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Turning the Tables: From Trainer to Student

As people who have designed and delivered effective training, Kassy Laborie and Zovig Garboushian know a thing or two about good learning experiences. So what nuggets have they gleaned from a 9-month course that they're both attending, and that all of us should consider when designing our own programs? Today's podcast answers that question.
instructor becomes the pupil with kassy laborie and zovig garboushian

Kassy Laborie and Zovig Garboushian are extremely accomplished trainers and facilitators (among other things), yet recently they both found themselves on the other end of the proverbial training room: they’re both participants in a 9-month long training course.

Recently I had an opportunity to talk with both of them about being back in the “pupil” seat (as opposed to the instructor’s chair), and more importantly what design elements they’ve noticed in this program that they (and all of us who design learning experiences) may want to borrow when we’re designing our own training programs.


Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a podcast about all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, I’m the Co-founder and CEO of this little instructional design company called Endurance Learning. And today I am joined by friend of the program, Kassy Laborie, and first-time podcast guest, at least on Train Like You Listen, Zovig Garboushian.

Today, our topic is going to be when the trainer becomes the pupil. Both of our guests are extremely accomplished in the art of training design, and delivery, but over the past few months, they’ve found themselves going through an intensive nine-month program to further build their own skillset. We’re going to get into that in a bit.

But first, I want to let you know that today’s podcast is brought to you by Soapbox, which is an online tool that you can use for 5 or 10 minutes, and you can take care of about 50 or 60% of the work when it comes to developing a live, instructor-led training. So basically, you go in, you tell the computer how long your presentation is, how many people are going to attend, whether it’s in-person or virtual, what your learning objectives are, and then Soapbox will instantly generate a training plan for you with clusters of training activities that are designed to help you accomplish all of your learning outcomes. If you want to try it out for yourself for free for two weeks, visit

Six-word Bio

Brian Washburn: Okay. Now, I am here with Zovig Garboushian, who is from Boldness Ablaze Coaching – she’s an Executive Coach and Speaker. And I’m also here with Kassy Laborie, who’s the Founder and Principal Consultant behind Kassy Laborie Consulting. She specializes in virtual presentations and training and has literally written the book, two books actually, on the topic. Welcome to both of you! How are you?

Zovig Garboushian: Good. Thank you.

Kassy Laborie: Thank you. We’re so excited.

Brian Washburn: Well, I’m excited to be here. Before we go any further, I gave a little bit of introduction, but would you like to give yourself a little bit more of an introduction using exactly six words? Kassy, you’ve done this before, so we’ll go ahead and let you show us how it works.

Kassy Laborie: All right. I got it. “Virtual training – from blah to aha.”

Brian Washburn: Ooh, that’s exactly six words and it’s fun. Zovig, can you top that?

Zovig Garboushian: I don’t know if I want to top it or I even can, but I’ll try to match it. “Changemaker, truth seeker, and firestarter.”

Brian Washburn: I love that. And so, I was really excited to have coffee with you last week in person – you live out here in the Seattle area. I met you on a virtual networking event, and I would say that everything that you just described yourself was everything that drew me asking you, “Hey, would you like to have coffee? Let’s talk a little bit more about, kind of, what you do and how you do it. And, obviously, Kassy, we’ve been friends for quite some time. And I know that both of you are going through a nine-month course, and it was really interesting to make that connection.

But both of you are going through a nine-month course to help you on your path to bring keynote speaking into the services that you offer as part of your practices. So, this certainly falls into the category of self-directed learning, right? It’s something you chose to do. Nobody’s making you take this course. But before we go any further, can either one of you or both of you share a little bit more about the course that you’re taking, the structure of it? So that listeners can understand the kind of learning opportunity this is, and then we’ll talk a little bit more about your experience as being kind of a student in this course.

A Nine-Month Course to Bring Professional Speaking Skills Into Training

Kassy Laborie: Zovig, do you want to take it, and then I can add in?

