Five Must Read Books for Corporate Trainers

Five Must Read Books for Corporate Trainers

As a corporate trainer, you always need to be on your toes.  Part of that includes staying informed and working on improving your skills.  Here are five books to help you do just that!

Troubleshooting for Trainers by Sophie Oberstein
Telling Ain’t Training by Harold Stolovitch
Virtual Training Basics by Cindy Huggett
Confessions of a Corporate Trainer by Jonathan Halls
slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations by Nancy Duarte

While not a comprehensive list, I think these books are a great starting point for anyone who wants to build their career as a corporate trainer.

Interested in more info about being a corporate trainer?  Make sure to check out these articles!


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Troubleshooting for trainers

Troubleshooting for Trainers by Sophie Oberstein

I wish I’d had this book when I first started out as a trainer.  When I started, I was excited about getting up and speaking to an audience.  I couldn’t wait to share my stories and knowledge, to connect with the audience and inspire them. While those things did happen (most of the time) there were other aspects of being a trainer I hadn’t anticipated.  Participants who didn’t want to be there.  Resources that were promised but not provided.  Technology that decided to stop working. These are just a few of the realities of being a corporate trainer that are addressed in the book.

Oberstein has over 20 years of experience as a learning and development professional and uses that experience to give advice on how to handle (or troubleshoot) many of the more challenging parts of being a corporate trainer.  The challenges she cites come from talking to trainers through the years as well as  colleagues in the field.

Each challenge that is addressed is organized with Description, Solutions, Bottom Line and Go Deeper.  Oberstein does a good job of providing several solutions for each and providing real world examples to back them up.  For example, when she talks about choosing your battles as a solution to not having direct authority or influence, she talks about how a regional trainer for Bonefish Grill handled situations where he noticed something was being done wrong.  He didn’t just tell people to fix it.  He helped them understand the WHY behind the process or policy so they would want to do it the right way.

The book is mostly geared to accidental trainers or others who are new to training and development.  I think that even experienced trainers will find helpful tips throughout, though. The Go Deeper sections in particular cite a bunch of good articles and books to further explore the different concepts.

Telling Ain’t Training

Telling Ain’t Training by Harold Stolovitch

This one has been around awhile (originally published in 2002 with an update in 2011).  One of my favorite things about it is it’s no nonsense title because it describes exactly how I feel when I am sitting in most training sessions – especially when SME’s (Subject Matter Experts) are doing the “training”.

Catchy title aside, the book is full of practical tips and advice.  It starts out with introducing concepts around how people learn.  While there is research evidence used all throughout the book, it isn’t presented in a boring or academic way.  The authors practice what they preach.  They don’t just tell you the information.  They use activities throughout the book to help the reader better understand the concepts.

From there, the book shifts to what you as the trainer can do to make your training more effective.  The authors share information on adult learning principles and then guide the reader on how to adjust training sessions to accommodate for adult learners.  They even provide several activities that you can use for your training sessions.

There is also an expanded section on using technology for training.  Obviously, this is something we all need to become more and more familiar with.  Even though our technology has evolved since the last edition of this book, there is still good, practical advice on using technology in general.

If you are just getting started in corporate training, this book is a must read.  And even if you have been doing it for awhile, I’d still recommend picking it up.  I know a lot of people who have been “training” for a long time who still think that lecturing for an hour is training.  It ain’t. (see what I did there?)

Or, maybe you already adhere to the concepts and ideas in the book.  I still say it’s worth taking a look at for any new ideas. It is also a good one to share with others you may have to teach or train with.  It can be a good way to get everyone on the same page (so to speak) without having to be overly critical toward a colleague who tends to be more of a lecturer.

virtual training basics

Virtual Training Basics by Cindy Huggett

Don’t let the “Basics” in the title throw you off.  This book is for anyone who may need to conduct live training virtually, regardless of experience.  A lot of people are getting thrown into doing virtual training right now.  And if you haven’t, you will.  Pandemic aside, there are a lot of compelling reasons for companies to hold training online.  Cost, reach, flexibility – to name a few.  As a trainer, you want to be ready if and when you start conducting training this way.

