Get Training Done Right

Training people on new concepts is difficult. This is not a new idea.

Employers could save significant sums of money, and also keep employee morale up if they did a better job of understanding and accounting for this.

Training should be relatable

When you train someone on a new concept, it is critical that they be able to relate what they’re learning to something that they already know something about. For example, when you teach someone to drive, it may be their first time behind the wheel, but it is rarely their first time in a car, or on the road. They already have a basic understanding of how a car works simply through observation of other people driving. You’re not starting from the basic question of — what is a road? Why do we have roads? What is the purpose of a car? Etc.

Too often, people are pushed into training sessions on topics that they can’t easily relate to. Consider a product that you want someone to learn about, it becomes much easier if you have some background on a) What the product is, b) What the product does. Ideally you would also be able to grant c) Some time with the product before training on it, so that you have some time to experiment for yourself and learn.

Training should be structured

Even loosely. When you’re educating someone on something, it becomes far easier if there is an achievement expectation that you’re working towards. By the end of this training session, my students should know A, B, C. You might not have slides. You might not have demonstrations. You might have a lot of tangential discussions. But by the end of the training, if your students understand and know A, B, C, you can be considered successful.

Everything else, the slides, the demos, the limiting of unrelated discussion, all of that is secondary, albeit potentially critical to the success of the program. In a large group, or in formal training, slides are almost a necessity to ensure good time management. They’re also great for learners who operate better when they can read things. Demonstrations can be critical to explaining an idea that isn’t easily explained with just words. But slides and demos are meaningless when the training that they are supporting feels like ramblings of an overly excited or unnecessarily jaded trainer.

Training should be interesting

A lot of the stuff we train or get trained on is boring. So do what you can to make it interesting, and hold as much of the audiences attention as possible. If you deal with groups, focus on the specific needs of a couple of people who are into the idea, or who would benefit most from a specific example. Not always possible, but it helps. If you need to use examples, try to tailor them to your audience whether it is specific or generic. Maybe you can make it specific to my company, or you might understand that most of the people you train are geeky or nerdy, and so you might use a Star Wars or Star Trek type reference.

I should want to pay attention, not just because I feel guilty for wasting my time and my company’s money, but because I want to learn what you’re teaching.

Training for as many as possible

When you’re training a group of people, or lots of people on the same topic/ideas, there is a simple truth that is often overlooked. There are multiple ways that people learn, and most of the human race only fits into a couple of those buckets. Some learn best by reading, and struggle to retain knowledge when it is spoken. Some learn best by hearing, and struggle to concentrate when expected to read large amounts of information. Some learn best by being given instructions and then being allowed to try it themselves. Others learn better by trying it first, and then being offered instruction and correction.

If you’re dealing with lots of people, it is in your, and their, best interest to put together a training program that covers as many of these as possible, be they slides that include text (long form or summary) of what you intend to say, be they demonstrations (on video or in person) that convey complex ideas, and interactive labs (where participants can try doing things themselves, with you or other SMEs on hand to confirm things are right, or offer guidance/correction as necessary).

Training should request feedback

How a training session went is a very subjective topic. Some students will walk away empowered, with new ideas and understandings. Some will walk away bewildered. Others will leave glass-eyed trying to understand what just happened.

If the situation is right, a good trainer should hand out surveys near the end of their class and solicit feedback for their own benefit. Accept the criticism and let it mould how you train the next class. Accept the praise and let it do the same. Take both with a grain of salt, but if you’re consistently seeing complaints about heavy focus in one area, or lack of clarity in another, it might be time to re-consider how you teach those. Not necessarily changing the content, but including explanations of why things are done the way they are. Or changing the content.


I’ve been through a number of training sessions, of different sizes, formats, topics. This is what I’ve learned. Your personal mileage may vary. At least think about it.

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