I recently attended an entrepreneurs’ conference with a group of friends and quickly found myself drawn in by the teaching that happened there. We all were. At one point, as we sat together listening to a particularly impactful speaker, I looked across our group, and we were all furiously scribbling notes. By the end of the seminar, we were energized and ready to take those messages back to our respective companies.
A few months later, I met with the same group of friends over dinner, and our conversation eventually turned to that conference. As we talked, I realized nobody took actionable steps to put those pages and pages of notes into practice. They’d simply died on the page.
Seminars provide an avalanche of information and often few clues as to what to do next. It can be difficult for learners to know practical next steps after the doors open and they return to their daily lives. That difficulty reinforces the central importance of experiential learning as a vital follow-up component to seminars. You can go to the most influential workshop in the world, but without continued training afterward, you might as well have not gone at all.
You can book the best, most inspiring speaker, but if your team doesn’t know what to do (or doesn’t believe they’re capable) once they’re back in their jobs, they won’t retain that knowledge. At best, seminars without follow-up produce a shot-in-the-arm effect in the near term while providing little to no benefit over the long haul.
Research backs this up. Sales professionals have a 22-percent retention rate with sales training alone and an 88-percent retention rate when training is combined with coaching. A sports coach doesn’t simply lecture his or her team on a strategy in the preseason and then leave the players alone during the season, right? Neither should corporate coaches.
There are four key steps to experiential learning that’ll take learners from the seminar to sustained long-term success in the workplace.
Nothing happens without knowledge, and seminars can provide an important first step on the path to subject matter mastery. Find workshops and seminars from top people in your field, and drink in their expertise. Take copious notes, and ask as many questions as you can. Even if you’re an expert in your field, seminars can often shift your field of vision to see things from a different vantage and ignite a firestorm of productivity. But it’ll burn fast without follow-up. Don’t let the fire die.
What do you do once you come down off the mountain-top high seminars often generate? It’s unreasonable to overhaul your processes completely overnight and have long-term success, so apply your new knowledge in chunks. Choose which concept you want to start with, and begin mastering that one skill before moving on to the next.
On the plane trip home from an energizing seminar, I always write down two lessons we can implement immediately and stow away two more ideas on a secondary list for use down the road. That way, I’ve taken concrete steps to draw up a road map from what can otherwise be an information overload.
It’s important from time to time to tune out the noise and give yourself time to think, “Is what I’m doing working? If not, why?” New learning requires this sort of thoughtful reflection, and it’s important to allow some time to assess what you’ve just learned.
Fiona Kerr is a neuroscience specialist at the University of Adelaide, and her research suggests daydreaming can actually boost daily productivity. By allowing your brain to make non-linear thought connections, you can arrive at solutions that might not have otherwise presented themselves. Albert Einstein would famously block out time just to think, and if it was good enough for Einstein, it’s good enough for you.
Coaching is the true lynchpin of learning, what ties it all together. You can learn everything there is to know at a seminar or workshop, but without a coach driving you forward and holding you accountable, you’ll leave everything you learned in the dust. Why do we send our employees to a two-day seminar on how to convert more leads or be a more effective leader, and then send them out to run a territory or lead a team of employees? Training programs must go beyond the classroom, and they must be ongoing to see the sort of success that leads to true business transformation.
This article is adapted from the book “WTF: Why Training Fails” by Jason Forrest.