Engaging people before training


Stella Collins, Stellar Learning Last Modified  31 August 2016

Background information
When people are engaged before a training event they arrive ready to learn, making it easier for a trainer to work with them and easier for other people participating in the same training.

Research shows that curiosity releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which is part of our internal reward system. Having dopamine running through your brain is pleasurable so the more curious people are the more likely they will be to want to repeat that feeling. By taking some simple steps before your learners start their training you can create curious and self-motivated learners who want to learn for themselves, rather than having to be dragged kicking and screaming to do training.

Follow these steps to create curiosity, reduce uncertainty or fear and ensure your learners are primed to learn when they start their formal learning event.
Step 1: Create an ‘invitation’ rather than ‘joining instructions’
Participants need information to tell them where to be, at what time and how to get there. But how different do you feel when you are invited to something rather than being sent to or instructed to join an event? Make people feel they are being invited to something special and that they are valued by creating an invitation rather than simply sending information. People and the organisation will be spending time and resources on participating in the training so make it clear it’s an asset and a benefit rather than a chore.

Put the most important information up front – dates, times and location – so that it’s practical and then create the impression that this is a personal document written to the learner directly rather than a generic list of instructions. Use language such as ‘You will discover…’ rather than ‘Delegates will learn…’. Imagine you are speaking directly to a real person and then write like that. Choose your language carefully as you’re writing; ‘essential’ and ‘important’ are more motivating than ‘mandatory’. Use the joining invitation template for ideas and further guidance.

You can also personalise invitations with the names and photographs of the trainers and any support staff they will meet so they know who to look for if they arrive at a busy venue or hotel.

You’ll still need to get your language and grammar correct so make sure you proof what you write with someone else.
Step 2: Make the logistics easy for participants
For many people going to a training course or doing e-learning is different to their normal routine and can feel like a challenge; for some it may be very stressful. People may ask themselves questions like:
  • Will I get there without getting lost?
  • Will there be sufficient parking?
  • Will I know anyone when I arrive?
  • What will everyone else be wearing?
  • Will there be vegetarian or gluten-free options at lunch?
To help learners think more about what they’ll learn and less about the practicalities (see the ‘Using motivation theories’ tool for more on working with hygiene factors), make the process of getting to the training easy. Reduce as much uncertainty about the event as you possibly can. Those people who are confident travellers or attend training regularly can ignore those details.

  • Include directions, a map, telephone numbers and a photograph of the venue on the invitation so people can feel confident they’re going to get to the right place.
  • You might choose to tell people who else will be there so they can arrange to travel together or at least know who they’ll meet on arrival.
  • If it’s virtual or electronic training make sure people are familiar with the equipment before the training. Send them a short checklist to remind them of top tips for using the software.
  • Tell people what the lunch arrangements are and make sure they feel comfortable to ask if there are any specific dietary requirements.
Step 3: Help learners identify what they want to get out of the training
Make learning relevant to people by helping them identify what will help them back at work. Consider the following:
  • Make sure the expected outcomes of the training are published and available to people beforehand so they can be confident they’ve chosen the right event.
  • Include the published outcomes on the invitation and any other information you send to people once they are committed to the training.
  • Send an email from the trainer that explains the published outcomes, but also emphasises that you want to know what they want to get out of the training. Increase people’s individual commitment and autonomy by asking them about their personal outcomes. You may hear them referred to as WIIFMs (What’s In It For Me?). Have a look at the ‘Using motivation theories’ tool to explore this further.
Invite people to think about what they’d like to do differently after the workshop or training and ask them to send those thoughts to the trainer. Ask questions like:
  • What three specific things would you like to be different when you return from this training?
  • What do you want to start doing, stop doing, or do differently?
  • What would you like people to say about you after this workshop?
  • How would you like to feel after this training?
  • What’s your biggest challenge at work that you think this training will help with?
Use the template learner questionnaire to give you some ideas of questions you could include.
Step 4: Encourage other people to engage learners – stakeholder analysis
Learning doesn’t happen in isolation. Managers, other colleagues and mentors all have a significant affect on how well people use their learning when they are back in the workplace, so it makes sense to include them early on. Other people may also be affected by the learning because they may have to cover for colleagues while they’re out of the office or support them while they're still testing out new skills. Even customers may be affected hopefully, in the long-term it will have a benefit for customers but there may be short-term changes to adjust to.

Complete a stakeholder analysis before you design your training. Ask questions such as:
  • Who else will be affected apart from the learners?
  • Who is responsible for these learners?
  • Who may hinder the learners/training event if they’re not involved?
  • Who will promote or support the training if they are involved?
  • Who will contribute content or resources to the learning?
  • Who else contributes to the learner’s experience?
Use the stakeholder mapping tool to consider the amount of influence they have and the impact on them of doing this training. You can then decide to do some of the following:
  • Send managers /team leaders brief information about the workshop and questions they can use to stimulate discussions with their colleagues before they attend the training.
  • Encourage them to discuss the benefits of doing the training with participants, the potential consequences of not doing the training and any challenges they foresee about putting it into practice when they’re back at work.
  • You may even use it as a reason to tell customers (internal and external) about the training which improves customer relations and can help to increase your credibility in the organisation.
Step 5: Increase curiosity – and get people addicted to learning
Raising peoples’ attention and curiosity levels increases their need and readiness to learn. We perceive novelty as arousing so our brains are wired to identify ways to deal with a novel situation. For instance, when you come across a new app on your phone if it looks interesting you will be tempted to test it out and quickly learn how to use it; so long as you’re already relatively comfortable with apps and your phone.

Try the following techniques to increase curiosity:
  • Ask people to bring something unusual to raise their curiosity. For example ask learners to bring along a favourite hat to a workshop but don’t reveal what it’s for until they arrive.
  • Send people something unusual along with the joining invitation that you will relate back to the learning in some way. For example on a leadership development workshop where you’ll be talking about personal growth you could send a packet of seeds.
  • Create a theme and make sure the invitation follows the theme.
  • Send interesting articles or websites to read and review.
  • Create short online questionnaires to start people thinking.
  • Create games, puzzles or quizzes linked to the learning content – word searches, crosswords, and specially designed apps all work well.
You might find it useful to refer to the ‘Gamification’ tool for more ideas.
Step 6: Empathise with concerns
However much information you provide there may still be people who have concerns about what may happen at the training such as:
  • What if everyone else thinks I’m stupid?
  • What if I’m the only one there who’s at my level?
  • How will my dyslexia affect me?
Ensure anyone who will have contact with the learners beforehand is prepared to empathise with any concerns people may have. They can allay fears and build rapport by sharing an appropriate story from other people who may have had similar concerns. Review the tool on ‘Security and stimulus’ for ideas about how to balance creating curiosity and handling concerns.

The sales technique ‘feel, felt, found’ can be useful so teach it to colleagues who will make contact before the training; for example: “I appreciate you feel frustrated about attending this health and safety training, since you’ve already covered some of the content before. Other people with your level of experience have also felt the same way. However, what they’ve found on the day is their knowledge really helped newer people in the organisation, and of course legislation (or something similar) has moved on, so they did learn new stuff too.”

If there are specific concerns about disability, learning difficulties etc then you need to address those by providing appropriate support and access. Seek advice from someone in the organisation with specific knowledge or expertise in the field.