Writer and trainer Georgina Bromwich has a few tips to make your course content stick.
Think about the last course you went on, or the last presentation you watched. What do you remember about it? A couple of things, if you include the chocolate hobnobs they had at the break – or not even that? Now think of a course you went on a year or more ago. Can you remember anything from it at all?
As people designing and running training courses every single day of the week, we’ve got our work cut out for us. We recall, on average, the content of just four out of every 20 slides we see . We’re creating elearning that employees click through with one hand while they hold a coffee in another. We’ve got people in our conferences who have a tighter grip on their smartphone than they do on health and safety regulations. And, against all the odds, we want them to leave our training having learned something. How do we do it? I think it’s a question of stickiness.
Stickiness starts with a good headline
Making our courses memorable starts before learners step in the room. A cracking headline or course title can go a long way. I worked with one L&D team that renamed some mandatory training about corruption in the workplace the ‘Keep You Out of The Clink’ course. Doesn’t that sound a lot more intriguing than an obligatory session about the business’s code of conduct?
One thing’s better than nothing
When you’re designing a new course or training module, be your own worst editor. Ask: if everyone walks away remembering only one thing, what should it be? It’s always tempting to pile on the content, but overload your learners and nothing will stick.
Not sharing is caring
There was a time when I always asked for the slide deck at the end of a workshop or presentation. Until I realised that I rarely looked at those slides again; they never made as much sense on their own. But I do return to the scribbles in my notebook. There’s a reason for that: research shows that if we take notes (and by notes, I mean using old-fashioned pen and paper), we’re much more likely to remember what’s gone on in that training room . Writing it down helps us take information in.
I’m not saying that we should abandon checklists altogether. But I tend to keep them as a parting gift. If you tell people they’ll get a summary sheet upfront, then they’re less likely to take the lid off their pen in the first place.
Stories stay with you
Stories make an emotional connection in a way that lists of instructions or rules and regulations can’t. That’s why journalists tell them. Instead of dispassionately listing facts, they pick an angle, encouraging us to feel a certain way about their messages. If we’re angry, sad or entertained, then we’re more likely to talk about what we’ve read. Something actually changes in our brains to make us pay attention .
And we should share stories in our training rooms. Trainers I work with have plenty of professional stories to tell from their own lives as writers. These anecdotes, personal details, opinions and interesting comparisons all help make our message stay with whoever’s listening.
The sooner, the better
I’ve sat through and forgotten many a TED talk or course that’s been incredibly interesting in its own right, just not all that relevant to what I was doing at the time. And that’s taught me a lesson: if I can’t use that information straight away, then it’s not going to stay with me.
If we want people to remember the content of our courses, then we’ve got to think practically. So give your learners something they can start doing the moment they get back to their desk. If they can make small changes straight away, they’ll be more likely to revisit your other tips from the training, too.
How a haiku could help
A few months ago, I met someone at an event who’d been on our better business writing course the year before. One of my colleagues ran the session. Not only did he remember her name, but he also wanted me to pass on a message to her; ‘Tell Charli that I think about the haiku she asked me to write every single day. You can’t imagine how much it helps me plan my writing.’
One Japanese poem. Seventeen syllables in total. And this guy had remembered it for the past 365 days. That’s quite an achievement.
Sometimes, all you need is something unexpected and you’ll not only draw your learner in - you’ll keep them with you even when they leave the classroom. If we manage to make our learners laugh, or if we surprise them, or if we get them to look at some part of their job from a new angle, then it’ll make a world of difference to our training.
Georgina Bromwich is a writer and trainer at business language consultancy, The Writer. A geographer by education, a Spanish speaker out of necessity and a writer by trade, she’s worked with words for more years than she has fingers to count them on. These days, she trains people at the likes of the BBC, Cisco, Emirates, Nationwide and Unilever. In London. Or sometimes as far afield as Mexico or Dubai. And she helps them get the most out of their words