From Snoozer to Engagement
The training order you’ve been hoping for finally comes out and your name is on it. You have been trying to get to this training session for what seems like forever – and you’re finally going! But, during your first break in the class you’re a little concerned. The speaker isn’t even close to what you had imagined. But you give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s just getting warmed up. Except, when lunch rolls around you can’t wait to get out of the room. If anything, the class got worse. The afternoon goes by in a blur – a very slow blur to be sure, but still a blur because you can’t remember anything that was said.
We’ve all been there in a class like this. To be honest, we’ve probably given a class or two that had this same effect on people. You know the signs – glazed-over eyes, frequent trips to the restroom, drool from an open mouth. How did it get to this? You worked hard to develop and learn the material. You spent days, weeks, months researching and designing the class. The PowerPoint is immaculate – a work of art. But here we are, no one is listening, people are drifting, and out there in the audience somewhere someone is considering pepper spraying themselves just to get out of the class.
Law enforcement trainers are great folks with big hearts and a desire to serve. So, it isn’t a lack of desire or bad intentions. Perhaps we get to this point sometimes because we focus too much on the material and not enough on our delivery and the student. Here are a few things to keep in mind that may help you avoid this trap.
Disclaimer: we are in no way suggesting that you skimp on preparing the material. Your stuff has to be top-of-the-line, defensible information. It is a MUST that you do your homework and get the stuff correct.
Many times, in our eagerness to deliver the best training possible, we attempt to shove 20 hours of training into a 4 hour block. When we do this, the student feels like most of us do after Thanksgiving dinner – stuffed, miserable, and ready to sleep. It is impossible to deliver a presentation that has 400 slides in just 40 minutes. Maybe not impossible, but it certainly isn’t desirable. Tailor your content to meet the allotted time. If you find that you developed too much material, good for you. You have a head start on your next class.
The purpose of training isn’t just to deliver information. The purpose should be to change people’s behavior. We too often load our presentation with statistics. People don’t act based on statistics, they act when they are reached on an emotional level. One of the best tools for reaching someone at this level is through stories. Not war stories, but stories that are carefully and intentionally constructed and are directly related to the topic we are presenting. Once you have their attention and buy-in, then you can give the statistics need to support the behavior. Don’t kill them with your numbers.
There is no quicker way to lose folks in a training environment than by giving them something that they can’t possibly use. “Training” for the sake of training is worse than useless – it is counter-productive. Give them relevant training. Things they can take and apply almost immediately. If the training has nothing to do with their jobs, the quality of the material will not matter one bit.
The most important person in the class is not the instructor – it is the person in the seat listening (hopefully) to the instructor. Everything that happens has to be about them. Most of our training-related problems would be solved quickly if we kept this in mind. Here are a couple of things to remember when it comes to these folks.
People pick up quickly on passion. They sense almost immediately when the instructor isn’t into the topic they are presenting. If you aren’t into the topic, why should they be? If you can’t find a way to make this happen, set your ego aside and find someone who can.
When people talk about audience engagement, many are referring to asking questions of those in attendance. Simply asking questions isn’t enough. If they’re already disengaged (aka sleeping), questions are not going to magically bring them back into the class. We have to draw these folks into our world for the time that we are together. One of the best tools for doing this is storytelling. We spoke of it earlier, but we want to emphasize this. Don’t limit yourself to stories that you tell, stories can also be delivered through video. It is an incredibly effective tool if the video is relevant and if there is discussion about the content after it is viewed.
Finally, spend time with the students during the breaks. Speaking with them gives you so much feedback on how things are going while the class is going. These informal sessions are often the most productive parts of training sessions – at least for those instructors who are willing to forgo their personal break times. If you find that maybe the message isn’t getting through, adjustments can be made DURING the class to accomplish your mission. Once again, though, this requires us to set aside our ego and remember the most important person in the room – the student. Don’t be that person who is so rigid and inflexible that they are incapable or unwilling to make adjustments for the student.
This is by no means an all-inclusive list of strategies. But these are some things that may help you to better engage those with whom you have been entrusted. Understanding who is the most important (the student) and recognizing the true mission (changing or reinforcing behavior) will provide for a better learning environment for all. It also may prevent the need for you to write that memo to the CEO explaining how someone cracked open their foreheads after bouncing their noggin off the table when they fell asleep in your class.