The other morning, waiting to gain access to the training room at a client’s premises, the very friendly and helpful receptionist (if there are such things any more) asked me, rather cleverly I thought, what I did and what my favourite training course was. This is a nigh-on impossible question to answer as I do deliver a lot of courses so, like a politician and my current wife, I swerved the real question and came up with another answer to a different question.
I pointed out that as I try to enjoy every course I deliver, I don’t really have a favourite. She looked at me like a confused yet enquiring owl, not really believing me and when I told her I was delivering project management today, as indeed I was, and that I enjoyed that she said, quite understandably as this stage, “Really, how?”. Well, I explained, you can make every course fun.
And I checked that my nose wasn’t growing as, at that moment, I wasn’t sure that you actually could do what I was hearing my mouth saying. But you, do you know, you can.
Years ago, we had to stop a three hour session on Inheritance Tax (yes, it was a short session) because we were laughing too much. It may have been slightly inappropriate laughter (something to do with small gifts, you really don’t need to know the detail) but it worked and the details stuck in delegates’ heads as they told me when I had dinner with them later. The same thing happened just this month when we had one delegate literally (actually) crying with laughter in a course on note taking. Yes, note taking, that hilarious skill.
It has been proven (well, I think I heard it somewhere) that laughter helps retention. Those of you who recall Video Arts may realise this is true; not all topics are ripe for laughter, but most in business are. Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and they’ll be thinking about a coffee break, a new cliché I must copyright immediately.
Which all led me to thinking… it was a great question she asked me and, as I just do these training things, I very seldom step back and think about what I do, so… what advice would I give to trainers nowadays with my “years” of experience? (And I hope I have had many years of experience not just, as you can find with people, not just one year of experience many times). So, you didn’t ask for this but, here goes with things I have learned about training.
“What time do we finish and do we get fed?” Answer this one up front to get them on your side!
Make it fun: goes without saying, doesn’t it, given what I’ve said above? I do have vox-pops from delegates who tell me about “crashingly boring” sessions they have been on and when asked, they admit they recall little of that type of training, apart from the boredom and the fact they didn’t get fed. Training should be effective. You won’t be effective if your delegates are not involved and listening. (Somebody once told me they had to concentrate on courses we ran, just so you got the humour. I never realised this but it was a good point.)
Trainer led training is more effective than other types of training: yes, we love e-learning, etc., but for many topics, you can’t beat interaction with a trainer with experience and a group of your peers you can share ideas, concerns, ideas with. It shouldn’t be the only method but it shouldn’t be the one that is shelved, either.
Don’t tell jokes: but keep it light unless it’s brain surgery you are training. And, yes, even stuff about regulatory requirements, H&S, and other scintillating topics can be amusing and interesting. Which does not conflict with the humour bit.
But tell stories: but only stories with a point that is connected to your training. Stories make things come to life for delegates. Again, don’t go on a Ronnie Corbett meandering story, but tell stories and encourage delegates to tell their tales, too. (Again, somebody told me this after a course. I never quite realised how effective I was being giving tales from my experiences, I just thought I was doing a bit of showing off, but, of course, when you think about it, it all makes sense. After all, as kids, we all loved stories being told to us and these are the things that stick in our heads.)
Think attention span: keep it short. Recent research suggests we are soon going to have the attention span of goldfishes. I said… so, we don’t need three day training sessions. Short sessions with a small group work so very well. This doesn’t mean that big groups don’t work, just that there are varying methods to getting action and imparting knowledge and skills. But look at 20 minutes maximum, then another task, then another 20 minutes… two to three hours can be small but perfectly formed.
Get the food right and finish early: simple but this is normally the first two questions from delegates: “What time do we finish and do we get fed?” Answer this one up front to get them on your side! Oh, you can say “this is wrong” all you want, it’s human nature so make sure you get these things right. And if you hint that the training could be finished earlier than delegates think, you tend to get more concentration and effort.
Ban mobiles and laptops: and explain why up front. It works. Most people are quite happy to have some respite from the darned things. You can allow them at breaks, by the way, but even then you may want to continue the ban. And ban egos, too. Especially your own…
If you take yourself seriously, delegates won’t: self deprecation works. You don’t know everything so be honest and human. Nobody likes a know-it-all.
Use clichés: clichés are clichés because they have been proven to be correct, in most cases, over the years. They also are a swift way of getting a message across. Do not avoid them like the plague.
And quotes: people like quotes, they get an idea across very succinctly and they stick in minds. It doesn’t matter who said them, it’s the truth behind them that matters. And it is an effective method of supporting your message. But don’t use those “motivational” things with pictures of horses running through water, they are just condescending.
Action Plans: yes, at the end of all training sessions we have action plans. No point doing any training if you don’t look for some behavioural change at the end of it. Small changes, any changes. And that’s why we always do and share action plans with people. And it works.
And… well, I could carry on… but I’m just a trainer. No point listening to me…