In corporate training, particularly tools training, it’s common for the facilitator to be a subject matter expert (SME) in the course content, and not an instructor by trade. Even when I talk to seasoned facilitators, many report that when they first started training it was as a SME, with no background in education or instructional design. With time and practice almost anyone can become comfortable in the classroom, but how do you survive that very first session?

Maybe the boss has asked you to bring junior team members up to speed on a process. Maybe your project has a training component but no training resource. Maybe your ol’ pal the trainer just got hit by the lottery bus. Whatever the reason, you’re up! Here are five tips to make your first day in the classroom a success.

Explore the class roster

If you have access to the roster in advance, take some time to learn about your participants. What projects or departments do they support? Have you worked with them or any of their colleagues in the past? Do you know how to pronounce their names? Having that knowledge ahead of time allows you to make a personal connection during class. “Oh, you support XYZ? Do you work with Bob Smith much?” or “Hey, I haven’t seen you since the initial project kickoff!” Simple interactions like this go a long way. Org charts, Outlook profiles, and LinkedIn company pages are great resources for getting to know your audience.

Arrive early

And I mean really early. Pretend the class starts a half-hour before the scheduled time, at least, and aim to be 100% ready to go by then. Give yourself time to figure out how the projector works, to find the facility’s wifi password, and to organize your handouts and class materials. You may end up needing help from tech support to get up and running. Fumbling through all of this is expected, and you’ll want a little time to relax and refocus before the participants arrive.

Prepare a detailed script

You will read from the slides on your first day, it’s okay, but the less you do so, the better. Map out how you will communicate everything that is on the slide without reading verbatim. You won’t read the script verbatim either, but you’ll be glad you have it. Plan your anecdotes and examples as well; remember that your expertise is why they picked you to be the instructor! Consider printing your script in bullet form, in large font, allowing you to stay on track with a quick glance to the podium instead of turning around to read the slide. Check in with the script during breaks and activities (without ignoring the participants!) to keep tabs on what’s coming up next.

Tell a joke

Find a corny one-liner, cartoon, lighthearted top ten list, or pun that is in some way related to the course topic. Jokes are a great way to re-engage participants after lunch, after a particularly difficult lesson, or any other time you just need to spice things up a bit. You don’t need to perform a 30 minute set at the Improv, but a sense of humor is endearing to everyone. Personally, I like to tell chemistry jokes, though they tend to get no reaction…

Plan for an emergency

Hopefully you never have to encounter a fire, natural disaster, or medical emergency while teaching, but if it happens you can be sure that the participants will be looking to you for leadership in the moment. Know your evacuation plan, know who to call for medical help, and take a few moments at the beginning of class to share this information with participants. Talk to facility staff to learn their emergency procedures, and ask if there are any drills planned. Believe it or not, I’ve found emergency preparation to have a calming effect – it puts the nerves of public speaking into perspective, and gives a small sense of control over the environment.

It all boils down to preparation. You already know the material like the back of your hand, so take the time to focus on the “soft skills” of training delivery and you’ll do just fine.

Speaking of subject matter experts, don’t forget that we’ve got a ton of them on our team at Edwards!



Jeff Beverage in a former Edwards Instructional Designer and Instructor. He is a magnetic speaker and passionate educator of Project Management, Agile Development, and Leadership. He is a PMP, CSP, CSM, PMI-ACP, and ITIL certified leader and instructor with 15+ years of diverse experience in project management, instructional design, teaching, consulting, and IT.