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Diary of an Ultra Successful Training Workshop

A successful workshop isn't made of just one popular activity or one single ah-ha moment. In today's blog, I document the chronology of a recent training program that went quite well.

Last week, I had been asked by a client to offer a training design workshop for some of their presenters. It was a different kind of workshop than I’ve ever had to design because I would not own the entire two days of the learning experience. In addition to the training design elements, the vast majority of the 2-day workshop would include a series of technical presentations.

Further adding to the challenge was the fact that my audience was made up of people who had been presenting for years, and they were both subject matter experts and people who saw themselves as seasoned presenters.

Here is how the workshop played out, in diary form:

Day 1: 8:00am

Welcome and introductions. One member from the client’s team led a brief activity in which everyone in the training room introduced themselves. Many of the learners in attendance shared that they were lead instructors from their locations and had been both instructors and in the industry for many years. Things like this always make me wonder if the information I’ll be sharing will be useful, or too basic. Guess there’s only one way to find out.

Day 1: 10:00am

After several welcome and overview sessions from the client’s leadership, it was my turn to head to the front of the room for a 90 minute session about training strategies and how people remember what they’re taught. This was really the heart of what I had to present. In the other, shorter time blocks over the 2-day workshop, I’d be leading application-style activities, but I wouldn’t be introducing much new content.

I began by having everyone compare and contrast the differences between:

  • Ineffective training
  • Engaging training
  • Effective training

(I recorded this podcast about these concepts shortly prior to designing this workshop. Podcasts and blog posts can sometimes be a tool I use to help me gather my own thoughts and test out new ideas before presenting them in front of a group!)

I then went on to talk about fine tuning any training message through the use of learning objectives. We played a game of Kahoot during this segment which was something these presenters had never used before. They enjoyed the game (which was an example of “engaging” presentations) and their responses allowed me to see, for the first time during this session, whether they were picking up on this idea of learning objectives and how to create them (which goes beyond engaging and ventured into the realm of “effective” training).

I wrapped up the session by sharing two models:

  1. The anchor/content/application/future use model of training design, which I introduced so that these instructors had some structure to replicate engaging and effective training each and every time they covered a new topic.
  2. The 4-level evaluation model made most popular by Donald Kirkpatrick, so that the instructors can be intentional about how they gather data on the effectiveness of their programs.

Day 1: 11:30am

The participants were sent on a self-guided tour of the training center. This was actually pretty cool because all around the training center, artifacts and exhibits about the company’s history of innovation could be found. It’s one thing to hear about the history of innovation that runs deep within this organization, it’s another thing to walk the halls and see artifacts that were used on the Space Shuttle or examine a display of all the chemical compounds that go into a single product that this company produces.

Day 1: 12:00pm

When I was helping to draft the agenda for this meeting, I jokingly inserted an agenda item that said lunch would be catered by my absolute favorite restaurant in the city. The organizers took my joke seriously, and the first day’s lunch was indeed catered by my absolute favorite restaurant in the city!

Day 1: 1:00pm

A string of three hours and fifteen minutes’ worth of technical presentations were scheduled after lunch. Different participants found different pieces of these presentations to be interesting, so it seemed like there was something for everyone. I kind of wished I had been able to work with the technical experts on their presentation design.

Day 1: 4:15pm

After a long afternoon of technical presentations, I was brought back to the front of the room. I broke the participants into two groups of about 10 participants each, and I challenged them to choose one technical topic from the afternoon and to work together in order to map out:

  • What would one learning objective be for this topic if you were to have to teach this information when you return back home?
  • Based on this learning objective, what cluster of activities (using the anchor/content/application/future use model) would they use to bring this technical content to life and fulfill the learning objective?

During the 15 minutes of planning, both groups came to me with some questions about the 4-step training design model.

  • What’s an example of an anchor activity?
  • Do we always need to come up with four separate activities when using the anchor/content/application/future use model?

After 15 minutes of planning, both groups presented back and showed me that they were beginning to grasp the concepts we’d discussed earlier in the morning, specifically in terms of how they might actually apply those concepts when designing technical presentations.

What made me most excited, however, were the questions that were asked during the 15 minutes of planning time. While the participants seemed to understand these concepts when I presented them earlier in the morning, what they were actually understanding were the concepts in general. Now, however, they were forced to think more critically about what these concepts would look like when specifically challenged to put them into practice, and so they were asking questions in the afternoon that wouldn’t have ever occurred to them during the morning session.

I was excited to see how engaged the participants were, and I was glad I still had a few more opportunities to present on Day 2.

Day 1: Evening

A networking dinner was planned and while I’m not much of a social butterfly, being present during the dinner felt like a sort of continuation of the day’s session. It served as an opportunity to connect with participants outside of the training room so that they could see that I was more than just an instructional design automaton. Building a relationship with participants is an important element to building trust, credibility and maybe even a desire on their part to put in a little more effort during training workshop activities.

Day 2: 8:00am

I was given an opportunity to welcome participants back to the the second day of the workshop. I began with a recall activity, asking participants to shout out 9 things they’d learned from the first day.

Next, I spent some time talking about “the forgetting curve” and then talking about some strategies that may be helpful in combatting the forgetting curve, both for the participants in this session, and for these participants to think about when they went back home and worked with their own sets of learners.

Day 2: 8:30am

A 3.5 hour technical content block followed my welcome back session, with a variety of speakers from both the marketing and engineering departments. Coincidentally, the marketing presentation included some strategies that the client is using the help reinforce learning after training programs.

Day 2: 12:00pm

Lunch. Not the same caterer as the day before, but still a very tasty lunch as far as catered food goes. On the other hand, I was next on the agenda and I hoped that this lunch wasn’t going to weigh people down and make them sleepy.

Day 2: 1:00pm

For the final educational session of the 2-day workshop, I was on the agenda to help everyone put everything they learned together.

I asked participants to break up into groups of colleagues (everyone had come with one or two other people from their home organization, so this worked well – people were broken up to work in groups of 2-3 people) and I asked them to identify the most what they felt would be the most important topic to bring back home with them.

Similar to the previous day’s activity, I then asked participants to identify one learning objective, a cluster of anchor/content/application/future use activities, and I added one additional challenge: I asked participants how they would evaluate the success of covering this topic using one or more level of evaluation.

Almost every individual group asked me some sort of question that I don’t think they would have even thought to ask if they hadn’t been asked to put all of these concepts to use as they thought about a real lesson they were asked to plan. And every single group shared their plan, with activities, that demonstrated a firm grasp of the basic concepts that had been introduced during my first session on Day 1. This truly almost brought tears to my eyes, I was so happy and proud of the group.

Day 2: 5:49pm

As I was getting ready to board my plane to return home, I heard someone call my name.

“Brian, did you use four steps when you ordered at Chick-Fil-A?”

I turned to see three of the participants smiling at me. If nothing else, they remembered that I walked through two different 4-step models, and they decided to tease me, in what seemed an appreciative way.

Day 2: 9:18pm (Central Time)

“Are you planning to use four steps to re-book your flight?” I saw my three participants again in the Dallas airport. We had all missed our connections to our final destinations and earned a bonus night of travel in Dallas. At least we could use some instructional design humor to brighten up our evening.

Need some help putting together training programs that help to bring training theory to your real-life training challenges? Drop me a line and let’s find some ways to bring your next training program to the next level!

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