Many times you may have wondered, what do participants really think about the corporate classes they have attended? Do they like or dislike certain types of training? What are the elements of a training class that make the class boring or interesting? Most importantly, what are corporate trainers doing to minimize the negative perceptions and maximize the positive ones?
It is no surprise that compliance training is the most disliked type of training. Many participants find it distasteful because it often covers content that they have already learned or don't find very relevant to their jobs. Brenda Knoll, clerk of the Lake County combined courts in Colorado, says, "We were told that the rules and laws change rapidly and we need to contact HR for direction anyway, so why the training?" Most agree with finance professional Mack Long, that this kind of training simply "is hard to concentrate on."
To make compliance training more interesting and to invite participation, trainers create interactivity with games, role plays, case studies, real-life examples, and even humor. Some create interest by demonstrating relevance by using of real-life scenarios, case law, current news stories, and emphasizing the cost of noncompliance.
Carlene Goldthwaite, a workforce development consultant with Rocky Mountain Health Management Corporation, likes to "translate large figures into something people can relate to - for example, $X = the amount of money it would take to fill Mile High Stadium." Many trainers use videos in their compliance training, and others incorporate e-learning or webinars. Judy Cole, a Colorado-based organization development consultant, offers participants the ability to "test out" of compliance training that they previously attended.
Participants cite the presentation style of the trainer as the most negative element of training classes that they dislike. Common criticisms are the trainer's lack of in-depth knowledge about the subject matter, the trainer's inability to customize the training to the audience, and the organizational skills of the trainer.
Lorinda Arpin, executive assistant at Vail Cascade Resort and Spa, sums it up when she says, "Even if the content is relevant, the style and energy of the presenter can make or break the presentation and, therefore, the retention of the material."
When asked about training classes they felt to be interesting and a good use of their time, participants once again cite the presentation style of the trainer. But it is not just the trainer's style that makes a course great. In fact, the actual content of the training class beats presentation style by 2 percent as the most important element of a training class that is rated favorably by participants. One participant emphatically stated that the material will not be retained if it is not perceived as valuable and if the presenter is not qualified or compelling.
Most trainers identify their training style as energetic, flexible, fun, humorous, and interactive, while some say that they are easygoing, laid back, and informal. Regardless of training style, all instructors realize the importance of bringing their best energy into the classroom.
The majority of trainers garner their energy by being prepared. They practice and review their material, get a good night's sleep, arrive early, and proactively do something physical that gives them energy, such as running or singing loudly in the car. Some naturally have high energy levels and don't need to worry about this aspect, while others tap into their spirituality and pray that through them, the participants will get what they need from the class.
In addition to arriving early, Ana-Christina Wadle, an inspirational trainer, speaker, and author with My Legacy Coaching, LLC, says, "I fill myself with energy before arriving at the event by singing out loud in the car, listening to loud, energy-filled music, and smiling at everyone I meet as I go in and get prepared."
Arriving early and having the room set up before participants arrive allows trainers to welcome participants and talk with them before the class starts. In addition to building relationships and creating rapport, this strategy also establishes credibility for the trainer.
Most trainers have a defined method or take extra steps to ensure that the content of the training is relevant to the participants. Many let the participants determine relevancy by asking them how they think the training will be relevant to their jobs. Josh Davies, vice president of training and development for Sage Hospitality, says "I don't explain relevancy. I let the class do it for me. Participants don't argue with their own data, so ask them how they could apply the skills or what they are going to do with it."
Other trainers simply state during the class how the content is relevant, or find other methods, such as case studies, scenarios, and other true-story examples, to demonstrate pertinence. Teresa Salerno, a senior vice president of human resources, recommends that trainers "invest in the beginning by gaining insight and understanding participant's jobs. Explicitly connect key principles to their work."
Kathryn Zuber, vice president of human resources at The Magellan Network, demonstrates relevance by showing how it affects the participants' "stock price" and by connecting the benefit of the training to the bottom line.
Introducing role play and activities
Role play is loved (or appreciated) by some participants and hated by others. To ensure that these exercises are meaningful and well received, most trainers use practical methods that are easy to apply to the content of the training class. Some trainers make sure that they are fun, allow participants to do them in groups rather than in front of the entire class, and use volunteers rather than making assignments or forcing everyone to participate.
Many trainers solicit and prepare volunteers prior to the class, and others will use three or more people in a role-play session, with at least one person in the group assigned the task of providing others with feedback. Some trainers simply do not care for role play and either do not use it at all or refer to it by another term such as "skill building" or "practice," which is less about acting out a scenario and more about applying what is being taught in the course.
Davies suggests designing the scenarios using content and providing participants with "a script or very specific guidelines to follow." Kristen Coffel, a training manager at ICAT Holdings, LLC points out that "it's better to practice for the first time with a colleague than with a customer."
Corporate trainers frequently use variations of Jeopardy and bingo games. Some use building-block objects as part of an activity or simply for people to play with during the program. Others integrate activities into the training to allow participants to get to know each other better and build relationships. Trainers might also create competitions during the training classes to keep participants interested and to emphasize learning points.
Brian O'Neill, director of leadership systems at Noble Investment Group, a hotel management company says, "there is a cultural element of competition that tends to show up in U.S. audiences, so an ongoing quiz or game can thread its way through an entire half-day or full-day training session. Sometimes, the careful selection of teams for a game can induce additional hidden outcomes around teamwork and valuing differences."
Jennifer Law, a principal consultant with HR Link, LLC, points out the importance of recognizing all areas of learning styles - auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. In addition to being relevant to the training, activities should be hands-on and experiential. Stacy Moscow, a learning consultant with Constant Contact states that it is critical for games and activities to have a purpose directly related to the content and the required learning (Table 1).
Most corporate trainers determine what types of games, activities, and interactions to use depending on the objective of the training and who will be in the class. Laura Wallace, a human resources consultant, asks, "What are we trying to accomplish? New knowledge, new skill, self-revelation, or challenging assumptions or stereotypes - each of these goals may call for a different sort of experiential lesson."
Jeanne Thrower Aguilar cautions trainers to be aware of the educational level of the participants. Brian O'Neill places emphasis on getting to know his audience. As he says, "You need to survey the potential audience ahead of time. What departments are they from? What is the age group? Is the group homogeneous or very mixed along key cultural lines of the company? This could be race, gender, age, seniority, departments, tech savvy, geography, or other aspects depending on the specific company." Ultimately, trial and error of what has worked or not worked in the past provides the best insight.
Making it meaningful
The most important aspect for corporate trainers to remember is that the training is about the participants. What helps them to learn, retain, and utilize what they have learned once they are back on the job? A sample of trainer secrets and successful practices appears in Table 2.
The key to providing meaningful training is good and relevant content combined with competent and engaging trainers. To do this, many trainers are proactive about learning how to make their training classes more effective. For example, Barb Van Hare, president and founder of Kinetic Clarity, LLC, says that she is "learning a new way to design and deliver training."
The best corporate trainers make sure they are knowledgeable about the topics they are training. They incorporate relevant games and activities into their training, and most importantly, they are aware of their presentation style and the effect that their style has on participants. t+d