Zovig Garboushian: Yeah. So, like you said, Brian, it is a nine-month course, and it is half virtual, half in-person; it’s specifically to teach the craft of professional speaking. That can be applied to keynotes, being on podcasts. I mean, really it’s like putting any ideas out there, they’re giving us a process of how to create it. So we’ve been– we’ve completed our first half, which was all virtual. We met twice a week. We had a writing coach and some editors. We went clear through the coming up with what your idea is, like at its core, who you’re speaking to, clear through writing a script for your chosen type of speech, coming up with your content, how you organize it, how you interview people, how you tell stories, how you sculpt your stuff, how you create contra–, I mean everything, like really in-depth learning about how to create a speech. And then we’re headed to New Jersey this coming Sunday to do in-person, which is where we do all of the live coaching around how we bring what we’ve written to the stage.

Brian Washburn: So to date, it’s been all virtual?

Zovig Garboushian: So far, yes.

Brian Washburn: Okay. And anything that you’d add, Kassy, to the overall experience?

The people that we're learning from are highly accomplished and highly inspiring, and they come from a performance background being master actors.

Kassy Laborie: They come from a real performance angle, and what we’ll do in the second half is the stage blocking. And that will probably completely, from what I’ve heard, change our script and certainly inform the way we do that. But the people that we’re learning from are highly accomplished and highly inspiring, and they come from a performance background being master actors from Yale and NYU. And so they’re master teachers, master actors, and it’s a real honor to learn from them.

It's helping me to answer why when I've stepped onto the keynote stage, I felt like there was just something that I wanted to do that was different or more.

And they’ve gathered a whole group of wonderful people around them too, who are accomplished writers. And so when Zovig talked about the first half, we’re really diving deep into the art of writing from a performance angle and from really getting clear with your messaging. And so it’s been really helpful for me as a breakout speaker, as an accomplished breakout speaker for my entire career, you know, it helped– it’s helping me to answer why when I’ve stepped onto the keynote stage, I felt like there was just something that I wanted to do that was different or more. And I’ve discovered it through this program and I’m excited to continue that growth.

Brian Washburn: Okay. So, the podcast audience that we’re talking to is made up of people who design training to be engaging and effective. And it sounds like from your experience, you’re working with people who have designed a program that come from really deep expertise, right? So you– the acting background or the writing background. And I know that both of you have designed training to be engaging and effective from a learner standpoint, specifically, both of you who are learners who know about training design. What are some of the things that this program, that the people who have designed this program so far, have been able to do particularly well to engage you and to help you achieve what you’ve set out to do?

How Top-Notch Instructors Engage Their Learners

Zovig Garboushian: Go ahead, Kassy.

Its a learners job to be engaged

Kassy Laborie: There’s so many things I’m thinking about. And Brian, when I was looking at the questions that you sent to us ahead of time, and I promise it’ll get to what you’re asking, but a big thing that’s different for me in the seat of the learner or the pupil, as you mentioned, is a reminder that learners are motivated by themselves. Like I can’t motivate a person to want to learn. And I think that I’ve spent my whole career as a trainer, as a presenter, thinking it’s my job to make sure you’re engaged. And it’s wonderful to be in the learner seat, to be reminded of while yes, a trainer can “kill it,” ultimately, it is the learner’s job to be engaged and to be motivated.

And so when you ask the question, what are some of the things that they’re doing in this program that Zovig and I are part of, they have a real captive audience and they make sure they have a captive audience ahead of time. They have a session that we go to ahead of time that’s two days in-person where we meet them and their approach, and they vet us actually before they even let us come to that if you will. “Let us” is probably strong words, but they make sure we want to be there because they know that what they’re going to ask of us is a big ask. And they want people who are motivated to learn it for themselves to be part of that so that everyone can be successful. But they are very focused on having motivated people be in the program, and it’s actually wonderfully amazing to me to be around a group of people who have chosen to be in a spot like that.

 They don't overload us with information and concepts and strategy and tactics like all in one. Sometimes they gave us two or three weeks to let something evolve and really sink in, and it just reminded me that less is more.

Zovig Garboushian: Yes, to everything Kassy said. Their ability to bring people who want to be there is really remarkable. The thing that I’m noticing that they do– now, we have the luxury of a nine-month program. Many trainings do not have that length. Sometimes we go and do these things for an hour and a half or two hours, right? We’re trying to learn something. But one thing I have learned even with that luxurious timeframe is that they give us enough time for things to sink in. They don’t overload us with information and concepts and strategy and tactics like all in one. Sometimes they gave us two or three weeks to let something evolve and really sink in, and it just reminded me that less is more.

