Content Knowledge - There have been a few times that I recall looking forward to learning something new or interesting that would benefit me or my work flow in some way only to find out that the instructor was a little shaky when it came to understanding the content. The delivery was chock-full of backtracking and apologies and in some cases was so distracting that you couldn't even feel bad for the person... instead you felt cheated of an hour taken from your life that you would never reclaim. We are all busy boys and girls and having someone waste your time attempting to explain something they have a very tenuous grasp of can be infuriating.
My tip to those of you thrown to the wolves is to take the time to learn the most important aspects, even if it means staying up all night when you have short notice. Confidence is great to have, but unwarranted confidence can sometimes backfire. If you are not comfortable talking about a topic because of unfamiliarity, your best bet is to not talk about it. Don't attempt to get up in front of the masses, or even a couple of people to explain something if you are not 100% prepared to act confident and then back it up with some good strong examples and enough understanding to make you feel comfortable.
Style - Content knowledge is absolutely important, but it isn't everything. Just like people in film and the theater you need to know your lines, and how to deliver them. Just because someone has one of those covered, does not mean they will be successful. Quite the contrary. How many times have you been in a lecture or session and had to remind yourself that you were not in some sort of purgatory-like limbo? The person leading the session is undeniably knowledgeable, but the Ben Stein monotone, or constant long pauses for thoughtful consideration make the experience an exercise in sleep deprivation. You want to close your eyes and succumb to the lethargy emanating from the speaker, but you know that you need to stay awake. You almost feel robbed of slumber when the speaker finishes and you didn't even net a good 15 minute nap out of it.
It takes a good deal of acting ability to be a superior trainer or teacher. The showmanship of a session is just as important as understanding the topic and knowing your audience is part of that. Organization of your content also falls under style as you need to have a fairly solid set of objectives, yet the flexibility to go off topic occasionally to keep it light, fresh and entertaining. Even the most stultifying topics can be made entertaining to some degree if you have a few good analogies to tie the boring to something more understandable. I used to have a running catalogue of thousands of analogies that expanded constantly, and I would use them to make a stronger connection with my students. These analogies invariably were delivered with input from the audience, even if I deliberately baited them into talking by conveniently forgetting a simple term so that someone could provide it and I could say "Exactly!" and they then felt like they were playing a greater roll in the experience. I don't mean to make it seem more calculated than it is, but it is these little tricks that help to engage your audience.
The Minor Issues - There are plenty of little obstacles and hazards waiting to sabotage a lesson, lecture or session and we'll look at those the next time I blog. Right now I have to get back to preparing for my SLA Tech Zone for Seattle. Feel free to ask questions or give a scenario where my advice might be beneficial and I'll be happy to do what I can to lend a hand. :)