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Learn how to deliver a training session with all of the behind the scenes activity that makes a training session work.


  • What are the advantages of holding a training session?

  • When should you host a training session?

  • How do you deliver a training session?

When a training session runs well, most people come out thinking, "Wow, I learned a lot about X," or, "Great! Now I can do Y." On the flip side, however, is what people think about when a training goes badly: "That speaker was awful." "I never got to ask any of my questions." "This training really didn't fit my needs." "I ended up showing up 45 minutes late because I didn't understand the directions -- how embarrassing."

In the last Tool Box section, we talked about how you design a training, both its content and its presentation. However, when you have that down, you only have the battle half won. There is still a lot more work to be done -- important work that can be a smooth and seamless backdrop for your training, or work that can turn into a nightmare for trainers and trainees alike if it's done poorly. This work is all the pieces that go into the delivery of a training session.

In this section, we're going to step onto that more practical ground and map out the logistics of running a training session. We'll start with a look at the advantages to your organization of holding a training session. Then, we'll look at when might be the perfect time for your organization to hold such a training. Finally, we'll come to the training delivery itself: what you do in the days preceding the training session, during the session itself, and finally, as follow up in the days after the session.

What are the advantages of holding a training session?

Generally speaking, your organization will hold a training session for one basic reason: to get information and skills to people who need them. However, there are a lot of other "extra" advantages to delivering a training session. Some of them include:

  • Improve organizational morale. Holding a training session can brighten spirits in your organization by increasing the satisfaction employees and/or volunteers feel with their work. Learning to run a training can be a terrific confidence builder for people who don't have a lot of experience in managing group projects. One reason that this is true is because the results of running a training session are so tangible -- organizers can watch people learn and gain confidence with their skills. Also, if attendees fill out evaluation forms at the end, organizers have almost immediate feedback on their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Holding training sessions can make your organization more effective. This can happen in several ways. First, if the training (at least in part) is for staff or volunteers involved with your organization, you'll see immediate benefit as they get better at what they do. If the training also includes other community members who are not directly involved with your organization, the attendees will learn more about your cause and your organization -- and they might even decide to sign on as volunteers! Finally, a good teacher (or facilitator) always learns from his or her students. So if the trainer or trainers has/have an ongoing relationship with the organization (for example, if they are employees, or if they always run trainings for your group), they might very well learn things they can use to help the organization in other ways. So, delivering a training session truly can be a situation where everyone wins.
  • Increase community awareness. Finally, your training can be directed (at least in part) towards the general public. This can help increase awareness of your organization and your cause -- a definite side benefit that can occur as you try to increase community members' competence on a given subject.

Let's look at how all of these advantages might occur together. For example, let's say that your organization is working to reduce the incidence of heart disease in your community. One of your actions is to host "heart healthy" cooking classes, demonstrating healthy recipes to people who have had heart problems and their families. In doing the class, you ask one of your newest employees to co-facilitate the class, helping her to hone her presentation and organizational skills. During the class, members learn new, healthier recipes, and they also learn healthy variations of old favorites. The facilitators also talk a little about the organization's purpose and upcoming events, and several class members decide it would be fun to help out at a community walk/run the organization is putting on in a few months. Finally, towards the end of the class, everyone brings in some of their favorite healthy recipes to share among themselves and for the facilitators to use at future trainings.

When should you host a training session?

Even with all of the good things your group can gain from running a training session, your organization probably still won't want to do them every day. So how do you decide when to take the time and resources away from other projects to run a training?

The simple answer is that it depends on the type of training you are planning as well as the needs of your organization. Consider the following types of training, and the situations in which they might be useful:

  • Regular, repeated trainings. If your organization is planning to run trainings on topics that everyone involved with the organization needs to understand, then trainings might be best scheduled to occur on a regular schedule, such as biannually or quarterly, as new members join the organization. For example, a crisis counseling center that is manned by entirely by volunteers might decide to accept new volunteer counselors two or three times a year, and run training sessions at those times.
  • Regular, topical training sessions. An organization may choose to have regular, ongoing training sessions on different topics to keep staff and volunteers interested, educated, and up to date on the organization and its work. For example, a teen pregnancy prevention project might try to run quarterly training sessions on topics that will be important to its members and also to different segments of the community. The group might decide to give trainings on topics that they themselves are currently contending with, or maybe on topics that have recently been talked about in the news, and in which there exists a good deal of interest. For example, their classes one year might include, "Preventing second pregnancies among teenagers," "Working with the faith community," "Contraception for teenagers: What messages are we sending our children (and what do they hear)?" and "It's not just a woman thing: Reaching out to young men."
  • Trainings done occasionally on an "as needed" basis. An organization might also not have any set training schedule, but be prepared to present occasional trainings on topics as they become an issue in each community. For example, in a community where several high school students have recently committed suicide, a youth organization might put together a series of educational sessions for teens and parents on recognizing the signs of depression and understanding how to get their children or friends the counseling they need.
  • Trainings that "piggyback" onto other events. Sometimes, it makes sense to run training sessions when interest in your issue is likely to be high. For example, your organization might use Mothers' Day to kick off your new parent skills classes; or you might offer short trainings on nutrition at a local health fair.
  • Trainings done to fulfill professional requirements. Many professions require a certain number of continuing education units, or CEUs, to retain licensure. Your group might choose to offer these units in conjunction with any of the types of training listed above, depending on your target audience. This topic is discussed in more depth in the previous Tool Box section.

