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How to Take Dry Content and Make It an Interesting Training Experience

President Of TrainSmart, Inc.

Think about the most memorable training experience you ever attended. Now focus on one or two lessons that you took away from that experience. Take some paper and color crayons and create an abstract drawing depicting those learnings.

A pause. If the idea of using paper and crayon to create an abstract rendering makes you uncomfortable – you are not alone. Those of us who are not blessed with the ability to draw anything more than a pathetic looking stick person tend to silently and not- so- silently groan when asked to do anything with paper and crayons.

But this is an abstract drawing. I challenge you to play along.

After you complete your drawing we encourage you to post it in the comment section so the rest of us can learn more about your takeaways and why that particular training was so impactful.

Here’s the thing about this activity, even if you don’t create your drawing – and many won’t—you are probably curious to find out what I was trying to say. It’s human nature.

And that’s the first strategy for taking dry content and making it an interesting training experience. Create Curiosity.

Tell a story that could have multiple endings with varying degrees of consequences. Have the participants try to figure out the real ending. Create an experiential activity related to the content and the benefits of learning that content. Do The Unexpected. Break Format. From the moment participants walk into the room, they should sense that this is not going to be what they expected. When you can communicate that they are in for a different kind of learning experience, their human nature will take over, and curiosity will dominate. When a participant becomes curious, they are more engaged and ready to learn.

Suddenly the content doesn’t feel dry. Create genuine curiosity and only a handful of diehard contrarians will resist getting engaged.

Many years ago I attended a dinner party for a couple who had just moved to town. The husband had a job at one of my client’s, and his wife was a reluctant transplant. I was seated next to the wife and decided to start the conversation by asking her about the job she left behind. She shared that she had worked in marketing for In-Sink-Erator and for the next 45 minutes she regaled me with the wonders of this product- a product I had not given an iota of thought to before that evening. Who knew there was so much to know about garbage disposal?

Once she started talking garbage disposals, she didn’t stop. A True enthusiast. I remember how relieved I was when it was finally time to stand up and help the hostess clear the table. However, a couple of years later when my garbage disposal needed to be replaced. I didn’t hesitate. I only wanted an In-Sink-Erator. Her passion for the product left an indelible mark on my memory.

Isn’t one of the goals of learning to create an indelible memory?

What made her such a great ambassador was that she was passionate about the topic. For many, everything you ever wanted to know about In-Sink-Erators would be classified as “dry content.” I believed her when she told me it was a superior product. I believed her when she said it was made with better material than the competition. I believed her when she said the company stands behind the quality.

For years after that dinner, I could have been an ambassador for InSinkErator. I was able to quote my inner teacher and share salient points about the product. Her passion served as a conduit and my brain received and banked the information.

That’s the second strategy: Show True Enthusiasm. When a trainer is truly enthusiastic about the topic – that enthusiasm will translate into interest and openness to view the topic from the eyes of the trainer.

Turn The Tables: There’s a Chinese proverb many are familiar with:

“I hear, and I forget

I see, and I remember

I do, and I understand.”

Create an Environment for Peer Learning.   When you want to boost your participants’ motivation, focus, and depth of understanding try incorporating some form of Peer Learning. The exact way to accomplish this depends on what the participants need to learn. It could mean bringing in colleagues who have already mastered the material and share some personal tidbits, shortcuts, and ways the material helped them in their jobs and careers. It could mean creating teams and handing out material where each team is expected to research the information and then teach it to their peers. As the trainer, you serve as the SME and conduct the debrief. Research says participants are more motivated when they learn from their peers so when you have material that needs an extra boost, think about leveraging the power of peers.

Create Curiosity. Show True Enthusiasm. Turn The Tables. Use these strategies any time you want to increase your participant’s energy, enthusiasm, and focus.   Who knows, when asked to create an abstract drawing of their most memorable training, they may just create an interpretation of your presentation.

*This is an exercise based on the Artful Closer a game created by experiential learning expert, Thiagi.

It’s been more than 20 years since I attended the first Age Wave workshop on marketing to seniors. At the time I was developing seminars on an insurance product targeted to seniors. As part of the three-day training, we were handed a shoe box filled with rubber gloves, earplugs, nose plugs, and clouded glasses. We were instructed to use all the “stuff” in the box and then try to have a conversation with the person to our right. After that frustrating activity, we were given things to open and asked to figure out what things were based on their smell. It was like being in a time machine and jettisoned 50 years forward. It was simultaneously surreal, eye-opening, and frightening. The abstract drawing depicts how I felt when I could no longer perform the daily tasks I was used to performing. I loved the activity because it allowed all of us to “walk in our target audience’s shoes” in a way we never had before.

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