You’ve probably been in a situation where someone taps you on the shoulder and asks you to teach them something on the fly. You probably have less than 5 minutes and might be running late to a meeting, but whether you planned on it or not, you’re now in a situation where you have to run a mini-training session.

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Delivering an actual training experience under these circumstances is tough. It’s very easy to end up answering a question without teaching anything since we didn’t get time to prepare and certainly don’t have much time to work with.

This post will present four training habits that will help you to turn those mini training requests into valuable learning opportunities.

Focus on Learning, not Answers

Start by figuring out what your teammate already knows, and where they learned it. Questions like “How would you try to solve this problem if you had to give it a shot right now?” can help to illuminate misconceptions about a skill or task that you never would have seen if you simply provided a quick answer. These questions also lead well into follow-ups like “Where would you go to learn about this topic?”, which should help to encourage your teammate to put energy into teaching themselves, as well as discover if they are unaware of existing training materials that are available to them.

If time permits, you can ask your teammate about their learning preferences. Starting your instruction with a question like “Would you learn this more effectively if I explained the steps or showed you a quick demo?” will make it clearer that you’re focused on providing training and not just quick answers.

By starting an on-the-fly training in this manner, we’re putting the focus on learning, instead of answers. We’re also establishing a baseline of knowledge about how your teammate currently comprehends the problem at hand.

Contextualize Quick Answers

Regardless of whether you have 5 seconds or 5 minutes, strive to provide help in the context of a learning plan. When you’re pressed for time, this can be as simple as having your teammate open up a blog that’s related to the topic at hand, or opening a training resource that you know provides information related to their initial question. A response that starts with something like “When you have more time, you can find more information about XYX here” can make it clear that you’re interested in helping them learn, not just providing a quick answer.

Encourage Due Diligence

Mistakes are great learning opportunities, but we’d still rather avoid them as much as possible. Make sure that your mini-training includes information about common mistakes related to the task at hand. Use instructions like “Before you finish this task, there are a few mistakes that you need to confirm that you didn’t make.”

Explaining potential errors gives you another opportunity to stress the importance for your teammate to be thorough and make sure that they go the extra mile to learn the skill that you’re teaching, rather than just get themselves out of a jam with a quick answer.

Explain it back

Before you finish your session, have your teammate explain what you just taught them back to you. It’s easy to miss a key point when you’re rushed as a trainer, and it’s easy for your teammate to do the same as a rushed trainee. Ask to have the key points explained back to you. A good idea for an on-the-fly quiz is to ask questions like “What would happen if you skipped this step?”, or “How do you ensure that XYZ error doesn’t get made?”

This will also give you a great opportunity to discover if you missed the mark. About the only thing worse than not being able to teach someone the skill you wanted, is to give them the impression that they understand it when they don’t.

With a little practice, these four training habits can prevent you from spending small chunks of time delivering quick answers, and instead will allow you to invest those small chunks of time into training experiences for your team.

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Oliver Eldredge
Oliver has been working in digital marketing since 2007, and began working with 3Q Digital in November of 2013. His focus in the industry has been around training, paid search, analytics, and all things Excel. In his spare time you'll probably find him out on his bike or up in the Sierras.