Sarah Thompson is one of our highly skilled trainers and coaches. After a successful career working in the tourism industry, Sarah has been a UK based trainer for over 15 years and has worked with Speak First for seven. She has a huge wealth of personal and professional experience which she uses alongside her natural charm and sense of humour to run top quality training.
Sarah spoke to us about why she enjoys working with Speak First, how the courses are designed and what an average day looks like for a trainer.
Can you tell us a bit about how you got into the training business?
I lived and worked overseas for ten years as a holiday rep and, later, as a manager of a resort. I got to work in some very lovely places all over the world and learnt a lot, especially how to communicate and make connections with different types of people. I always say that if you can handle the Great British public on holiday, then you can handle most communication scenarios!
I then came back to the UK to train holiday reps for First Choice Holidays (now part of TUI) and became their head of Learning and Development until I left to have my son, which is when I started in consultancy.
After a few years, I saw Speak First advertising online for trainers. I’d already heard of them and they had a good reputation, and I was lucky enough that they selected me.
When you’re going to deliver one of our courses, how do you prepare?
One of the reasons I really enjoy working with Speak First is because the account managers really get to know us trainers, which means they’re able to put us on jobs that will bring out our best. We all have our own skill sets and we go to clients where we’ll match their company culture and personality. If I’m going to a company I’ve never heard of before, I’ll always look them up and see what their vision and values are, so I know I can align with them.
Speak First are great at briefing us, which is an in-depth conversation to discuss the day and go through all the course notes and slides. Amanda’s [Amanda Vickers, Speak First CEO] very keen that all the workshops are consistent, from London to Timbuktu. One of the ways they guarantee this is by making the slides tell a story, which means everyone delivers that same story, but all with our own little twist to add our own flavour and personality.
What’s your typical day like when you’re delivering training?
I start quite early. I like to be in the room half an hour to 45 minutes before anybody arrives, so that I can set up and get organised and so that I can greet all the participants personally and get a rapport going. That’s really important. If you have no rapport, then you have no trust and I end up talking to myself for the day.
Our workshops are highly interactive, and participants are required to contribute. It’s as much of them talking as it is me. In fact, I like to do less talking than they do. I get everyone involved with lots of practical exercises and role-plays, and if it’s presentation skills, very quickly get people delivering presentations. There’s lots of honest but kind feedback and the days go really quickly.
It’s always good to end on a positive and I like to encourage them to practice, whether it’s presentation skills or assertiveness or communication, or any of those subjects. I say to go away and practice and volunteer to do a presentation, or whatever from the workshop that will embed the learning.
You said that all the trainers bring their own style to our courses, so what’s yours?
My style is highly participative and fun. We have a bit of a laugh and we relax. I want to make things come alive for people. I don’t like talking about theories and models if I can’t apply them to real world situations.
I’m asked to run a lot of presentation skills courses because people say I’m very empathetic, which helps build people’s confidence. I help to reassure and encourage people so they feel safe to get up and do a presentation, and to mess up.
I’m also quite a big storyteller, so I tell quite a lot of stories about what happened to me in relation to whatever I’m training.
For example, I often tell people who are nervous about their presentations about my very first training session: I introduced myself to the group, gave them a little icebreaker to do and then went off to the toilet to throw up because I was so anxious, and then I came back and carried on. I think people like it when you don’t put yourself up on a pedestal or think you’re better than them – because you’re not.
We hope you enjoyed getting an insight into the lives of one of our trainers. Check back regularly for more conversations with members of our team.