3 Secrets To Keeping Your Training Audience Engaged

By: Chris Drake
02/01/2019


It’s not an easy thing to get up in front of a group of people and keep them invested in what you have to say for hours at a time. However, when delivered effectively, training programs can give your company a huge competitive advantage!

There are three keys to keeping your training audience invested in your corporate training program content:

1. Connect
The first essential component to any presentation, no matter the context, is to get the audience’s attention and build a connection. This is especially true of training presentations. Often, in mandatory training and education events, there's an inherent social disconnect between speaker and audience. As the speaker and educator, you're an outsider to the rest of the group by default. Your first task should always be to bridge this gap. The best way to build a connection with your training audience? Tell a story within the first 2-5 minutes of your presentation.

Since the beginning of human language, stories have been a fundamental means for humans to relate to one another. A personal story builds a connection between speaker and audience, giving the listeners a glimpse of who they are interacting with. The key is to pick a story that’s relevant to the subject at hand. Talking about how you spilled coffee on yourself on the way here this morning is relatable, but it doesn’t contribute to the topic at hand. It doesn’t matter what your speaking topic is, there’s always a way to weave in a personal or second-hand story. As Dr. Brene Brown, Professor of Social Work at University of Houston says, “Stories are just data with a soul.”

Let’s say your training session is about proper procedure for getting expenses approved and a walk-through of how to use your company’s new internal portal. Definitely not the most invigorating topic. If I were presenting on that topic, I’d probably start with a humorous true story. In my case, I’d talk about my very first job when I accidentally placed an order for $4,000 worth of trash cans at the motorcycle shop I worked at.

This story accomplishes two things: First, it humanizes me and makes me relatable. I become a real person. I’m no longer just someone that’s here to talk at you. I’m the guy who worked at a motorcycle shop as a kid, someone that makes mistakes. I'm a real person just like you. Second, it sets the stage for the training session topic. In this case, it speaks to the importance of sticking to expenditure procedure. When the story is relevant, the listener associates credibility of the story with the training content.

Great! You’ve got your audience’s attention. Now you have to keep it.

2. Engage
Most presenters and trainers use a visual aid when delivering a topic to students, usually in the form of a slide deck or video presentation.

A majority of all PowerPoint presentations are awful. You know it. I know it. Everyone knows it.

We’ve all been there. A cheesy, zooming transition takes the presentation to the second slide in the deck. You can actually feel yourself die a little inside. Your eyeballs and brain are then mercilessly assaulted by a wall of text. This slide is so bloated, it looks as though the screen could come crashing down at any second due to the sheer weight of the mess being projected onto it.

slide-1

Did you skip some parts of the slide above? Did you read it at all?

Your audience probably reacted the same way you did. Poor visual aids are THE quickest way to make your audience lose interest in what you have to say. Most people don’t realize that making an effective visual aid is actually easier than making a poor one (like the example above).

The best presenters in the world keep things simple. They create a simple visual experience with their data.

apple-iphone-presentation
Tim Cook, Apple CEO | Photo: Recode.net

Break It Up
According to leading communication researcher, Texas Christian University's Dr. Paul King, listening is an an incredibly exhausting activity for the body. It can also trigger anxiety in audience members if they know that they’ll need to draw on the content later (which is obviously the case when discussing training). Stress and anxiety can greatly diminish our ability to maintain information.

There’s a reason all TED Talks are never longer than 18 minutes. The human brain can only process and retain a finite amount of information within a given time frame. Researchers have determined that the effective “cognitive backlog” or amount of information your brain can retain in a single learning session, tops out at about the 18-minute mark for most people. After that, our capacity to retain knowledge begins to drop off drastically.[1] This is an alarming statistic, seeing as most training sessions can last hours at a time. So how do you ensure you’re not wasting precious training time on content that students will soon forget??

Break your training up into manageable sections. If a topic of your training is longer than 18 minutes, be sure to divide it between soft breaks every 10-15 minutes or so. A soft break is an intermission of active rest time for the brain. Depending on your training session content, a soft break could be a video, a story, or a hands-on learning or demonstration. If your content is software-based, you can even take your training to the next level by making it a hybrid learning experience

Audience participation is another great way to break up the monotony of a long training session. This could be something as simple as creating a quick Twitter poll to gauge how your audience is feeling about your topic.

Discussions are also a great way to reset the brain. Maybe you’re hosting a corporate training on how to use a certain piece of marketing or sales software. In this case, you might invite a student to name a company they think has a great product or marketing messaging. As a group exercise, you ask the class how that company might utilize some features of the software that have been discussed so far. Encouraging students to explore the subject matter from a different perspective is a great way to take advantage of soft breaks!

Whatever you’re training your team on, remember that delivery is the key to maximizing your corporate training session. Connect with your audience, keep the content engaging, and remember to give your students time to allow their new knowledge to sink in.

Looking for more great corporate training information and tips? Download our free whitepaper: Transforming Corporate Training Execution

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Book Sources:

Gallo, C. (2017). Talk like TED: The 9 public speaking secrets of the world’s top minds. London: Pan Books.