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The Training Page of Volunteer Today has practical trainer techniques and activities to make orientation sessions more productive and valuable. There are also ideas to help enhance the professional volunteer managers training level.

~ February 2003 ~ Topics

Training Volunteer Speakers

Volunteers are sometimes asked to speak on behalf of an organization or volunteer program. Public speaking is known to strike fear into people, with only slightly less intensity than dealing with a snake! Here are some tips to help a volunteer draft a powerful outline for a speech. The ideas work for staff as well!

Write a purpose statement. Good speakers do not wander around. They have a clear reason for the speech. Is it to persuade people to donate? Is it to encourage people to volunteer? Is it to educate about the clients of the organization? Write the purpose on the top of each page of the final draft of the speech outline.
  An Example: To encourage volunteering at Mainville County Hospital
Write down the main idea of the speech.


This is the main idea from which all-important points flow. It should be directly related to the purpose of the speech

  An Example: You can make a difference in lives of men, women, and children of all races, religions, and ages by volunteering at the Mainville County Hospital.
List three or four important points directly related to the main idea statement. These need to directly support your premise. Examples, statistics, stories, research are used in these main points. Stick to the main idea with these points. Keep in mind that audiences remember best items grouped in threes.
  An Example: Point #1 Volunteers at the hospital come into contact with a variety of people.
  a. Some volunteer positions are located in the children’s units where you can do everything from rocking newborn babies to playing games with children with chronic illness.
b. Sarah is a long time volunteer in our children’s unit and she says that at 73 it is playing checkers with eight year olds that keep her young.
c. Juan is an older gentleman with two languages to share. He has helped out more than once in the emergency room to calm the fears of people who are from far away and who speak very little English.
d. Who would you like to meet? The hospital welcomes everyone and volunteers usually get to know people when they need a friend the most.

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Humor + Training = Impact

Using humor in training is recommended in every book on employee or volunteer training. Laughter in a classroom has been shown to promote the absorption and impact of training. So, you say you are not Whoopi Goldberg or Robin Williams? Here are some tips to weave in humor.

Use self-effacing humor.
Poking fun at yourself is an attention getter and shows the strength and confidence of the trainer. People think the trainer is secure enough to laugh at him or herself. It has the effect of creating a rapport with the group. But, use it sparingly. Too much poking fun at yourself and it makes the trainer seem negative. And the humor should always make a point related to the topic at hand.

Laugh with learners.
Never laugh at someone, especially if they are trying to master a new concept or skill. If a volunteer is practicing pushing someone in a wheel chair or bathing a dog at a shelter and they laugh at their own ineptness it is time to tell the funny story about the first time you tried this and how you were wetter than the dog at the end or took a chunk out of the plaster in the training room wall. This allows people the opportunity to laugh at themselves.

Find stories to illustrate the topic you are covering.
Select a story that fits perfectly to the point of what you are teaching. The example above about wheel chairs and wet dogs is the time to bring up the fact that you can get better at both and it is only a matter of practice. Volunteers’ experience with clients or patrons is a rich source of stories to illustrate the points in training. Be sure you have permission before you tell an amusing story about someone the trainees might later meet.

Delivery, delivery, delivery.

Comedians continuously hone their craft in comedy clubs and on tour. Even someone of Robin Williams’s fame needs practice. He recently undertook a comedy concert tour and said it was rejuvenating. Practice telling the story with good delivery style in mind. Here are some tips, but watch those great comedians and note time and punch to stories.

  • Know the story really well, so you do not leave out a key component in mid-story.
  • Never announce you are telling a story or joke. Just tell the story as part of the training.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Be confident
  • Pause for punch lines and then wait for laugh, count to five before speaking again.
  • Keep stories brief and to the point.

Never tells jokes or stories that put-down
or ridicule religious figures, ethnic or racial groups, women or men, gays, and the list goes on. You could belittle someone in the group and the intent of the story is to relate to the topic at hand, not make fun of others.

Give permission to laugh.
Many volunteers come to training with visions of high school geometry swimming in their head. They see it as a place of deadly seriousness. Training for volunteers should be relaxed, where people have a good time. Remind people to take their work seriously, but themselves lightly.

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What Do Volunteers Hope to Learn?

Finding out what volunteers want to learn is critical. This can be done through needs assessments prior to training, but another method to help guide training is to ask at the beginning of a session. Here is an exercise that combines icebreakers with a needs assessment.

First Page
  1. Develop a two page training needs assessment for learners.
  2. Provide each person with a copy of the assessment at the beginning of training.
  3. The first page asks questions related to training needs.
    • What do you hope to learn?
    • What do you already know about ____________?
    • What do you hope doesn’t happen?
    • What contribution can you make to the training?

Second Page

  1. The second page is made up of silly questions designed to get people laughing and smiling. Here are some samples.
    • Soap opera characters often have unusual names. You can learn your soap opera name by combining the name of your first pet (a neighbors special pet that you liked) and the name of the first street you lived on.
      Example: Misty Sunset
    • What is your favorite ice cream?
    • How many volunteers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
    • What is the wildest hair color you ever had?
  2. Allow a modest amount of time for trainees to complete the assessment.
  3. Then ask about their responses to the training expectations and post those on easel paper to check at the end of training.
  4. Everyone who answers a question should also be asked one of his or her responses to the "fun" icebreaker questions.
  5. In one exercise the trainer gets an idea of learner expectations, learns something about the participants, and the participants learn about each other.

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Close to 200 colleges and universities offer academic programs on nonprofit and volunteer sector management. They are usually master's degree programs, but not always. American Humanics sponsors undergraduate programs, as well. If you are looking to push out the professional development window, consider taking a course at one of these colleges. A full list resides at http://pirate.shu.edu/~mirabero. Thank Roseanne Mirabella, of Seton Hall University for keeping up with this list.

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