Learning the hard way by Adam Barlow (Executive Director, WildTeam UK)

The fear bomb – Terror is the only way to describe what I felt the first time I had to stand up in a dusty, old, dim lecture theatre in front of my university classmates and give a 10 minute talk about my research project. A moment before I was feeling confident in what I knew and what I wanted to say, but as the first words started moving from my brain to my mouth they picked up a big fear bomb along the way that exploded in an ice cold, sweaty, knee-wobbling blast. I shook and had to hold on to the desk for some kind of moral support while I rushed and mumbled through 2 minutes of what I could remember to say before I stopped to silence in the room and thankfully no questions. Many of my fellow students had similar experiences that day and the lecturers were far from impressed.

Ignorant bliss – Very slowly but surely, the more I (was forced) to give talks the smaller the fear bomb seemed to be until later on in grad school I even sometimes enjoyed giving talks, especially when I was training a class in something like how to radio track bears. Training people seemed easy enough; prepare a few slides, talk for an hour, ridicule anyone who interrupted you, and go for lunch. Job done. It was as easy as downloading a file onto a hard drive.

Enlightenment – It was not until I started working full time in conservation that I started to question my training skills. I tried time and again to train a group of forest guards how to immobilise a tiger.  I talked and they smiled and listened for 3 days until the end session when I asked for a show of hands for all those who were keen to put what they had learnt into practice. One hand went up out of 20. When asked what they learnt in the training they spent a lot of time telling me about how the food was bad and that they should be getting paid extra for attending. I now knew I had a problem with how I was training people, but did not know exactly what my problem was. The first bit of light at the end of the tunnel was lit by the Conservation Coaches network who taught me how to be a conservation coach. Following that I started to look more and more into training as a subject and was surprised to find out it was a whole skill set in its own right. Who knew training adults involved more than one way lecturing!

Sharing the love – Several years, scores of workshops, and stacks full of training materials later I have come to realise how important training skills are for conservationists, who often have to run training workshops, but rarely get the opportunity to learn how to do so in a way that makes much of a difference for the people being trained. So I decided to create a best practice in exactly that – how to deliver a training workshop for wildlife conservation. Reading it won’t make someone a brilliant trainer overnight but I wish I had this manual when I started out to help me and, more importantly, the trainees get the most out of the workshops I designed and ran. So here it is in case you want to skip years of learning the hard way.

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