I first got thrown into conducting training online in the mid 2000s when my company was bought by IBM.  We had to move a two day in person class to virtual.  We basically flew by the seat of our pants to make it happen.  A book like this would have helped our learning curve tremendously.

Huggett has many years of experience with training virtually and has written several books about the topic.  In addition to her own experience, she provides examples from others throughout which help to clarify the concepts.

Something I appreciate is how she not only gives technology pointers but also a lot of general training best practices throughout.  i.e. Much of the advice can be taken and used for “regular” classroom training as well.

Overall, it is a solid way to get up to speed with live, online training.

Confessions of a Corporate Trainer

Confessions of a Corporate Trainer by Jonathan Halls

This is the kind of book I’d want to write if I were to write a book.  It’s funny while also providing a lot of good, practical advice from someone who has been there.

Halls uses the term “shiny happy trainer” (a reference to the REM song “Shiny Happy People”) to describe what many aspire to be.  This made me chuckle because that was definitely me when I first started training people.  I got my start at Walt Disney World so that “shiny happiness” was instilled in me.  I always thought of myself as being onstage and putting on a performance.  That isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Just that sometimes, things don’t always go the way you expect them to in a training session.

Halls rightly points out that sometimes trainers have to break the “rules” of being a shiny happy trainer.  We know there are certain things we SHOULD do when conducting a training class.  Things like dressing a step above the audience or making sure the room is all set up prior to starting.  He isn’t saying you should never do those things.  His attitude is more to not get hung up on all the “rules” at the expense of the learner.

I know that to be true from my own experience.  For example, as a trainer, part of what you are juggling is the time and keeping topics on track.  Sometimes, a question is raised that is off topic and starts some interesting discussion.  Some trainers feel pressure to halt those discussions and get back to the subject at hand.  That is a missed opportunity.  If the other topic is resonating more with the learners and will benefit them, then why not let them stray for a little bit? You can get back to the planned topic later or maybe you skip it.  Not just for the sake of skipping it but so the learners can really explore the area that is resonating with them.

I think sometimes people in our profession take themselves a bit too seriously.  I like this book because it reminds us to lighten up a little while at the same time remembering to stay learner focused.


slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations by Nancy Duarte

PowerPoint gets a bad rap sometimes.  People like to complain about it and most of us dread sitting through long PowerPoint presentations with walls of text and unreadable tables and charts.

Here’s the thing, though.  PowerPoint is just a TOOL.  Like, if I build a treehouse for my kids that looks terrible and falls apart as soon as someone goes into it, I don’t blame the hammer. The treehouse failed because of me and my lack of understanding on how to build a good treehouse.

Same thing with most corporate PowerPoint presentations.  They are put together by people who have never taken the time to learn about presentations and what makes them effective.

If you are a trainer then you are probably using PowerPoint for your classes.  Like it or not, that is the tool of choice for most companies.  And it’s a GREAT tool.  It just gets used very poorly.  That’s where slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations comes in.

This isn’t a book on how to use PowerPoint.  It’s a book about creating presentations that resonate.  That pique an audience’s attention and help to tell a story.  It shows you different ways to organize and create effective visuals for your presentations that you can then build in PowerPoint.

As a trainer, you may or may not be responsible for the actual building of your presentations.  I know that can vary from company to company.  In my career, I have almost always had to both create the presentation and train from it.  In some places, though, there may be another department that actually creates the presentation which is then given to the trainer.

Even if you aren’t directly responsible for creating your training presentations, I still recommend this book because of all the great information on presenting in general.  Duarte uses several case studies throughout that highlight some valuable lessons learned by different business presenters.

If you ARE responsible for creating your own PowerPoint then the book is a gold mine for ideas on how to approach the way you build it.  It may seem a little daunting at first to try to incorporate all of the ideas but Duarte does a nice job of breaking everything down and making the ideas accessible and actionable.


Other Articles You Might Be Interested in:

How to Become a Corporate Trainer

9 Ways to Improve Your Training Delivery

Corporate Trainer Day in the Life

YouTube Video:

Pros and Cons of Being a Corporate Trainer

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