By Beth Yoder

Before you start reading this blog post, take a minute to identify something you learned to do in the last month or two. Write it down, along with why you learned it.

Start Smart

How you start your learning session is as important as a first impression. Figure out what you want your participants to think, and then go on from there. Do you start with “Good morning, how are you this morning? Did any of you hit the traffic? Let’s take a look at the agenda . . .”?

While there is nothing wrong with this, the underlying message is: This is going to be an ordinary training session.

Instead, get them talking or involved within the first 10 minutes, maybe even the first five. This sends the signal that your training session will be interactive and engaging. How you start your training establishes expectations with your participants.

This does not mean you have to do away with what you normally cover in the beginning. Find a different way to do it, or move things around. Housekeeping does not have to be the first thing you cover. Instead, find out what they want to get out of the training session. What are their needs and expectations? It can be as simple as asking them and writing their answers on a flipchart.

Motivate Participants

One easy way to ensure that your participants are engaged is to apply adult learning principles. One of these principles is that adults learn because they want to or have to. Remember how I started this article? I asked you to write down what you had learned and why—it’s a safe guess to say that it was because you had to or you wanted to. If it was for a different reason, email me and we can discuss it.

Maybe you have heard about addressing WIIFM (what’s in it for me) with your participants. This is one way to motivate your learners. When they see how your training will help them with something they want or need, they will be engaged. What is in it for them could include having better job performance, having better boss satisfaction, doing the job more quickly, getting a promotion, making more money, staying safe, being happier at work, or dealing with less stress.

It is most effective when participants identify the WIIFM for themselves, rather than when you tell them. After all, you might get it wrong. People are motivated by various things, such as responsibility to their community, their friends and colleagues, or their family. Are they in this job because they want to be there, or because it’s what their family or their boss thought they should do? This can also affect their motivation. Help them identify their own motivation for learning.

Align With Organizational Needs

In addition to the needs of the individual, a good trainer will align with the needs of the organization. Your participants might think they have come to training for a day off. However, giving them a day off does not add value to the organization, and if we as learning and development (L&D) professionals do not ensure that our training adds value, then L&D will not be taken seriously and will continue to be the first department cut.

One of my favorite questions when a client requests training is, “What do you want participants to be able to do differently after the training session?” Or in other words, what new skills or knowledge should they acquire? If the client cannot answer this question, then we need to do a needs assessment. Training is not always the answer to a performance problem. Maybe the employees know how to do the skill, but it is a resource issue or an attitude issue or a boss that keeps them from performing the desired skill. A professional trainer will at least know the right questions to ask to identify whether training is the right solution.

Create a Positive Learning Environment

A positive learning environment is made up of several things. Here I will focus on one: safety. For example, it is OK to ask questions. I do not belittle any question. Not all questions must be answered right away. If needed, they can be “parked” or taken individually later, but all questions are welcome. Likewise, all answers are welcome.

There is a way to respond positively to answers even if it was not the one you were looking for.

In my training programs, there are no wrong answers, only partially right ones. Find what is right in the person’s answer and affirm it, then ask for more. And stay open to other possible right answers. For example, ask how the person got that answer. You might get something like Scenario B instead of Scenario A:

Scenario A

Trainer: What is 2+3?

Participant: 6.

Trainer: No, it’s 5.

Scenario B

Trainer: What is 2+3?

Participant: 6.

Trainer: How did you get that answer? (said with an open, curious tone of voice)

Participant: When you multiply 2×3, that’s like 2+2+2, which is 6.

Trainer: Ah, I see you multiplied instead of added, so in that case it’s right. Now who can tell me what 2+3 is?

In Scenario A, you shut down an openness to questions or dialogue. If the participant wants to explain what happened or why he got it wrong, then he is put in a position of having to defend himself, which brings tension into the training session, and perhaps an underlying accusation that the trainer was not clear.

In Scenario B, you realize the participant misunderstood and it can easily be cleared up. Plus, openness and positivity is strengthened in the group.

Be Patient

Learners need time to reflect, process, make notes, think through application, and figure out what questions they have. All of this takes time. Meanwhile, you wait, feeling like you should say or do something to help them. But they have to struggle a bit with the concepts themselves first, even get it wrong, before you can help them. Otherwise, it will not be help; you will be doing the work for them.

If you allow time for process, you may have to cover less content, or change the design of the training session to allow more time.

It is worth it, though, because your participants will have actually learned something. They will be able to do something differently when they go back to work. Without time to process, they have just covered a lot of content, probably have cognitive overload, and will promptly forget most of it when they go back to their job.

Wrap It Up

To close your training session, finish strong. Do not just say, “Thanks for coming. I hope this was interesting. Have a great day.” Give them the opportunity to choose and plan how they will implement what they have learned. You can even make it fun. Then finish with a flourish, such as sharing a story about a change you have made.

Which of these tips would you like to implement? Start with one. When will you do it? What will it look like? Be specific. Then tell your friend, colleague, or partner what you plan and more important, when you have achieved it, so you can celebrate together.

About the Author: Beth Yoder

Beth Yoder is a Managing Partner with Global Teams and is based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. She has been facilitating intercultural learning and development for individuals and organizations for almost 20 years. She brings the mind of a researcher, the heart of a teacher, and the enthusiasm of a pioneer to her work.

In her training, participants are engaged through a variety of activities, from simulations to discussions; there are times to pause and reflect, and expert content is presented in appropriate amounts for the participants. She uses photography and videos to bring the experience home. She always creates and adapts training so that it is effective and appropriate in the given cultural contexts.

For the last seven years, she has been conducting train-the-trainer workshops and coaching others in learning design. Recently she became a facilitator for ASTD/ATD, training other trainers in how to train and how to design learning.

Looking to improve your training techniques? Don’t miss out on Beth’s rapidly approaching ATD Train the Trainer program to learn best-practices and enhance your skills.