World-Class Trainers Wear Three Hats

Former Notre Dame Football Coach, Lou Holtz, once said, “Build your empire on the firm foundation of the fundamentals.” One of my mentors, Jim DeMoux, once told me that all great trainers wear three hats: Teacher, Presenter, and Facilitator. Since my early training experiences with Jim, I have worked to develop my skills in each of these important roles. I’d like to share with you a few of the important distinctions I have made along the way.


All great teachers are first great students. In fact, one of the hallmarks of great teachers is that they never cease to be students. I once heard that when the great scientist, Lord Kelvin, returned to Glasgow University for a visit toward the end of his life, he signed the register, “Lord Kelvin, student.” Through their personal study and research, teachers have developed, and continue to develop, a depth and breadth of understanding on the topics they teach. Great teachers also stay abreast of student needs in order to apply pertinent facts and ideas in a relevant and palatable way. George Iles once observed, “Whoever ceases to be a student has never been a student.”


My mentor Jim told me, “Mark, we’re not in the training business—we’re in the entertainment business.”  I have come to develop an intimate appreciation of that truth throughout my career. You can have great breadth and depth of knowledge, but if you can’t communicate that knowledge in an interesting and entertaining way, you won’t be an effective trainer.

The ability to engage and entertain grows out of a genuine passion for the topics on which we train. If we’re not passionate about a topic, how can we expect anyone else to be passionate about it? I believe that World-Class Trainers can make any subject interesting and entertaining. If you doubt this, tune into the 10 o’clock news and watch the weather person do his/her thing! However, and this is important, if you don’t believe you can create some energy and excitement around a topic, you probably shouldn’t teach it.

A great way to entertain is to employ your unique talents and skills when you train. For example, as an artist, I do lots of real-time illustrations and cartoons on flip-charts to add “spice” to my presentations. Where appropriate, I also enjoy performing music during workshops and keynote speeches. Let your participants experience you at your best! Author Gail Godwin once claimed that, “Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater.”


When I conduct a workshop, I always define roles up front. I tell people that I am the “facilitator” (as opposed to the lecturer) and we are all “participants.” I further state that I am not the be-all/end-all “expert”—though I do have much expertise on the topic. Participants don’t expect us to know everything unless we act as if we do, or tell them that we do. (Unfortunately, I’ve seen some facilitators do those things.)

I invite participants to share their thoughts and ask questions at any time during my workshops. People learn far more, and retain what they have learned, when they actively participate. Another thing I do—that usually surprises participants—is invite them to take issue with anything I say that they don’t agree with, or that doesn’t square with their experience. I admit to them that I only know what I know, and I know way less—on any topic—than there is to know. Sometimes, this leads to great discussions, where we all benefit from new facts and perspectives.

I am constantly looking for unique and fun ways to involve participants in the learning process. Variety certainly provides the “spice” in great learning experiences. We, as trainers, would do well to remember the wise words of Confucius, who said, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

To summarize, success comes as a result of looking for, discovering, and implementing useful distinctions. As we make incremental improvements in our abilities to teach, present, and facilitate (the fundamentals), we become better trainers. I’d like to challenge each of us to rededicate ourselves to becoming the best trainers we can be, because our participants deserve nothing less!

Through his company, Daily Renaissance, Mark Swain teaches a workshop, World-Class Trainers Wear Three Hats, for trainers who want to improve their skills. For more information, visit:

4 thoughts on “World-Class Trainers Wear Three Hats

  1. I thought I said something…………Mark your great! I always had a great time biking ….You were always the bright spot…..

    1. Thank you for your kind words Alan. We enjoyed many happy times back in the day.

    1. Any organization would be fortunate to have Jim DeMoux in its leadership.

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