Kassy Laborie: Mhm.

Brian Washburn: I struggle with that all the time, right?

Zovig Garboushian: I think, yeah–

Brian Washburn: And like you mentioned, Zovig, I mean, a lot of times we’re asked to do this in 90 minutes or an hour. And so as somebody who has been given an hour, I want to jam it all in, right? And I’m like, “Ah, can we at least make it 70 minutes? Because I have this activity that I want to get people into,” right? And so the idea that there’s the luxury of time, I think is really, really helpful for a program to develop expertise. And one of the things that I’m hearing from this is that when we only have 60 or 90 minutes or two hours, let’s recalibrate– like for an outcome for this program is that you will be experts, right? And after 60 or 90 minutes, the outcome shouldn’t be expertise. We’re not generating experts, so we do have to design with time that we’re allotted in mind. I think that’s a great, great point.

Zovig Garboushian: But I think it’s also a reminder of like you said, I have so many things I want to share. I mean, we, you know– I have a ton of ideas. “Oh, they should do this and I want to bring this in because they’re all exciting and fun.” I think it’s just– it’s helpful for me. And it seems like, you know, at least you go through this too, Brian, to remember, “Actually, if they walk away learning one thing, it was a success. If they remembered one tactic, if they’re thinking changed in one way, if they did one thing differently, because of this 60 or 90 minutes that we spent together, the learning was a win.”

I have to remember that if people walk away with just one thing, that's learning, and that counts and that means something.

And they’ve taught me so much and I’ve probably forgotten things already. And, you know, over time, as I continue to apply this craft that they’ve given us, things will bubble up and pop for me, but I’ve already learned, I’ve taken away so much because they haven’t overloaded us in a short amount of time. So even if we are trying to squeak in stuff in a 75-minute session– and I do that too, “Can we get 75 minutes instead of 60?” I have to remember that if people walk away with just one thing, that’s learning, and that counts and that means something. We can’t boil up the ocean.

Brian Washburn: Yeah, and if they’re curious, if they want to go off after 60 or 75 minutes and they’re motivated to do their own research afterwards, that could be really helpful. So you mentioned, Kassy, you mentioned pre-work that this program kind of uses as a design element. They vet people to make sure that they, the people who are part of the program, are motivated. And then Zovig, you mentioned giving enough time for things to sink in. Are there any other design elements that you found particularly effective or helpful?

Effective Elements of Course Design

Kassy Laborie: It turns out I work well with deadlines, even though I may resist them. They have very clear deadlines, they have a very clear outline of what is due and they give us very clear guidance on how to perform that. And they don’t– if you don’t meet the deadline, they don’t go, “it’s okay.” You missed it. If you missed the deadline, you missed it.

They hold true to what they say, and they also provide us with learning opportunities in different ways.

So they hold true to what they say, and they also provide us with learning opportunities in different ways. So we, as Zovig mentioned, we met online twice a week live with the whole group. We have a learning management platform behind the scenes where we have documentation, various templates and guides, and excellent video resources. The video resources alone– I’m coming from the virtual/live instructor-led training area of learning and development. I’ve always been like, “Eh, video, whatever.” I don’t feel that way anymore. I love the video. As a motivated learner who wants to be able to go back and re-watch these very talented people tell me exactly what to do, I hope I can save these videos for the rest of my life. So I appreciate all of those extra resources and different ways that I get to learn.

Brian Washburn: And I love what you just mentioned is that to date until this program, you’ve always kind of cuckooed the idea of video resources, video training, whatever. But when you can see an example of something that’s done really well, suddenly it’s like, “Oh, I get it. Like if I’m going to do video, I want it to be like that!”

Kassy Laborie: Like that!

Brian Washburn: Yeah.

All of those things I now very much see the value in that, and I don't know why it took me so long. I'll never poo poo it again.

