ladies a good blouse with skirt of decent length. There's no need to go all black tie just for a demo but at the same time don't appear overly casual. Appearances do matter.

Come Prepared - You have no idea what the demo environment will be like. Send your presentation ahead of time via email to your recruitment contact and bring a copy on CD or a USB thumb drive. Bring your own hand-outs, white board markers and other materials that you'll need for the demo. Always assume there is going to be a demo when you apply as a trainer - it's annoying when the applicant seems surprised by the demo requirement and will later on state that the deck is bad since he didn't have enough time to prepare a better one.

Don't Do a High School Report - One of the most common mistakes made by first-time applicants trying to break into the training field is to present a report similar to what was done in high school. Demo teaches are not about knowledge alone but are more about skill so you don't need to try and show off how much you know by talking the whole time. Training is interactive and so you need to factor that into your presentation.

Set the Scene - Many demo teaches have the applicant going in blind - the panel lead does not tell the applicant what is expected and simply has the applicant start. There's nothing wrong with setting the scene for the demo by stating assumptions like, "This is the first day of new hire training" or "Welcome to your refresher training class" and other such parameters. The demo panel will normally play along with whatever you chose as a setting.

Remember the Basics - In a demo teach, you get to play the role of trainer with the screening group as your learners. That means that you still need to remember to formally introduce yourself to the class, get their names somehow and introduce the topic and the objectives for the day. I hate it when we're more than halfway through the demo when the applicant realizes he can't call on anyone since he doesn't know their names.

Choice of Topic is Important - Most good demos will require you to present original material and not some pre-packaged deck that you've been running for years on end at your previous company. Pick something that you're comfortable with and yet still demonstrates the kinds of processes or thinking that is important to the job you're applying for. Your comfort with the topic will affect your delivery and there are few things more annoying than an applicant stating a disclaimer at the start of the demo that he doesn't really know his subject matter well.

Design Your Deck Well - While most trainer demo teaches do not factor in deck design in their consideration, your presentation will say a lot about you. Cartoons and clip art are rather childish these days and slides filled from top to bottom with text show that you're either lazy or slide dependent. Keep your deck simple and your text concise - you're supposed to talk around your slides and not read your slides. Plus, rehearse your slides several times to make sure you know what's coming up, especially if you're the type who likes to animate bullets.

Talk to the Whole Group - Demo teach panels are normally a mix of various employees from the company, mostly from the training department. Many applicants make the mistake of trying to single out the manager in the room and only teach to him or do the reverse by avoiding the manager the whole time due to fear / discomfort. Treat the class as any other group and address everyone equally while maintaining good eye contact.

Don't Break the Fourth Wall - Many people try to treat demo teaches a little too lightly and try to be overly familiar with the panel by engaging in small talk or constantly mentioning that this is a demo and not a real class. It makes it harder when you step in and out of the demo setting and it brings into question whether the behaviors you're showing are because you've stepped out in the demo environment or this is really how you behave in the classroom environment.

Questions are Important - Don't forget to ask check point questions to confirm understanding and to involve the audience more. At the same time, be sure to properly address any questions raised by the demo panel during the class as you would for any learner. There are times you might not know the answer and hearing an applicant say, "I don't know" is a death knell for any demo. Be smart enough to park questions for a later time with the promise of getting back to the class once you have the accurate answer.

Now please note these are my principles when it comes to good demo presentations and some may or may not agree with me. Still, I think they generally make sense and most of them are just common principles that everyone should have for any job posting. Still, people keep forgetting many of these things and this just forces me to politely decline their application at the end of the session.

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  1. hmmm.. agree.. agree..

    it's more on the competency rather than the proficiency of the trainer.

  2. @Rito:

    The last one is a bit subjective and I guess we'll just have to leave that at artistic license / desired tone or something for now.

    Thanks for the input.