Along with the needs presented above, there are other things your organization will need to consider when deciding if right now is the right time to hold a training session. These things will include:

  • Does your organization have the time to deliver a training session?
  • Do you have the resources to do so (financial resources, experienced trainers, et cetera)?
  • Does the training you are considering fit with your organization's mission?
  • Is there another organization that already runs a similar training, or that is considering doing so?
  • Is there a need in your community for the training you want to provide?

Looking over these options, it might be very clear to you what type of training your organization wants to run, and when would be a smart time to run it; or you might not be very sure of what you want. In either case, our suggestion is to sit down with the group of people who is considering delivering the training session. (An ideal group would include members of the staff, a Board member or two, and if possible, an experienced trainer.) In your meeting, talk about what kind of trainings you have in mind, the list of questions above, and any additional concerns people have about organizing such a session.

How do you deliver a training session?

Delivering a training session really has three major parts -- what you do before, during, and after the session. Let's look at each part one by one.

Before the training session:

A lot of what you do before the training happens in the weeks or even months before the training occurs. Even if you are using a training outline developed elsewhere (for example, if you are using a Red Cross format to educate volunteers as HIV educators ), many of the same points will still apply. To recap very briefly, some of your group's key steps will include:

  • Determine your organization's specific training needs.
  • Clarify the goals of the training session.
  • Decide who will run the session.
  • Develop (or choose, or modify) the training outline you will use for the training session.
  • Recruit trainees for the session.

If you haven't gone through these steps already, now is probably a good time to refer back to the last section.

Then, when you're up to speed on those pieces, you're ready to focus on game day, or on the run-up just before it.

There's not an absolute "right" time to start on figuring out the logistics -- a last minute training might be offered very casually to interested learners with very little notice; a year in advance isn't too soon to start on a very large, professional training. But for most moderate sized trainings run by community groups, a month or two ahead of time is probably a good time to start preparing.

Set a budget.

The first thing you'll need to consider is how much you have to spend, and where you want to spend it.

Secure space for the training session.

This step will be very important if you will be renting or borrowing a place to hold the training, as opposed to using your own facility. But even if you're planning on holding the session at your office, you should still consider carefully all of the following issues. Your group may decide that it's actually better, in the long run, to spend the money and rent a place that is more appropriate, if it turns out there are some very big disadvantages to your home base.

Issues to consider:

  • Is it accessible? This includes how user-friendly the building is for people who are physically challenged, and also how easy to get to is the building site itself. For example, is the training site many miles from where your students live? If members of your audience take the bus or subway, is it on the route? If you're having Sunday evening classes, will transportation still be available?
  • What facilities are available? Is there a bathroom? How about vending machines? These are an especially welcome perk if the training will go on for more than an hour or two.
  • What will parking be like? Are there enough places for your estimated audience? Is it free and safe?
  • How is the lighting in the space you're looking at? Is it too bright or too dingy?
  • Is there adequate ventilation? Are there windows? Although windows aren't a necessity, they can certainly help brighten a room.
  • Do you have access to the temperature controls? On a similar note, if you're planning for some or all of the training to occur outside, do you have a rainy day back-up plan?
  • What kind of seating is available? This includes how many seats there are, how comfortable they are, and how flexible they are. Can the seats be moved around? And can tables appear/disappear if you do/don't want them?
  • How much does the space cost to rent? Is that figure all-inclusive? How does that number compare to your budget?
  • Is equipment available? Is everything you will need, such as televisions/VCRs, AV equipment, et cetera, on hand? If not, do you own it, or can you rent it? How much will that add to the cost of the facility?
  • Is food available? Are there kitchen facilities, or at least restaurants nearby? Also, check to be sure that the space you are looking at allows food and drink to be brought in.
  • Are there equipment hookups for things you might want to bring in? Enough outlets? If you will want to connect to the Internet, are there phone jacks you'll be able to use?
  • Is there technical support available? This includes for the equipment, of course, but also for little things like someone to let you in. You don't want to plan a session, and then not be able to get in because the person with the key isn't around.
  • Will childcare be available on site? If not, will this hurt attendance?
  • Finally, what is the general feel of the space; does it just feel good to be there? If you don't feel personally comfortable there (especially if you're the trainer ), and if you have a choice, don't take it.