Kassy Laborie: It’s meaningful. And you know, I’m recognizing I’m coming from this place of being motivated to learn that. But I recognize the– I appreciate how specific each module is, the thought that went into what was recorded. It probably got edited right down to what was necessary, which is something that they believe in and they will teach us to do live as well. So there’s something to be learned from that. But then the ability to pause, to go back, to review. You know, all of those things I now very much see the value in that, and I don’t know why it took me so long. I’ll never poo poo it again. (CHUCKLES)

Brian Washburn: Well, I think that part of it is finally being exposed to a good use of video, you know. Sometimes whether it’s video or other tools or tricks that we try to put in, if they’re not good examples and people that– it’s almost counterproductive, right? People are like, “I never want to do eLearning because it’s eLearning was so boring. And so all eLearning must be boring by my lived experience, right?” So, giving people an example of something that’s really good, I think, Is another element here. Let’s shift a little bit and let’s talk about what the facilitators are actually doing. So again, you know, both of you facilitate and so you have an idea of what good facilitation probably consists of. What are some of the things the facilitators have done particularly well to make this engaging and to help you achieve what you set out to do?

Tips Gleaned from Successful Course Facilitators

Zovig Garboushian: The one thing that pops for me the loudest with their facilitation is not necessarily their tactics in the facilitation, but the space, the container that they’ve created for it to be safe to learn. Because– and they are so committed to this idea that you can either be I think it’s a performer or a critic, but you can’t be both.

Kassy Laborie: Mhm.

What they're teaching us is a creative process, and in order for there to be creation, there has to be collapse. There have to be things that fall to the floor in order for you to create amazing stuff.

Zovig Garboushian: And they don’t– because they don’t want us coming in and like critiquing each other and being judgy about other people’s ideas and their learning process and and all of that. They want us to be able to make really bold choices and big choices about what we do and to feel safe about trying stuff and experimenting. Because what they’re teaching us is a creative process, and in order for there to be creation, there has to be collapse. There have to be things that fall to the floor in order for you to create amazing stuff. But that means you have to risk looking foolish or something not working or whatever.

And there are some– there are already professional keynoters in this group. All of us have done some level of being in front of people. So we’re not newbies to this, but we’re all kind of– the playing field has been leveled because we’re learning a new way to do it, and they want us to feel safe and motivated. And so they, from the beginning, they said, “You are a learner here and we are your coaches and that’s the only role you need.” And they hold to it, they make us feel safe.

Kassy Laborie: They work very hard to make us feel safe, and we are in class with an astronaut and an athlete. We do have that which they list as, in the book that they’ve written, as the number one thing that lets you get on the keynote stage pretty quickly. So that’s important. That’s what I was going to say to you to echo, Zovig, what you’ve said. They create a safe learning environment for us. They’ve done that online and they do that by being very personal as well. They know us. And– to the point where when it was time for us to say goodbye to part one and we’re having our online meetings, there were tears. (CHUCKLES) So people were very emotional. I always love that, of course, but that’s how personal they’ve made it in creating that safe learning environment.

Brian Washburn: And it sounds like there’s some things that you have just been, for lack of a better term, “blown away by” in terms of both the design and the facilitation of this program. What are some things from this experience that you could see yourselves borrowing and integrating into your own practice as you go forward? Not necessarily the keynote stuff, but as you think of when you’re facilitating or when you’re designing a learning experience for other people, what could you see yourselves borrowing from this course?

Facilitator/Instructional Designer Takeaways From a Meaningful Course Experience

effective blended learning experience

Kassy Laborie: I have an idea of– kind of is connected to the videos, Brian. I am very much in awe of the structure and seeing a very effective blended learning experience where we are meeting live, we’re meeting in-person, we’re doing online independent work. Video was put in there. There’s intense assignments – they’re not just light assignments. And so for me, it’s the expansion of what a blended learning program could look like, which I currently do. But the level that they’re doing it, given the time frame, the span of the nine months, and then the level of video production that’s been added to it are inspiring to me and something that I’m going to do in the future.

That gets people to pay attention and excites the brain.

Zovig Garboushian: I really love a lot, Kassy, you mentioned this, just the different formats that they’ve given to us – assignments on our self-directed, self-paced, you know, watching of the videos, and then meeting live in-person. Where there’s opportunity to create some level of variety in training, it gets people more engaged. It surprises them. It’s a little– it can be a little jarring sometimes, “Oh, we were doing this and now we’re moving over to this.” And I think that that gets people to pay attention and excites the brain. I like variety. I am– I love change just for the sake of change. So I enjoy the sort of element of surprise and looking at their– even just the worksheets and things that we download the templates, I’ve saved them all blank so that I can use them. I’ve used them to write an article. I’ve used them to write a LinkedIn post. I’ve used them to have– to write other speeches that I’ve been doing in my business going through this program.

