“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” This quote from Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of United States, is in the initial slides of every course that I teach. In my opinion, it summarizes how training should be conducted.
There are often three types of people in any training room. One is the prisoner, who has to be there, doesn’t want to be there and doesn’t know why he or she is there. The second is the tourist, who feels that one day of training is better than a day spent working. The last type is the explorer, who wants to actually learn something new to help him or her in the workplace.
At the beginning of my career, I used to attend quite a few trainings. My manager’s reasoning would be simple: “Prasad, this would be a change for you; please go attend.” Some training programs were exceptional, some were average and some were very ordinary. At times, I was the prisoner.
That was the time in my career when I promised myself two things: first, that the day I became a manager, I would never force my team members to attend training. I would let them decide what topics were they interested in and ensure that they were something management would not object to. Second, I promised myself that the day I became a trainer, I would do my best to ensure that the training my employees received was not ordinary. I may not do an exceptional job at all times, but I needed to take charge from the time I walked into the training room. I promised that I would be flexible and that people wouldn’t keep looking at the time or finding ways to leave the training room. It had to be meaningful to a good number of people.
While working in the information technology sector, I used to sit with my team and discuss the topics they were interested in. I would then pick a topic chosen by the majority of my staff. I would keep in mind that the topic chosen would help my team (at least the majority). Further, my manager should not question me as why I chose the topic or tell me, “I don’t see any return of investment.” I also ensured that there were at least a few members from my team to interview the trainer.
Over the last two years, I have been working as a visiting faculty member in engineering and management institutes. While finishing the syllabus on time is my first priority, I also always involve students in group activities based on industry case studies. Short clippings of videos and interactive session make teaching fun. I solicit students’ feedback at the end of the first unit, and this open line of communication and understanding is a win-win. My endeavor is to have as many students as possible fall in the third category – the explorers.
Based on my experience, here are some tips to make any training program memorable.
- Do not jump straight away into the agenda, even if you are running behind schedule. An icebreaker activity is a must.
- Know your audience and venue, and ensure that the training room is well-equipped. Do not rely on the administration team. Make sure that the handouts, projectors, laptop and seating arrangements are in place. The trainees should not remember the training for the wrong reasons.
- Know your topic inside-out. Do not make any assumptions about your audience.
- Involve the participants by giving them some individual and team exercises, showing short videos, and asking follow-up questions. Afternoon sessions are the best for conducting role-plays and other fun and activities.
- Be honest. It is OK to ask, “Can someone help me, or does anyone have a better explanation?”
- Have a plan B, and be flexible. What if there is a consensus among trainees that suggest that they would like to skip a particular topic and instead would like to gather more knowledge on another topic?
- In every training session I’ve conducted, I’ve had people ask questions that are not relevant or asking for more details. To be fair to everyone, you can always say, “Let’s take this discussion offline.”
- Ask for feedback and, more importantly, pay heed to it. If the majority of participants have given you a poor rating on one parameter, you can’t just say, “I disagree.”
- Smile, have a good sense of humor, make eye contact and manage your time wisely.
To make training effective and efficient, the trainer needs to connect with the audience. You may have abundant knowledge, but if you can’t communicate well enough to transfer the knowledge to your audience, it isn’t going to help.
Finally, I am a big fan of Kirkpatrick’s model and, hence, strongly recommend evaluating the effectiveness of your training using this model. If you have a better model, go for it, but do evaluate. In the end, you must have an answer to the million-dollar questions: What was the outcome of the training, and did it achieve the objectives?