Prepare materials for the session.

Make sure to purchase and/or duplicate any necessary materials. It's probably a good idea to have a list that you can check before you go to the training site. Also, check to see if you will be able to photocopy things on site; if not, you might want to learn where the closest copier is.

Expert tip: Some professional trainers will have a prepacked bag full of training supplies and extras -- pens, markers, clips, tape, post-its, stuff for making signs, spare bulbs, name tags, generic sign-in sheets and evaluation forms, certificates, aspirin -- that they can take with them on very short notice. If you plan on doing trainings as a not-infrequent part of your professional life, you might consider developing a similar bag of your own.

Make sure everyone knows when and where the training will be.

If the training will include people who don't come to the organization's headquarters every day (ie, volunteers, or community members you have recruited especially for this meeting), be sure to send a reminder out to arrive one week before the meeting. A postcard can be a great way to do this; if your group is small enough and/or you have the manpower, you might also consider phone calls. Also, be sure to send out clear directions, with maps, to arrive well before the meeting takes place.

Send "homework" to training participants.

If you want people to have done any reading or other homework for the meeting, it's probably a good idea to send that out even earlier -- about two weeks beforehand, if possible. And even with no homework, it's nice to send out some materials around then, to welcome participants in advance, to give them a sense of what's going to happen, to set the tone, and to psych them up.

One idea is to ask people to fill out a paper with questions they would like answered during the training. The questions can be mailed back early to allow the trainer to prepare (be sure to include a self-addressed stamped envelope), or they can be given to the trainer at the beginning of the training session.

Have the trainer himself do "homework."

A good trainer knows that adequate preparation is key. This includes understanding the content to be delivered, a plan for the pace of the session, and learning as much about your audience in advance as you can, in order to gear your presentation to them and their needs and styles. Some trainers also like to visualize the training: how it should run, how events will unfold, and anticipate obstacles and possible glitches to be able to counter them in your presentation, and/or through making appropriate physical arrangements.

During the training session:

Arrive early to set up shop.

The trainer(s) will probably want to get there at least half an hour early. Things to check include:

  • Is the room set up the way you want?
  • Are signs in place?
  • Food accounted for?
  • Coffee perking?
  • Test the equipment; does it work today, as vs. last week?
  • If you're collecting money at the door, do you have a cash box, receipts, and change?

Be ready to greet people when they arrive.

Make sure someone is ready to welcome folks as they walk in. Some welcoming and /or a registration table are often appropriate; generally speaking, the larger the training, the more formal the welcome. Also, if you have materials to pass out, now is the time to do it.

If appropriate, make sure everyone knows everyone else.

If you have under about 30 people, it's possible (and often preferable) to introduce everyone. As your numbers get larger than that, introductions may be too time consuming and overwhelming. A good alternative for a larger crowd is the use of nametags or badges, (badges are for a more formal training).

Set (share) the agenda.

This program could be given out as part of the packet at the beginning, with other materials. Alternatively, it could be posted on newsprint, or even written in chalk. Wherever it is written the leader/trainer will probably want to review the agenda at the very beginning, including any particular goals for the day, desired outcomes, and/or decisions that need to be made. She will probably also want to go over any important logistical points as well, such as:

  • Bathroom locations
  • Food availability
  • Telephones
  • Asking those with cellphones and beepers to turn them off, or switch them to "vibrate "

Set ground rules.

These may be set in advance, or the trainer may wish to ask the audience to help set them. Some commonly used ground rules include:

  • No interrupting others.
  • Setting a "choice point" for asking questions (ie, deciding if the trainer will take questions at any time, at prearranged intervals, or only at the very end).
  • Setting a limit on the amount of time for which each person may speak, if this is likely to be necessary.
  • Keep interactions respectful, even if participants are feeling frustrated or hurt. Avoid put-downs, name calling, etc.
  • Everyone participates in the training
  • Try to avoid side conversations.

The trainer or group can develop other ground rules that are appropriate as necessary.

Make sure everyone has the chance to talk and ask questions, as appropriate.