And they talked to us– their tone– I love the tone that they use when they are with us live, but also in all of their materials. It’s very, like you said, Kassy, really personal. And there’s a lot of personality behind it. And it’s just a reminder for me that learning I never want things to be boring and I always try to bring my personality to stuff. But like you can be casual and learn really, really deeply. It doesn’t have to be this sort of buttoned up, boring, hyper-processed experience. You can be fun and funny and incorporate imagery and personality and lots of exclamation points. And all that stuff makes it really– sometimes it’s a little cheesy and it’s funny, you know, and it’s fun. And so I think bringing personality and some variety into the learning when you can. Again, sometimes we’re working with these truncated, you know hour-long sessions. Bring something interesting – an audio file, a video file, you know, Kassy, I know you do a lot of like annotation and drawing and engagement in that way, stuff I hadn’t even thought of, and just engage people from all senses. I’ve been engaged in all of my senses.

Brian Washburn: I mean, this sounds like a top notch, world class program.

Kassy Laborie: It is!

Maybe we should give them a little bit of love. What is the name of the program?

Zovig Garboushian: Heroic Public Speaking, and they’re incredible.

Brian Washburn: And what’s the name of the book, Kassy, that you shared? Perhaps if people wanted to dip their toes in this water, maybe that’s a place to start.

Kassy Laborie: Yes, the name of the book is The Referable Speaker, and Michael Port co-authored that with Andrew, do you remember his last name, Zovig? We’ve had him in our program, so I–

Zovig Garboushian: I don’t recall his last name, but you’ll find it if you look up Michael Port.

Brian Washburn: And The Referable Speaker.

Kassy Laborie: So Michael and Amy Port own Heroic Public Speaking, which is the programming that Zovig and I are part of. The book, The Referable Speaker, was authored by Michael Port and a co-author, Andrew, who is also cool. But they have taught us a lot – the book alone. And in fact, Brian, in the book, they recommend you get somebody who’s like an accountability partner, somebody you can share with as you go through. And Brian, you were that for me, as you know, which is an extra interesting piece about the three of us coming together today. We’re going to get you in this program next.

Brian Washburn: (CHUCKLES) I’m looking forward to it. And we are running out of time, but, Zovig, before we go, where can people find you if they want to know more about your work, what you’re doing, or just connect?

Zovig Garboushian: Yeah. I’d love that. You can reach me through my website,, or you can find me on LinkedIn, Zovig Garboushian, either way is good. I’m here. Smoke signal, you know, tin cans in a string. I’m all about connecting.

Brian Washburn: Perfect. And Kassy, where can people find you?

Kassy Laborie: You can find me at Kassy Consulting, and that’s K-A-S-S-Y, and I’m also very active on LinkedIn and would be happy to connect with you there as well.

Brian Washburn: And then at the end of each month? You want to tell us a little bit about what you’re doing at the end of each month?

Kassy Laborie: Oh yeah, thank you! I very much love gathering people who do virtual training around the globe together in an online meeting, and so we call it the Virtual Training Hero Hangout. And we gather and learn about virtual training things, nerd out on it, basically. It is the last Friday of every month at 11 a.m. Eastern.

Brian Washburn: Well, Kassy and Zovig, thank you so much for joining and for sharing, you know. And it’s kind of one of those things, it’s a little uncomfortable to share your experience as a learner. It’s always more comfortable to be in control as the person who’s designing or facilitating. So I really appreciate that.

And thank you everyone else for listening to another episode of Train Like You Listen. If you know somebody who might find today’s topic on training design lessons learned from a nine-month intensive program to be important, go ahead and pass along a link to this podcast. If you want to be notified every time there’s a new podcast when it’s hot off the press, go ahead and subscribe at Apple or Spotify or wherever you listen to your podcasts; even better, if you were to give us a review or to give us a like. And if you’re interested in learning more about a broad range of learning and development strategies, you can always pick up a copy of my book What’s Your Formula? Combine Learning Elements for Impactful Training at

Until next time, happy training, everyone.

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