Ensuring Training Doesn’t Become a Cure for Insomnia

6 ways to keep learners engaged in training.

“The trainer managed to keep me awake the entire day.”

“I normally feel sleepy in these types of classes, but I felt wide awake today. And no one around me was nodding off either.”

These are actual quotes I’ve received on course evaluations—and more times than you might imagine.

This got me to thinking about the fact that, clearly, there are training sessions out there where participants are, indeed, dozing off. So how do we avoid this—or more specifically, how have I been successful over the last 15 years in ensuring that my classes don’t become the equivalent of a sleep aid?

I believe it comes down to six key things:

1. Set the Stage

Let participants know what to expect at the outset—how long the class will run, when the breaks/lunch will be, an overview of the course content, and an assurance that they will be actively involved in the session. Although I am a fan of the element of surprise and going off the path every now and then (more on that shortly), I also feel like providing a roadmap and reducing the level of uncertainty can help with immediate and ongoing engagement. And, if they like what they hear, all the better!

2. Get the Audience Involved

No one wants to sit and listen to the same voice for eight straight hours—or even four. Make sure there are group discussions and/or breakout groups and activities. Call on people by name. In my classes, everyone is called upon and I forewarn them of that when I set the stage (see #1). I use the old hockey analogy (I’m Canadian, after all!): “Keep your stick on the ice.” I want them to know I likely will be passing the puck to them throughout the session.

3. Be Relatable

While you may not be an expert in what they do (although you may be!), you are an expert in what you do. Focus on your similarities, not your differences. At the beginning of almost every class, I get everyone to share something interesting about themselves. Answers range from hobbies they enjoy to how many children (or pets) they have to the fact that they are one of triplets. People assume I do this to get people talking, which is partially true, but I’m mostly trying to find ways to relate to people and to help them relate to the course content. If someone is an avid golfer and I’m teaching a class about negotiating, I might tie the importance of preparing for a negotiation to how a golfer might prepare for a match—e.g.. know who you’re up against, plan ahead for roadblocks (that one really tough hole), etc. When you find commonalities with participants, a connection is made, and that increases engagement with both the course and you.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Go Off the Path…For a Little While

Some of my best moments in the classroom have been when we got off topic or had a sidebar conversation that turned into something that was an unexpected “aha!” moment. I’ve never been nervous to take an unexpected turn, not knowing where it may lead, as it really gets participants’ attention since they are now on that different road with you. Just make sure you leave a trail of breadcrumbs or have a GPS so you can get back to where you need to be within a reasonable amount of time.

5. Share Your Passion

I love what I do and one of the best compliments I can receive is when someone tells me they could see/feel my passion and I’ve inspired them. Trainers who are genuine and who are truly invested in what they do keep audiences engaged. Being passionate about something is contagious—pass it on to others!

6. Challenge Them

In my classes, I give people homework—and I do it early in the day. It’s not the kind of homework I’m ever going to check up on or ask them to hand in to me; instead, it’s something I challenge them to do following the class, and it becomes a theme I weave into the day. It might be trying out a new skill they’ve learned or paying closer attention to something they always do (or never do) or thinking outside of the box more frequently. The very act of getting people to consider this challenge helps to keep them engaged throughout the day.

Are these items above a guarantee of wide-eyed engagement? No. But have they proven successful for me thus far in my training career? Absolutely.

And while a good cup of coffee or a can of soda doesn’t hurt either in keeping people awake, all of the above are more natural ways of getting, and keeping, people’s attention.

Are you still with me?

Heidi Anaya has been employed for more than 10 years as a trainer, an account manager, and most recently as a consultant by both Signature Canada and Signature Worldwide. Anaya has a heart for service, and her training focus includes front-line sales and service staff, professional sales staff, leadership, presentation skills, custom programs. She is also a pilot program specialist. Anaya has conducted more than 700 training classes in a variety of industries, including hospitality, equipment, healthcare, casino, insurance, and banking. She has a certification in Hospitality Business Acumen (through the HSMAI) and an Associate’s degree (Honors) in Hotel and Restaurant Management.

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