This will depend heavily on the type of training you are doing. Some trainings are really didactic, and trainees are best advised to listen, take notes, and learn. Even in these trainings, however, there should be room for some questions, if not necessarily discussions across the room. Other trainings are less formal, and encouraging discussions may be one of the points of the training.

Another factor to take into consideration is the size of the training. If you've got 100 people in the room, not everyone is going to talk -- but again, even in this situation, people should generally be given the chance to do so. It's especially important in larger trainings to make sure participants will have some way to contact the trainer at a later date, in case time or shyness kept them from asking all the questions they had.

Stick to the schedule, as much as possible.

If you have only a certain pre-determined amount of time to spend on each part of your training, try to remain within the limits you have allotted yourself for each part of the training. Of course, things come up -- issues that need to be dealt with. But generally speaking, try to remain more or less on course. It can be very frustrating for participants if important parts of the program are cut or shortened without just cause, or if trainings run late, which can cause other problems for the trainees.

One idea you might consider is having a later activity that you are willing to cut, if that becomes necessary. That way, if trainees are having an outstanding conversation, the trainer won't necessarily have to cut a good thing short. Conversely, you might also have an extra activity that you can insert at any time, in case things run quickly, or if one part of the training has to be canceled at the last minute.

A lot more could be said here about how to run an effective session, but much of this is already well-covered in other parts of the Community Tool Box.

Follow-up: After the session is over:

Ask participants/leaders to evaluate the session. This might be done verbally, but is more commonly done with anonymous evaluation forms. However you do it, though, it's almost always a good idea to seek honest feedback from participants to see what they liked and didn't like about the session, and what they would change in the future. See Tools for a form that you can adapt and use.

Other ways to evaluate the session include using pre- and post-tests, or organizing a group project to see if people can integrate what they have learned.

Outline next steps for participants. Make sure the training participants not only have the information they need, but that they also know how to use it. Even more than that, you want to make sure that folks have a structure or institutional pathway in place to make it more likely that they will go out and practice what they have learned. This may not be in the trainer's direct control, especially if he comes from outside of the organization. But even then, the trainer can make recommendations for institutionalizing the training content -- recommendations that might even be followed!

A health educator in the southeast has this to say, "There's a story -- I don't know where it's from, I heard it at an HIV Educators workshop put on by the Red Cross. Anyway, it's the story of a group of birds who go to school to learn to fly. Well, these birds sit through their lectures, watch simulations, and practice their technique. And when it's all over, they are praised for their attention and excellent questions, and they all receive certificates of accomplishment from their instructor. So what do they do? Well, they all just waddle on home, certificates tucked safely beneath their wings."

Leave the room neat and tidy.

This is especially true if you've borrowed the space or had it donated; but in any case, be sure to do your part here. You may want to come back some day!

Follow up, as appropriate.

This can mean different things for different organizations, but typically follow -ups will consist of doing the following things:

  • Send thank you notes to donors, co-trainers, volunteers, et cetera.
  • Send minutes out to participants, along with any other materials that were promised during the session.
  • Enter participants' names in a database to be notified for upcoming trainings and events.
  • Have a debriefing session with everyone who ran the session to talk about what they learned, what didn't work, and so on.
  • Make modifications to the existing training outline for future sessions based on this experience.


Especially if the training is long -- if it takes place over several weeks or months -- some token of accomplishment is often appreciated by those who have gone through the training. Many longer trainings have certificates of achievement passed out to those who have successfully completed the training.

In Summary:

In this section, we're really talking about all of the behind the scenes activity that makes a training session work. If trainers and planners have done their job well, participants probably won't remember the details of how things were put together -- they'll just remember the people they met and the things they learned. And in the end, that's really what it's all about.

Jenette Nagy

Online Resources

Energize, Inc. A self-proclaimed website "for leaders of volunteers." Browse the site to find plenty of useful information, including some that is pertinent to training.

The Free Management Library. An outstanding resource with information on a wide variety of topics for nonprofit professionals.

The Points of Light Foundation. Offers a wide variety of training opportunities for nonprofit groups across the nation.


Learningwire. A bi-weekly newsletter for people in the training and personal development industry.

Print Resources

Gaines R., & Robinson, J. (1989). Training for impact: How to link training to business needs and measure the results. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Powers, B. (1989). Instructor Excellence: Mastering the delivery of training. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Quinlivan, D., & Renner, P. (1994). In search of solutions: 60 ways to guide your problem-solving group. San Diego, CA: Pfieffer and Company.

Vineyard, S. (1990). The great trainer's guide: How to train (almost) anyone to do (almost) anything. Downers Grove, IL: Heritage Arts Publishing.