Trainer Talk: 6 Magic Training Phrases

Training participants in Australia, Japan, and China offer their thoughts on the short phrases that capture the essence or “magic” of key training concepts.

By Bob Pike

I worked in Australia, Japan, and China for most of November last year. In seminars in each of those countries I asked participants to create a list of what I call “magic phrases” during the training. These are short phrases that capture the essence or “magic” of a key training concept.

Each class averaged 30 to 35 phrases. The interesting thing is that regardless of the country, the phrases were 80 to 90 percent the same. You might say, “Of course, they were the same—it was the same content.” True, but the context was to capture key ideas that have immediate use in improving your training and performance
improvement efforts in your organization with your people and with your content.

Here are the Top 6 magic phrases and their value to you:

  1. The purpose of a question is for learning to take place, not for testing to take place. When you direct a question to one person, you put them on the spot…and that allows the other participants to disengage—meaning they are not on the spot. When I ask a question, I direct it to the groups, so the content is more anchored in everyone’s thinking. For example, “30 seconds, at your tables, what are the seven ways to remember anything?”
  2. We need to focus on learning for living, not learning to pass. I’ve worked in more than 30 countries around the world. As we talk about school in each country, the pattern is the same. What is important is passing the test. Do we remember what we learned in order to pass the test a week later, a month later, a year later? The purpose of our training and performance improvement efforts is to get results back on the job—not simply pass a test.
  3. Never do for participants what they can do for themselves. As trainers, we should focus on doing the things only we can do. At the beginning of the training, have those who arrive early help put materials on the tables, hang posters, etc. At the end of the day, have participants straighten their tables, throw away trash, put markers back in boxes, etc.
  4. We need to stop chopping wood and sharpen our ax. Training too often is seen as an interruption to the job, not an integral part of the job. We need to position training as an investment, not a cost. The ax-sharpening metaphor drives this home. Sharpening the ax (a.k.a., getting needed training) is not an interruption to the job; it is an integral part of the job. Are we building and delivering courses that managers and participants see as building skills and knowledge that are key to getting results and achieving goals? Being able to answer, “Yes,” to that question means training is now an investment, not a cost.
  5. Remember the Chinese Proverb: “What I hear, I forget; what I see, I remember; but what I do, I understand. Instructor-led, participant-centered training is about involving participants in every way possible in the learning process. The more participants are involved in the content, the greater the retention and application.
  6. Get to the C.O.R.E. of training—Closers, Openers, Revisitors, and Energizers.

Closers:Most trainers don’t close a training program—they just run out of time. Remember the Closing ACT: Action Planning, Celebration, and Tie things together.

Use an Opener, not an icebreaker. Many trainers don’t open at all; they just start dumping content. Just because people are physically present doesn’t mean they are mentally present and ready to learn. Remember that a great opener raises the BAR. It Breaks preoccupation through involvement. It reduces tension and increases retention by Allowing people time to network. And it is always Relevant to the content.

Revisit content.We know key content needs to be revisited at least six times to move from short-term memory to long-term memory. Revisit is when the participants go back over the content in a variety of ways. Review is when the instructor does it.

Utilize Energizers.There are always times during a program when participants lose energy. An energizer takes only a minute or two, but it serves to refocus participants on the task at hand and gets the energy level back up.

Which of these Top 6 phrases has the greatest value for you personally? Send me an e-mail at
BPike3@BobPike, and I’ll give you all 30 power phrases. Until next month—add value and make a difference.

This marks the one-year anniversary of my column in Trainingmagazine. I hope you are enjoying reading it as much as I am writing it. As always, I welcome your suggestions for topics you’d like to see covered in future columns. Hopefully, I got to see many of you at Training 2012 in Atlanta.

Have a question you’d like Bob to answer? E-mail him at

Bob Pike is known as the “trainer’s trainer.” He is the author of more than 30 books, including “Creative Training Techniques Handbook.” You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook using bobpikectt.

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.