Movies, plays, concerts, games … we can all probably think of an experience we’ve had with at least one of these events that produces vivid memories in our minds, even if it’s been years. In training, we try to create such an experience for participants, but creating an experience from which training participants walk away feeling energized and inspired isn’t always easy. Still, the purpose of a training event is to change behavior. If it doesn’t do so, you (and your stakeholders) will likely consider it less than successful.

One surefire way to ensure that your training event produces actionable insights in participants is to incorporate emotion. The reason movies, plays, concerts and sporting events produce such vivid memories is because of the emotions they generate. We’ve all heard that appealing to emotions is one of the most impactful ways to make something memorable. In fact, research shows that people feel their way through decision-making more than they think their way through decision-making. Enter the popular quote, “I may forget what you say, but I will never forget how you made me feel.”

Having an emotional component in a training experience inspires and increases buy-in. It helps participants relate to what they are learning, which improves retention and lasting behavior change. The following four activities are experiential learning components that you can include in your training to activate participants’ emotions and improve their learning:

1. Hooks and Punches

Hooks are techniques to gain attention and introduce a topic, and punches provide emphasis to the topic. Hooks and punches enliven the room by involving participants. By encouraging them to think about the topic in a way they normally wouldn’t, hooks and punches stimulate a sense of individual ownership.

In the beginning of a speech, virtually every public speaker uses a joke, funny story or dramatic account to connect with the audience. In this way, they are “hooking” their audience’s attention and drawing it away from other things. Similarly, imagine that you are facilitating a class on coaching skills. A good hook for the subject might be to ask the group, “Think about good coaches you’ve had in sports, academics, music, etc. What did the best ones do or not do?”

Punches add emotion during, rather than at the beginning of, a learning session. They can take the form of anecdotes, examples or jokes. For example, when discussing listening skills, a trainer might say, “It’s been said that in the United States, conversation is a competitive activity, and the first person who breathes has to be the listener.” This tongue-in-cheek punch is just true enough that it usually creates a chuckle — which is an indication of emotion.

With hooks and punches, the key is to use them sparingly and strategically in order to produce the most impact.

2. Stories

Stories can improve retention by helping participants envision themselves in a scenario. One tip: Don’t tell heroic stories about yourself, which can have the opposite effect, as participants might see it as an appeal to your ego rather than a story in which they can place themselves.

On the other hand, personal anecdotes about a mistake you made related to the training concept can be impactful. When explaining how you learned from a mistake, make sure your story doesn’t damage your credibility. If you are training a group of sales representatives, a good story to tell might be about a time you personally botched a sales call, in order to demonstrate the importance of the selling skill you are teaching.

3. Humor

Making participants laugh can be one of the best ways to establish an emotional connection between them and the training content — as long as the source of the laughter is appropriate. When using humor during training, avoid sarcasm and put-downs directed at participants. To find sources of humor, look to nonpolitical current events, basic needs that anyone can relate to and wordplay. It’s best to plan your humor ahead of time.

When using humor, be careful not to become an “enter-trainer!” Your main role as a trainer is to facilitate learning, not to be the comedic relief. While humor can help to facilitate learning when used at appropriate times, it’s important not to overuse it.

4. Competitive Events

Competitive events provide a break from learning. You may be thinking, “If my role as a trainer is to facilitate learning, why would I want to take participants’ attention off the learning?” The answer is that when people have a positive workshop experience, they tend to remember more of the content. Competitive events, when done well, can create a positive experience by adding stimulation and fun. Examples of competitive events include trivia, awarding points to participants who share a novel idea and team games.

When it comes to conducting a training event that produces lasting behavior change, be emotional! Training components that appeal to your participants’ emotions help them remember the content and motivate them to use it. These four training elements can help make the difference between a training event that fails to deliver and one that lasts in participants’ minds and changes their behavior for years to come!

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