Accidental Trainer

Imagine yourself in a convention hall filled with people, each in an orgasmic state over the latest and greatest methods to improve adult learning.  You would be at the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) International Conference and Expo (ICE).

A cornucopia of people with variable experiences, from countless industries, all gathered to discuss topics ranging from social learning tools to knowledge management to presentation styles.  One can always count on interesting conversations happening around them. Learning geekdom surrounds you.

ASTD ICE 2013 in Dallas, was no different and sitting at lunch an interesting theme emerged – the conversation went something like this:

Dialog Accidental Trainer

The conversation concerned me on a couple of levels.

1.  This person had no clear conference goals that could clearly be articulated.

2.  This person was in real need of a personal learning network.

I could relate, and anyone reading this – take a second, remember when you were new and discovering? (Before twitter, before Facebook?) I use the term “new” very loosely because here is a snippet of another conversation:

Dialog 2 Accidental Trainer

If that conversation happened once it happened 100 times during the week.

      • I was a manager but I’m so passionate about training that they gave a role in the T&D department
      • I love people! Being in training makes sense for me.
      • I love watching the light bulb go on, so I’m in training.
      • They needed some who loved teaching so I found myself here.
      • I love training, I love sharing my knowledge (ex-Subject Matter Expert)

The list could go on, these are very typical responses.  I’ve never seen a profession quite like this one, where, because people “love” or are “passionate” about training then it’s okay to move on over, do it, and consider yourself a professional.  Wouldn’t it be awesome if your mechanic decided that because he was good with hands he therefore must be great at being your new physical therapist? Yeah – probably not.

But, it is what it is and we have this field of Accidental Trainers.  You may have been one at some point; (full disclosure, I was one a very long time ago) and you studied, networked, got your certifications and became a true professional.  Accidental Trainers are, now, more than ever before, in need of guidance, of a network and most importantly mentors.


If we are going to move forward as an industry, we must reach out to the Accidental Trainer.  WITHOUT CHARGING THEM! “We will only help you be better professionals if you pay extra.” – What? Huh? I get charging for certifications, conferences, adhoc programs, books, etc.  But charging for mentorship or mentor programs? We, as true learning professionals, should be ashamed.

The industry is full of Accidental Trainers.  The passion they feel, and the commitment they have, cannot be manufactured by formal education and certifications alone.  Remember Kindergarten Rebel? We have to encourage and support.

Now, here’s my challenge to all of you L&D Executives, Instructional Designers, Content Developers, Consultants, Speakers and Technologists.  App developers, LMS Administrators, Facilitators, Talent Managers, Culture Changers, and Bob Pike worshipers. At your next conference, find someone new. Extend not only your hand, extend your time.  Bring someone new to a networking event, sit down with them and offer support during the week. Conferences are the end-all-be-all, mother of all Learning Events. Don’t just give them your twitter handle, give them your business card with a personal note encouraging them to call.  Help make your next conference a true learning experience for someone else.

So let me get the ball rolling, I will be at ASTD ICE in DC this year.  If you want help planning your conference, developing your goals, or planning your own personal learning experience – express your interest in the comment section below.  I don’t care if you’re new to the game or have a few years under your belt, having been a regular attendant of ICE for a while now – it can be intimidating.  If you want to keep your request more on the down low, you can reach me through a variety of social media outlets. Twitter, G+, LinkedIn – pick your poison.

call-to-actionThere’s your call to action gang.  Reach out to the Accidental Trainers among us, we will all be the better for it.

If you are not an Accidental Trainer, but know someone who is – please forward this post, let’s help each other and keep driving our industry forward.

(Update 2/25/2014) Here is a great post that just went up on the elearning guild by David Kelly.  “What is in Your Conference Bag?” People offering advice on attending your next conference.  I highly recommend you check it out!

Image Credit:, Flickr Commercial use

6 thoughts on “Accidental Trainer”

  1. I will also be at ASTD ICE in DC this year, I’d love to join in the invitation to pre-connect, connect, and post-connect with those in our field. I’m fortunate to have discovered the value of a Personal Learning Network (PLN). It transforms the conference experience from being a bystander to an actively engaged participant, regardless of your role in the conference (presenter or attendee). Networking is exponentially more valuable with each personal connection that’s made concrete with an IRL (“in real life”) meeting. Cannot say how important that is for those in our industry, whether “accidentally” (like us) in the role or not.


    1. Thanks Tom! Knew I could count on you! You hit the nail on the head in that a persons PLN really transforms a conference experience. It certainly did mine, especially after you get over the initial intimidation factor of approaching a group of people and wanting to join the conversation. Almost a bit like high school isn’t it? I look forward to getting ideas on how we can take this idea to the next level as we get closer to the ASTD ICE date. Anyone else have ideas? Go DC!


  2. Great post Shannon and an awesome way to build a stronger community. Hopefully you’ve been inundated with people taking up your offer! While I’m not going to ICE I’ll be in touch about another conference that I have coming up. You’re not planning a trip to Australia anytime soon?


    1. Hi Matt, thanks for commenting. I’ve had a few emails, and a lot of response on FB from people willing to volunteer – what a great network of people! I wish I could get to Australia in the near future, it’s been 15 years since my last visit and it’s a beautiful country. Need to get a conference schedule for “Down Under”. But please be in touch I’m very interested in hearing about your upcoming conference.


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