So, You Want to Work as a Project Management Trainer?


You probably thought from the title that this would be a scathing article about the misfortunes of working for the International Institute for Learning (IIL). Well, you would be wrong! I am now in my third decade working with LaVerne Johnson, the President and CEO of IIL, and I would be hard-pressed to find anyone better to work with or for. With this being said, we can now discuss the life of a project management trainer and consultant. Afterwards, you can consider (or perhaps reconsider) if this is the life you want.

Pleasurable Moment #1: You will travel to exotic places.

Many years ago, IIL hired a young woman who had never done any selling of project management training programs before. I worked with her for some time explaining how I would go about selling such programs. Shortly after, I received a phone call from the CEO telling me the young woman made her first sale and asked if I would be willing to do the training program. Faster than a speeding bullet, I told LaVerne Johnson that I would be glad to do it. This is the Power of Acknowledgment in action!

Within ten nanoseconds, the phone rang and at the other end was an incredibly excited young salesperson who wanted to confirm that I would do a one-day training program for her in an exotic location. It was her first sale. I told her I would do it because being in an exotic location in February seemed better to me than being in Cleveland, Ohio, in February. So, I flew from Cleveland, Ohio, to Fairbanks, Alaska, to do one day of training … in February!!!

It was dark when I left Cleveland; it was dark when I arrived in Fairbanks; it was dark when I started the training class; it was dark when I finished; it was dark when I boarded my flight to come home; and it was dark when I landed. It was three days without daylight. This was my exotic trip.

Perhaps it should be noted that the inexperienced, “excited young salesperson” I spoke of now sits as the EVP of Marketing for IIL. And yes, she still sends me to “exotic” places.

Moral: The word “exotic” is a state of mind. It means different things to different people. For a salesperson trying to make a sale, the definition of the word “exotic” defies any description that you would find in a dictionary and is frequently used to motivate speakers to accept an assignment.

Pleasurable Moment #2: Your travel arrangements will work out exactly as planned.

I was about to embark on a long-awaited trip to conduct seminars in three European cities, beginning in Amsterdam. I flew from Cleveland to JFK Airport in New York, and then to Amsterdam for the first seminar. Sadly, as I arrived in Amsterdam my luggage arrived in Providence, Rhode Island. All I had was my laptop.

The airline promised me they would get my luggage to me within two days. That didn’t help much because the seminar would be over and I would be on my way to another city. But at least I had my laptop. I checked into the hotel, and when the receptionist asked where my luggage was I told him that I had inflatable clothing and it was packed away neatly in my laptop. I think you can figure out what happened for the rest of my journey.

Moral: Good trainers must be highly optimistic concerning their abilities to perform in the classroom. However, in the same breath, they must be equally pessimistic concerning their travel plans. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. And it will go wrong at the most inopportune time. Read the PMBOK® Guide Chapter on Risk Management; then read it again. This should be done before making travel plans.

Pleasurable Moment #3: Nothing ever goes wrong once the seminar begins.

I was conducting a two-day training program for a university on the East Coast. The university’s training coordinator told us we should break for lunch at noontime and that they had a room set aside for us for a sit-down meal. I knew where we would have lunch, so there was no need for the class to be escorted. Two of the people in the class had conference calls set for noontime on the first day and asked if we could go to lunch at 11:30 a.m. instead. The training coordinator said that she would take care of getting us set up for an earlier lunch.

When 11:30 rolled around, we broke for lunch. We were seated in an elegant room and served the juiciest steaks known to mankind. It was the best meal I had ever had at a seminar. Shortly after noontime, several people showed up at our dining room entranceway staring at us. Someone sat us in the wrong room and served us the wrong meal. To this day, I have no clue who had the chef’s surprise, but it wasn’t us. On the second day of the program, we were escorted to the dining room and had name tags which we were told to wear signifying which program we were. We were served something resembling a salad. I believe there may have been things moving on top of it.

Moral: Not only do the early birds get the worm, but they often have a much better selection of worms. Sometimes the choices are even better if you remove your name tag and the name of your course. But if you like going back to that university again, well … employment is always nice.

