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Transforming Dry Content into Engaging Training Experiences

President Of TrainSmart, Inc.

Imagine the most remarkable training session you’ve ever attended. Reflect on one or two key lessons you took away from that experience. Now, grab a sheet of paper and some colored crayons, and challenge yourself to create an abstract drawing that represents those insights.

Pause for a moment. If the thought of using paper and crayons makes you uncomfortable, you’re not alone. Many of us who lack drawing skills inwardly or outwardly groan when asked to engage with such materials.

However, consider this: it’s an abstract drawing. I urge you to play along.

Once you’ve completed your drawing, we encourage you to share it in the comment section. This way, we can learn more about your takeaways and understand why that particular training session had such a significant impact on you.

Here’s the intriguing aspect of this activity: even if you choose not to create a drawing—and many won’t—you’re likely curious to know what I was trying to convey. It’s human nature.

And that’s the first strategy for transforming dry content into an engaging training experience: Foster Curiosity.

Tell a story that can have multiple endings, each with varying consequences. Let the participants try to deduce the real conclusion. Design experiential activities related to the content, showcasing the benefits of learning that material. Dare to be Unexpected. Break free from the standard format. From the moment participants enter the room, they should sense that this training session won’t be what they anticipated. When you communicate that they are about to embark on a unique learning experience, their innate curiosity takes over, leading to heightened engagement and readiness to learn.

Suddenly, the content no longer feels dry. By evoking genuine curiosity, only a few staunch contrarians will resist getting involved.

Years ago, I attended a dinner party thrown by a couple who had just relocated to town. The husband had secured a job with one of my clients, and his wife was a reluctant transplant. I found myself seated next to her and decided to break the ice by inquiring about the job she left behind. To my surprise, she began to passionately extol the wonders of In-Sink-Erator, the garbage disposal manufacturer, for a full 45 minutes. Prior to that evening, I had never given a second thought to garbage disposals. Who knew there was so much to learn about them?

Once she started talking about garbage disposals, she simply couldn’t stop. A true enthusiast. I vividly remember feeling relieved when it was finally time to rise and assist the hostess in clearing the table. However, a couple of years later, when I needed to replace my garbage disposal, there was no hesitation—I wanted an In-Sink-Erator. Her passion for the product had left an indelible mark on my memory.

Isn’t one of the goals of learning to create lasting memories?

What made her such a fantastic ambassador was her genuine passion for the topic. For many, the entire subject matter of In-Sink-Erators would be considered “dry content.” Yet, I believed her when she told me it was a superior product. I believed her when she said it was made with better materials than the competition. I believed her when she vouched for the company’s commitment to quality.

For years following that dinner, I could have been an InSinkErator spokesperson. I could quote my inner teacher and share crucial points about the product. Her enthusiasm served as a conduit, allowing my brain to receive and retain the information.

That brings us to the second strategy: Show Genuine Enthusiasm. When a trainer is truly enthusiastic about a topic, that enthusiasm permeates the session, generating interest and encouraging participants to see the topic through the trainer’s eyes.

Now, let’s Turn the Tables. There’s a well-known Chinese proverb that goes:

“I hear, and I forget.

I see, and I remember.

I do, and I understand.”

Create an environment for peer learning. When you aim to boost your participants’ motivation, focus, and depth of understanding, incorporate some form of peer learning. The exact approach depends on what participants need to learn. It might involve inviting colleagues who have already mastered the material to share personal insights, shortcuts, and the ways in which the knowledge helped them in their jobs and careers. It could mean dividing participants into teams, providing them with material to research, and then asking each team to teach their findings to their peers.

As the trainer, you act as the subject matter expert and facilitate the debrief. Research shows that participants are more motivated when they learn from their peers. So, when you need to give your material an extra boost, consider leveraging the power of peer learning.

Create Curiosity. Show Genuine Enthusiasm. Turn the Tables. Utilize these strategies whenever you want to increase participants’ energy, enthusiasm, and focus. Who knows, when asked to create an abstract drawing depicting their most memorable training experience, they might just recreate an interpretation of your presentation.

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

It has been over 20 years since I attended the first Age Wave workshop on marketing to seniors. At the time, I was developing seminars for an insurance product targeting seniors. As part of the three-day training, we were given a shoebox filled with rubber gloves, earplugs, nose plugs, and clouded glasses. We were instructed to use all the items and then attempt to have a conversation with the person seated to our right.

After the frustrating activity, we were given objects to open and asked to identify them solely based on their scent. It felt like stepping into a time machine and fast-forwarding 50 years. The experience was surreal, eye-opening, and somewhat unsettling. The abstract drawing represents how I felt when I could no longer perform daily tasks I had taken for granted. I loved this activity because it allowed all of us to “walk in our target audience’s shoes” in a way we had never done before.

Please note that the exercise mentioned in the original post is attributed to Thiagi, an expert in experiential learning.

Transforming dry content into engaging training experiences requires innovative approaches and a focus on human nature. By creating curiosity through storytelling, unexpected activities, and experiential learning, trainers can captivate participants and make the content more interesting and memorable. Showing genuine enthusiasm for the topic can further ignite interest and openness among learners. Incorporating peer learning allows participants to learn from their peers’ experiences and perspectives, enhancing motivation and deepening understanding.

Ultimately, the goal is to create training sessions that leave a lasting impact, forging indelible memories and empowering participants with knowledge and skills. So, whether it’s through abstract drawings, immersive activities, or stepping into the shoes of the target audience, trainers can unlock the potential of dry content and make it engaging, meaningful, and transformative.

Remember, the journey of effective training lies in fostering curiosity, embracing enthusiasm, and turning the tables to promote peer learning. By employing these strategies, trainers can unlock the full potential of their participants, creating impactful and engaging training experiences that resonate long after the sessions have ended.

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