How to Repeat Important Training Without Losing Your Audience’s Interest

With a little ingenuity and respect for the power of surprise, you can deliver even the most repetitive training in a way that will keep audiences active, engaged, and learning more than they thought they would.

Training is a tricky business. Without it, we’d be lost in 5,000 different ways. But for many people, just hearing the word, “training,” makes eyes start to roll. It can easily conjure up images of stifling classrooms, interminable lectures, and soul-crushing boredom. Of course, there are people who are constantly eager to learn more, but there are also plenty of people who have to be bribed or cajoled or even threatened into paying attention to another mandatory training session.

Part of the problem, I believe, is built into the nature of what most training actually is. In the world I occupy (leadership, change management, innovation, and other areas of professional development), very little of the training we do can be considered entirely new. When people are learning about something they know absolutely nothing about—especially something that will directly impact their job—they have a tendency to pay more attention. Trainers who deal in wholly novel material, therefore, generally find their audiences to be receptive and attentive.

However, the vast majority of the training we do is not wholly novel. Rather, it functions primarily as a reminder of things that have been touched upon in the past. There is virtually nobody who has never been exposed to any form of safety training, for example, and all of us have thought about what good leadership involves. In realms such as these, where audiences believe they already have a solid baseline understanding of the subject, their attitude toward training is often: “I don’t need this stuff because I already know it.”

And yet we still need to train. Reminders are an important way to keep people from getting complacent. A new trainer, or a different approach to an oft-discussed topic, might spark a more comprehensive understanding of a common subject. And people don’t always know as much as they think they do. But how do you convince people of that sufficiently to overcome their disinclination to listen to training they think they’ve already heard before?

Well, here are a few ideas:

  • Vary the delivery: I don’t mean you should speak your message on Monday and sing it on Wednesday (although you’re welcome to if you have a better singing voice than I do). I mean that training should be delivered in different formats sufficiently often to keep people from assuming they know how everything is going to happen. Most of us do this within a single training—some lecture, some video, some Q&A, some activity—but consider doing only one type at a time: a 15-minute lecture today followed by a pair of instructional videos next week and a group activity the week after. A complete change in format will help vary the experience of the learner, which is key to keeping their attention.
  • Vary the length and location: There’s nothing wrong with conducting training in a reliable and organized way; after all, people like routines. But routines often take on an air of something you have to do, rather than something you want to do. (Even a regular Friday night poker game can be a burden if you start to feel like you can’t get out of it if something else pops up.) So consider having the occasional spontaneous training session, or maybe incorporate some short training into your regularly scheduled Monday morning briefing session. You could even take your employees out to lunch and then follow up with an activity-based training session to help fight off the food coma. Anything out of the ordinary will pique people’s interest more than if they feel like they know exactly what to expect.
  • Make it entertaining: Everyone says this, of course, and usually the reason is because—surprise, surprise—people like fun things. But there’s a deeper reason that training on everything but the most deadly serious subjects should have some element of humor to them. Remember, the goal is to convince people they haven’t already heard this stuff before; that’s the key to engagement. And the nature of humor is to keep people guessing. While most people think of laughter as a way of saying, “That’s funny,” it’s more accurately a way of saying, “That surprised me!” or “I never thought about it that way before.” So incorporating humor into your training is a phenomenal way to ensure your audience doesn’t know what’s coming next—which means they’ll be more likely to pay attention than if they think they can finish your sentences for you.

Training doesn’t count for much if the people we’re training aren’t paying attention. However, with a little ingenuity and respect for the power of surprise, we can deliver even the most repetitive training in a way that will keep our audiences active, engaged, and learning more than they thought they would.

Jeff Havens is a professional development expert who addresses leadership, generational issues, and other areas of professional development through a unique blend of content and entertainment. He has been a regular guest on Fox Business News and featured in CNBC, BusinessWeek, and Bloomberg News. To learn more about Havens’ keynote presentations and corporate training, visit


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