Pleasurable Moment #4: Nothing ever goes wrong with hotel reservations.

Years ago, when airlines would almost never cancel flights, I would take the last flight to get to my seminar location. That used to work well, but the problems occurred when I would get to the hotel. The places where I would be staying seemed to always overbook. While it is true that they have the responsibility to find me another hotel, and perhaps pay for the cost as well, it is an inconvenience if I cannot stay at the same hotel where the seminar is being conducted. Over the years, I have come up with two guiding principles that seem to work well:

Principle #1: Begin taking off your clothes in the lobby in front of the receptionist. When they ask what you are doing, tell them that you are getting into your pajamas and will be sleeping on the couch in the lobby. This will usually get you a suite at the same price.

Principle #2: If principle #1 does not work, tell the receptionist to cancel the seminar for the next three days, cancel the catering as well, and also cancel the hotel rooms for all of the participants who would be attending the seminar. Then begin to walk out of the hotel. Trust me, you’ll never get to the front door. This time, you will get the presidential suite at the same price.

Moral: If the hotel room was booked by the company sponsoring the seminar, or if the seminar is at the hotel and you insist on arriving late, you probably have some leverage with the hotel. For all other situations, feel free to pack a sleeping bag in with your luggage.

Pleasurable Moment #5: You consider yourself pretty smart. You can make your own travel plans without using your company’s professional travel department.

For a short period of time (a very short period), I considered myself smart enough to make my own travel plans and lodgings rather than using the professionals. All it takes are a few exciting moments, as illustrated below, to remind you of how little you know:

  • I checked into a hotel where the receptionist was in a bullet-proof cage and asked if I wanted the room by the hour or by the night.
  • I arrived at the airport totally exhausted and couldn’t wait to recline in my business class seat for my flight from London to New York City. That’s when the agent informed me that my flight left yesterday.
  • The hotel pictures looked great on the internet. My room was on the 6th floor. The quaint hotel had no elevators.
  • I showed up at a hotel that could not find my reservation. That’s because the date of the seminar was changed and nobody bothered to tell the speaker.
  • I made a reservation at a hotel in a large European city. Unfortunately, this city had a chain of hotels, all with the same name. I went to the wrong hotel in the chain and their antiquated computer systems could not tell me which hotel I was staying at.
  • Instead of taking the car service that was offered to me, I found the only taxi cab driver that could not find La Guardia Airport. He informed me this was his first day and I was his first fare. Joy, joy, and more joy!!! This was almost as exciting as the cabbie in London who drove me around Heathrow Airport several times because he could not find the entranceway to terminal 3 due to construction.
  • I’ve been in three different hotels that had to be evacuated because of fire and/or smoke. Each time, I exited the hotel sometimes wearing very little clothing, but I had my laptop and my transparencies. I learned a hard lesson: always have your transparencies and laptop within reach at night. You can conduct a seminar with minimal clothing but without a laptop or transparencies … well, need I say more? However, when travelling to a seminar with a spouse or family member, and the hotel must be evacuated, you must decide on the priority of what you will grab first when exiting the hotel room. This is an important decision. Each of us must make our own decision.

Moral: I teach the value of teamwork in my project management classes, but sometimes seem to practice the opposite and try to do things myself knowing there are team members that can do it better than I can. I have learned my lesson through my own mistakes; many mistakes!!!

I seem to get a lot of phone calls from people wanting to work for IIL as a speaker. Perhaps they should all read this article before calling me. Working for IIL all of these years has been a pleasure. I get to work with truly dedicated people and companies that appreciate the intellectual property we bring to their organizations. Every speaker has their own stories to tell of their experiences, and some of their stories are more bizarre than what I have outlined here. But if you are willing to blot out these situations from your memory the best you can, life as a trainer is good.

One thought on “So, You Want to Work as a Project Management Trainer?

  1. That’s pretty funny! Shares major similarities with the traveling PM’s or Consultant’s lifestyle, not just related to PM Trainers. I’m reminded of the scene in Up in the Air when George Clooney identifies which security line to enter based on babies, shoe types, clothing worn, etc.

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