Ask these nine questions to help you deliver high-impact training

Over the course of our professional lives, each of us has gotten good and not-so-good training. While the reasons are varied for the not-so-good sessions, the impact tends to be the same: the  training was not “great.”  

As a practitioner of training for over 32 years, I have tried to discern what makes an impactful training session—both my own and those I’ve attended. I don’t think I have all the answers, but here are some reflections that you can apply the next time you have to train someone.

Understand the Tools in Your Toolbox

Well-designed training sessions usually contain training objectives as well as an outline of the content that needs to be covered. Those objectives can usually be broken down into three categories: knowledge, skills, and abilities.

When it comes to delivering the training, trainers need to align methods of instruction to those stated objectives. These are some things to consider when choosing a delivery method:

  • Do your learners need to know something?
    Verbally sharing something with your trainees (often referred to as lecture) is the most common way to achieve this kind of objective, but if it takes you longer than five minutes to say it, your learners may stop paying attention. Is there instead a video they could watch, an article they could read, or a field trip they could experience instead?
  • Do your learners need to do something? 
    When someone needs to learn a work-related skill, it’s common to offer structured practice sessions. Often, in the interests of time, we demonstrate a skill, have them practice once, and then move onto the next topic. Will anyone really remember how to do this if they only get to try it out once?
  • Do your learners need to know when to use something?
    Realistic work scenarios can help your learners understand when to use a particular skill. How do you make sure the scenario is “real world”?  Have you asked someone who already has this ability to review your scenario to make sure it’s accurate and the language is clear?

Context Matters

The context in which training occurs makes a bigger difference than you might think. The answers to these questions can help you determine how to tailor your content.

  • Is this a stand-alone course, or part of a larger curriculum?  
    If it’s part of a larger curriculum (e.g., a set of courses), have you really looked at the classes before and after yours to make sure the flow will make sense to the learner?
  • Will this training be part of a larger meeting and, if so, where is it on the agenda? 
    Unless you are the first item on a meeting’s agenda, do you have a plan for where to cut if they run out of time?
  • Who is the primary audience?  
    Senior leaders tend to want to see the bigger picture, while individual contributors may want more details. If the audience is mixed, can you vary your delivery to accommodate both preferences?

Intros, Transitions, and Closers

It goes without saying that, as a trainer, you must understand the content you are about to share. But going from good to great also involves the finer points of delivery:

  • How will you introduce the training objective?
    At the end of this session, what (ultimately) will the learner get out of this session—and why is that important? Is the “why” behind this session in plain, non-jargon language?
  • Will learners recognize transitions between training sections?
    Assuming your content is in a logical sequence, what will you say that helps the learner know you are moving onto the next thing? Is it the next step in a process, or is it something that builds upon the prior topic? How might you be more intentional in setting up the next topic by using metaphors or analogies?
  • What will be the final word?
    What is your inspirational “call to action” to get learners to actually put this course into practice? What are all the great things that will happen if they apply the learnings? What unfortunate things might occur if they don’t use the content from this training?

Training for impact means thoughtful consideration of these questions. The good news is that there are no right answers; let the questions be endless sources of creativity. 

Jim Hoar

Jim Hoar, Principle Consultant, St. Paul Leadership Consultants LLC, trained senior leaders at Target Corporation for more than 32 years. He teaches the course Deliver High-Impact Training for CCAPS.