December 22, 2008

Six ways to improve the training environment

During a session with a client the other day, we talked about the delivery of his company's new employee orientation. He was looking for ways to make his message more clear and to keep his diverse audience's attention through a day-long training.

The orientation is typical in its length, in the fact that there are various untrained speakers involved (sexual harassment, fire safety, benefits, etc.) and employees from a range of departments, and in its attempt to pack an enormous amount of information into one day.

In this kind of training situation you, as a speaker, might be doing everything right, but your audience still seems disengaged. The reason? The environment.

A speaker plays just one part in making a lengthy training work. If the training environment is not conducive to learning, you're going to work twice as hard to make an impact.

New employee orientation is its own special kind of training; you're not just there to fill their heads with information, but -- ideally -- to welcome them and make them feel like they belong.

Being a new employee, especially at a large company, can be overwhelming and disconcerting. You want your new employee to feel successful and part of the culture as soon as possible, and you want to reinforce that they made the right choice in coming to work for your company.

(I learned this the hard way in my first day on the job as training coordinator, when my supervisor decided I didn't need a desk or office, gave me an org chart to memorize, then went on vacation for two weeks. I was highly inspired to create a successful new employee orientation after that!)

Keep in mind that the one-shot 8-hour orientation may not be the best option for your new employees. There are many creative ways of integrating new hires, by connecting them with mentors or by giving them self-directed learning activities, for example.

But in the case of the traditional day-long training, here are some of my favorite ways of making the environment more comfortable, more fun, and more conducive to learning for the participants.

1. Bring toys and candy

According to The Corporation for National and Community Service, toys:

* create a fun and relaxed environment
* stimulate creativity and involvement
* meet the needs of diverse learners
* rechannel doodling habits, and
* serve as rewards, reminders, and incentives

Kinesthetic learners, especially, will appreciate having something to do with their hands.

2. Incorporate breaks and movement

Make sure that your partipants are given breaks no more than 90 minutes apart, to keep them from being distracted by personal needs. Incorporate movement by breaking them up into groups, having them get up and stretch, or using icebreaker or energizer games.

3. Vary the visuals

If you've got several speakers in an 8-hour day of training, break up the visual monotony by interspersing video, image-based slides, props, flip charts and other visual interest.

4. Incorporate interaction

You may feel that fire safety or sexual harassment is a one-way training lesson, but there's always a way to incorporate audience interaction and participation.

Ask questions. Invite participants to share experiences and stories. Break them into groups and pairs and have them create solutions to problems you suggest. There are lots of ways to turn "telling" into "asking." Be creative.

Specific to new employee orientation:

5. Give opportunities for bonding

Offer activities for the participants to get to know each other a little. Recognizing friendly faces in the hallway is comforting to a new employee. Serve lunch onsite so the group can eat together and have some unstructured conversation time.

6. Make orientation a celebration

Why do we have a party when someone leaves, but not when someone arrives? Bring in a cake that welcomes new employees. String up a banner. Blow up balloons. Make new employee orientation a celebration instead of a dreary disciplinary exercise.

What's your favorite way to make a long training more engaging?

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6 comments. Please add yours! :

Ellen Finkelstein said...

The video at gives a good explanation of why sitting all day in orientation may not be the best idea and shows some silly options for a better work environment.
Ellen Finkelstein
Author of How to Do Everything with PowerPoint 2007,
PowerPoint for Teachers

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks, Ellen!

Matthew Cornell said...

Thanks for saying #1. I *love* thinking toys, and needed the reminder that it's OK to share them in workshops. Question: Do you mean they play with them during the thing, and not just during special "ok to play" time?

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Yes, I allow them to play with the toys as needed to help keep them stimulated or satisfying their kinesthetic needs. I've never had a problem with lack of attention.

JR! said...

Impressive piece of material - will use this for class.

Healthy said...

Good tips

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