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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.

~ March 2006 ~ Topics

Tip for the Trainer with a Cold
Trainer Response Styles
Training Contract

Tip for the Trainer with a Cold

There you are: sick, nose running, coughing, and barely able to talk. Take to your bed? NOT! 16 volunteers are due in two hours for training that only you can do. Here are some tips to get through the situation.

Water, water, water, but no ice. Ice makes the throat constrict and only makes the matter worse.
Avoid milk products. Dairy coats the throat under normal circumstances. There is enough "goo" in there for a lifetime when you are sick. Have a hardboiled egg instead of cereal for breakfast.
Whispering doesn't work. It puts more strain on the vocal cords. It is as damaging as screaming or shouting.
Do not clear your throat. It is also very hard on vocal cords and doesn't improve the situation.
Menthol and mint dry out the throat. Steer clear.
Hot water, lemon juice, and honey will (a) relax the vocal cords, (b) clear out phlegm, (c) and coat the throat with soothing substance. (My great grandmother always added a half shot of whiskey to the mix. Then you can add putting you to sleep to the benefits. Not before training, but good before bed!)
Swigging down gallons of orange juice is also not a great idea. Acids can prolong symptoms of laryngitis.

Want more ideas for training? Check out our online bookstore for Sharing Moments of Recognition Every Day by Linda L. Graff. Details for Slide Shows Book

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Trainer Response Styles

Effective listening is only as good as a trainer's response style. Responses act as encouragement or discouragement to the speaker and others in the training session. The interpersonal process of give and take is impacted by how a trainer responds. The response not only directs the course of the ensuing message, but it tells the speaker if the responder was listening. Here are some options when trainees make comments or ask questions. Good trainers practice using all of them.

Trainer Response Styles
Technique Descriptions
1. Reassurance Reassurance is the act of giving support, comfort, or encouragement to a trainee. "I know this is difficult. You should have seen me the first time I tried. I promise you it will become easier with more practice. How about we all do it again?"
2. Paraphrasing Paraphrasing is restating something in order to find out if what you heard is what the speaker intended. It combines the understanding of words with sensitivity to the feelings of the speaker. "Let's see if I understand what you are saying. You think that this part of your position as a volunteer is more than should be expected and you are wondering why it is part of the position's responsibilities. Is that an accurate reflection of what you are saying?"
3. Interviewing Interviewing is a way of asking close questions. Imagine being an interviewer for a newspaper. "When did that happen? What was your response? What did the client do? How did you feel about the way you responded?"
4. Interpretation Interpretation is the establishment of meaning or significance to something. This is taking what the trainee says, looking beyond the literal meaning of the words. "When you say that our clients are 'hardcore,' what you mean is that these are people with serious problems that are not easily solved."
5. Give Advice Giving advice is sharing an opinion about what some else should do. It is sharing with the individual words of wisdom to help them deal with a situation. "That has happened to other volunteers. When it does the best course of action is to . . . ."

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Training Contract

Some training for volunteers is lengthy. There are multiple objectives and much to be learned. One way to help volunteers to think about their responsibility for active learning is with a "Plan to Learn Contract." (See the sample below.)

  1. Begin with a review of all the learning objectives and agenda. Then pledge to the trainees you will do everything in your power to aid their learning.
  2. Distribute the Learning Contract. Ask them to read it. Tell them you cannot guarantee meeting the learning objectives without their help. By signing the contract the individual is agreeing to the seriousness of the collaboration with the trainer.
  3. Provide time to talk about the contract and for participants to reflect. Remind the trainees that the contract is theirs and they can sign or not sign, as they wish.
Plan to Learn Contract


I understand that the training in this course is about:


Objectives for this course are:

  • _______________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________

I am committed to these objectives and will strive to do the following:

  • Use my time in this course to support these objectives through active participation
  • Take responsibility for my own learning and not wait for others to motivate me
  • Be open to participant suggestions
  • Offer constructive responses
  • Think about, review, and apply what I learn.


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://tltc.shu.edu/npo/. Thank Roseanne Mirabella, of Seton Hall University for keeping up with this list.

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