How often does a training session begin with quick introductions that either include or are followed by the question, “What would you like to get out of this training class?” or, “What are your objectives for this class?” This common approach leads to fairly generic responses along the lines of, “I’d like to find out what’s new in … “, “I’d like to learn some new things about …” and, “I just want to know more about …”, or there is agreement with what a previous trainee said. More often than not, these questions do not create much value for either the trainer or the trainees.

What constitutes “value” in training? For the trainees, it’s learning something that they can use to solve a problem, make life easier or make something better. Trainees see value in the form of takeaways.

Trainers gain value from developing a better understanding of what the trainees need to ensure that they give the training session a practical focus. In simple terms, they find value in some guidance or direction regarding the focus of at least some of the takeaways. Trainers benefit from hearing the voice of the trainee, someone who typically has not given much thought to what they need from the session.

A better approach is to use a selling skill and ask about learners’ pain points using probing questions such as these:

  • What work situations do you find most challenging, most stressful, most uncomfortable, etc.?
  • What type of problems do you experience when doing…?
  • In area or process X, what would you fix first?

The specific question the trainer asks is dependent on the nature of the training, the business environment and the training objectives. These questions and the responses to them open the door to engaging participants; lead to the follow-up questions of, “What causes the challenge, stress, discomfort or problem?”; and set the stage for addressing the cause of the learners’ problem in the course of the training session.

This approach also helps generate energy among learners as others chime in with their perspective on the last challenge or with their own challenges. This conversation is in the voice of the “customer” – unleashed by opportunity when they sense that the session’s WIIFM (“What’s in it for me?”) is the chance to express themselves with an expectation of useful information or tools in return. The training session takes on a more personal tone, increasing engagement and value. The result is that the trainees perceive value in the form of information, guidance and ideas that are both relevant and immediately applicable.

Another approach is to ask the opposite question: “What aspect of X is most comfortable for you?” This non-threatening, no-stress question serves as an ice-breaker, with the intent getting to the pain line of inquiry once learners are engaged. This tactic is a bit less efficient and less informative, but it can be effective when there is reluctance to participate or speak up.

The bottom line is that trainees participate when they perceive value to them. Engage them early, and they will help to focus the training content on areas where they can see benefit.