One year ago I decided to make a career change. After working in
reality television for eight years, I was ready for new challenges.
A career in the entertainment industry became less appealing to me,
and I wanted to do something different - and more meaningful. I
joined ASTD and attended many chapter and special division meetings
and found myself attracted to the field. But could I make the
transition from show business to training and development?
To my surprise, I'm finding that my experience in reality TV
prepared me in several ways.
Reality shows depend on finding interesting people with interesting
problems who are willing to share their stories on national
television. My job - casting - required an ability to relate to
people of all kinds. Over the course of my reality TV career, I
recruited candidates from all walks of life, including doctors,
scuba divers, parents, dogs and their owners, lawyers, comedians,
and even rebellious teens for a variety of shows.
Once I found candidates and learned their stories, my job was to
"sell" them to the executives who decided which people would appear
on the show.
That meant that I had to gain the candidate's trust and fully
understand her current situation, her dreams, and her desires.
Next, I had to present her story in a concise and compelling way to
the decision-makers. I had to convince them that a candidate would
make great television, so I had to grab the executives' interest
and keep them engaged. When making my presentation I learned to be
on my toes, read the room, and be prepared to answer objections,
change my approach, or move on to the next candidate.
I've learned that this skill is also important in training. As a
trainer, you must gain the trust of the people you're training and
create a positive learning environment. You must always be aware of
how the people in the room are reacting to the training session and
modify your approach, if necessary, to achieve the training goals.
While developing my first training session, I prepared content,
activities, and questions to ask to get the group involved and
engaged. I didn't know how the group would react to the training so
I prepped extra material to use if needed.
While delivering the training, I had to think on my feet and
continually read the group to find out if they had a good grasp of
the information or if they needed more time to understand a
I soon realized that this was just like pitching to TV producers: I
had to stay in the moment, think on my feet, read the group's
responses and reactions, adjust my message and delivery, and make
sure the training goals were being met.
In reality TV there are no scripts. The way the cast interacts and
reacts becomes the content of the show. The drama and the humor
come directly from them, as well. So finding interesting and unique
people is the most important part of developing a show.
What makes a great reality show cast? People who feel comfortable
and appear natural - while ignoring cameras that follow their every
move. Of course, casting neurosurgeons for "Miracle Workers"
required a very different approach than casting rebellious teens
for "World's Strictest Parents." Each program offered a new
challenge, so we had to be creative in our approach to find the
For example, when casting doctors we reached out directly to
hospitals and medical organizations. But when casting teens, we
would search social networking websites, contact PTAs at schools
across the country, and scout shopping malls.
Creativity is important in training, too. There are countless
decisions to be made: How to approach the subject matter, determine
the most important information, find ways to make it engaging and
interactive, and decide what technology to use.
I'm learning that being creative and having your own approach to
training is celebrated rather than discouraged. During my job
search, I attended many ASTD networking events. At each event the
trainer would present a different approach to job hunting. That was
inspiring because I realized every trainer has a unique,
personalized approach to training. I was impressed that the
presenters offered suggestions, but each had different ideas that
reflected their experience and personality.
In training, like television, solving challenges in different ways
My most rewarding experiences in reality TV were seeing positive
changes in the cast when they participated on a show. For example,
when I visited families who were seeking help with their
out-of-control kids for "Supernanny," I realized that the parents
often were so close to their kids' problems they didn't know how to
change. When Supernanny Jo Frost visited the families, she didn't
solve their problems for them. Instead, she gave them the tools
they needed and the encouragement to try them.
She taught parents that they had the strength and ability within
themselves to help their families. When she left their homes and
the cameras stopped rolling, the changes in the families were
apparent. Of course, many issues remained, but Frost empowered
parents with a new confidence in their own abilities.
The desire and ability to help people is what attracted me to
training and development. I've learned that as trainers we don't
always have all the answers - but we can empower and encourage the
people we are training.
Recently I participated in an ASTD train-the-trainer course where
the experience levels of my classmates varied considerably. Some
were new to training, like me, while others were seasoned
professionals. Some were outgoing while others were more reserved.
Each week we had to develop and deliver training to the class.
Although we were all doing the same assignment, our presentations
were completely different. Instead of being told how to deliver
training, our teacher encouraged us to be true to ourselves. She
helped each of us discover our strengths and showcase them in our
training. She empowered us, and even the most seasoned trainers
walked out of the class with an increased confidence.
At Los Angeles Valley College Job Training, I've observed the
trainers and seen firsthand the positive impact they have on
peoples' lives. I've seen confidence build as trainees overcome
obstacles. And I've appreciated the pride trainers feel when they
generate a breakthrough. Trainers empower people every day!
Learning from every experience
In transitioning from show business to training and development,
I've discovered a career that is more meaningful and full of
exciting challenges. I'm happy to be a part of this field, and I
appreciate the many opportunities ASTD has given me, as well as the
welcome and encouragement given to me by ASTD members I've met
along the way.
My experiences working in reality TV have been surprisingly helpful
to my new career. To me, this has been a powerful reminder that
every skill that you learn can pay off - sometimes in unexpected
ways - down life's road.