Why I love training – Guy Clapperton

The reason I became a part-time trainer, as well as a journalist in 2002, was very straightforward. I’d just had a bank statement and was therefore about to reach for the brandy and revolver (but realised I didn’t have either and couldn’t afford them). The phone went; it was Microsoft’s PR people, asking whether I offered media training. I looked at the bank statement and said, yes, I almost certainly did.

The fact was that although I was regular in the Guardian, also writing for the Times, Independent and others as well as a few trade magazines, newspaper writing didn’t pay that much. I’d relatively recently bought my first house and I was noticing that my income hadn’t moved much, but my lifestyle had. This isn’t the best motivation to become a trainer.

So I went to my first session very unsure of myself, expecting to be rumbled at any point. I’d mapped out a six-point agenda that went: practice, feedback, loads of tips, practice, more feedback. That’s five points, there was another, but it was 15 years ago, I don’t remember.

I thought I might get away with it if I was lucky. What I hadn’t expected was that I’d thoroughly enjoy working one to one with someone, focusing on the way they were saying something rather than the content and critiquing rather than parroting that content in a magazine.

Actually getting to know someone a bit over a few hours rather than whipping in, getting a few quotes, then whipping out again was a refreshing change. I’m over the moon to be able to tell you that I’m still in touch with my first trainee, who for several months dropped me a note every time he’d been able to use some of my insights.

By the middle of the decade, I was entering my forties and assuming the role of a bit of a senior. One of my best memories of my early career in journalism was the training I had experienced, and I was now moving into a position to share my own experience and help other people with their writing as well as their press presentation.

The same principles apply; you get to take part in something much longer, find out what makes people tick a little – much as you do as a journalist. The difference in training is that you get to bring their strengths out a little and help in their development.

A learning experience

Better still, I learn stuff. The great thing about middle age is that you have a reservoir of experience on which to draw. The danger is that you can forget that just because something worked or didn’t work in 1997, the idea may not behave in the same way 20 years later. So when I’m facilitating a workshop (I never think of it as training because I’m there to learn as well. OK, I get paid while everyone else is paying me, but that’s life) I make damned sure I listen as well as speak. It’s pretty much how I first picked up on SEO a decade or so ago – something that didn’t exist when I became a journalist in 1989.

When I’m facilitating a workshop I make damned sure I listen as well as speak.

There can be challenges. A few weeks ago I was dealing with a group in which a couple of people were graduate-level press officers writing full time and they wanted to polish their skills. Another person had begun her own business, was enjoying a lot of success without the need for massive amounts of formal education. She was writing down the grammar rules about subjects, verbs and objects furiously whereas for others in the room those things went without saying. Finding the right balance to address everybody is something I hope to achieve and it’s different in every session.

And that, to me, is what training is all about. Meeting people at the level at which they’re operating, building on it and spending a few hours learning what makes them tick. On reflection, it’s why I got into journalism, and why I’m still there – but I’m delighted I had that bank statement that pushed me into becoming a trainer 15 years ago. It’s been one of the best parts of my career.

Want to learn with Guy?

Join one of his one-day writing courses at Henshall Centre or preview his online media training course.