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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 manager's training level.


~ May 2005 ~ Topics

Basics of Communication—Getting the Message Through

77% of all Americans get 90% of their news from television.
An adult in North American has an attention span of 1 – 2 minutes.
Information comes to people in short spurts.
Information is always supported with colorful graphics and descriptive phrases.
Inattention is learned at an early age.
Continuity of learning is missing.

Good trainers pay attention to the way in which people consume information. The day of the un-illustrated lecture for 45-50 minutes is over. It is not an effective means to train, although there are some college professors who have yet to receive that message!

These basics of communication are signposts to planning training:

  1. Keep the training segments less than 20 minutes doing the same thing. The topic might be the same, but vary the activities.
  2. Add wall signs or handouts with short colorful sayings related to your training topic.
  3. Expect people to be impatient. . .never lose yours.
  4. Organize training to be complete in one setting, and not require several sessions.
  5. Continuity should come from discrete sessions with single topics.
  6. Arrange training sessions in convenient places and times. Example, if you have a number of volunteers who work in a downtown area, find a company that will donate a conference room for 90 minutes starting at 5:00 p.m. and hold the training at or near where the volunteers work.
  7. Get a volunteer, perhaps homebound, who loves to do graphics things. Have them do all your graphics for handouts and the like, so everything you distribute looks wonderful!

Want more ideas for training? Check out our online bookstore for Slide Show on a Shoestring, by Nancy Macduff. Details for Slide Shows Book

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Old Idea On Training: They Still Work

Oratory from the Greeks

The art of oratory has been around for 2500 years. Socrates and Plato were making suggestions for effective trainers and teachers before overhead projectors and handouts. Those suggestions are still good today. Follow the five oratory steps listed below for effective presentations.

What do you want to say? Is your content organized to be accessible to others? Who? What? Why? How? Where? How Much?

Plan the steps to structure your ideas. Construct a framework to present your information. Having a plan for presentation can allow the words and ideas to flow easily. Learning objectives help with this.

This means that you need to think of the stylistic devices or techniques used to convey the content. The Greeks spoke of three styles; humble, moderate, and noble. Examples of these abound in the stories they told and the audio-visual methods they used.

Memorizing material is an old-fashioned notion. There is wisdom, however, in being so familiar with your material that you present it in a smooth flow. Avoid reading to adults! Believing in what you say makes it easier to come across as less scripted.

Use voice, body, gestures or whatever it takes to get your message across. Check your tone of voice and volume. Be yourself. Don't pattern yourself after someone else. Be the best you can be with your own personality.

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Assessing the Need for Training

Training workshops should never be the same two years in a row. Position requirements change, volunteers change, staff change, and so many differences require new information. So how is a trainer supposed to determine what to change? The answer is the needs assessment. Here are some ideas on gathering information to determine trainee needs.

    • Talk with supervisors, staff, or volunteer leaders about the places where volunteers consistently make mistakes.
    • Ask customers, clients, and patrons about the levels of service.
    • Observe volunteers at work.
    • Ask the volunteers who are experienced where they could have used more help.
    • Talk to administrators and high level staff and/or volunteers about potential shifts in organizational priorities or procedures.
    • If outside trainers are used, ask them to recommend areas to improve training.


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/kellogg.html. Thank Roseanne Mirabella, of Seton Hall University for keeping up with this list.

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