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Graham David

Why there are no “boring training topics”, just boring trainers.

A provocative title I know, but I’m going to put forward an argument that may just help you reframe how you deal with certain training topics. By the way – if you are delivering “boring” topics right now then yes, this is for you!


But first a short history lesson.


20 years ago when my company Blue beetle first started supporting other training companies our approach was to use theatre and role-play to bring situations and characters to life. Back then the scope of our work was limited -t he trainer delivered the training content and we delivered the role-play and practice opportunities for the delegates.  Nowadays we deliver the whole training course and have worked hard to create and to deliver work which is engaging for delegates, useful back in the workplace and delivers a measurable improvement.


Up until 18 months ago we focused almost exclusively on what people call soft skills – so our work generally included such topics as presentation, meeting, leadership, coaching and so on.  But one day we received an enquiry from somebody who asked whether we could apply our approach to HR and employment skills training,  As the person asked the question my mind was already starting to put together the explanation on why we focus on soft skills rather than process.


And then it hit me – there is no reason why we should focus solely on soft skills and not deal with any process-based training. When you consider any process or system in your workplace it will quickly become apparent that it is often not the process or lack of process or even lack of understanding that stops it working successfully. Rather it is the small choices that each of us make on a day by day basis that generally affect the success or otherwise of any system.


Most people know for example the safety rules which govern a works plant, and it is the decision a person makes not to put on their hard hat, or the decision another person makes in the moment not to challenge, that leads sometimes to failure in process.


Returning to the HR program my potential client had asked about. They explained that HR were trying to “upscale” the managers and supervisors in the business so that standard management skills could be carried out by managers. Ground breaking idea I know! The difficulty was that whenever the HR professional or an employment lawyer started is to put together the slides they quickly discovered that their course was looking rather dull!


Worse – despite the obvious importance of these topics the most common reaction by delegates was at best one of indifference. They reported delegates sitting there, eyes glazing over and with a burning desire to chew off their own feet in a desperate attempt to remain conscious!


Inevitably whenever I get talking with a potential client about how we do our style of training the comments is often made …


“it’s all rights for you. You do rather more interesting topics to us. We have to do all the dry subjects.”


This belief, that there are interesting topics and there are boring topics pervades in the learning and development industry. And whilst I would agree that a topic like “dealing with difficult people” sounds and feels inherently more engaging than “Health and safety for supervisors” I think that we often use the topic as an excuse for poor training.


We took the challenge of HR and employment law training and created a course that is so engaging delegates do not want to leave at the end of day one. What’s more every single time we have run this course now (more than 30 times) those same delegates arrive early on day two in order to get back into the action!


This approach has been so successful we won  a CIPD award for it, have been a finalist in another competition and have already seen other trainers be “inspired” (definitely not ripping us off – you know who you are!) by what we do.


What is our approach?


To a certain extent it is irrelevant since you will have your own specialist ways to deliver training-But for us we make extensive use of live case studies, “as real” characters who genuinely and meaningfully challenge the delegates, and very real looking CCTV footage and social media posts.


Increasingly we have been working to a philosophy which explains the ideas behind this approach to training. It’s what we call self-sustaining training. In a nutshell this is the approach that we now attempt to use on all our training offers-


It runs through three key areas.


Why? We start to plan any training program with why are you doing it? What is your measure for return on investment? What do you need is to see different in the delegates as a result? You ought to notice already that in this section there is limited scope for plans and largely pointless statements about the delegates e.g.” Knowing the internal absence policy”. Instead we want to identify what delegates will do with that knowledge rather than the knowledge itself


What? Now we need to identify what we are going to tell the delegates. This however is not as simple as a list (back to our HR example) of the policies that we want to tell the delegates. As I have only suggested that is largely pointless. Having identified what we want to tell them we have a second run of WHAT – now we need to identify what the delegates do with that information. In other words they have the policy before them but given part of our WHY is that they will be able to use the policy, we need to help them know what to do when, for example, someone bursts into tears. This is where we tell them WHAT to do with WHAT we have taught them.


How? Now finally we start to plan how we going to make all of this as engaging and interactive and enjoyable for our delegates. Our primary technique is theatre as I have stated but we could use anything or a mix of techniques, Group discussion, trainer input, psychometrics and so on. The real key here is to start from the basis that training – yes all training – should be completely engaging for the learner. If not then we the training provider are to blame – Not the topic.


How well does this work in reality? This is a process we have been developing and using increasingly for the last 18 months. It’s a process that has seen us improve our training delivery in many different subject areas … even what is the nadir for many people… Health and safety! We now deliver health and safety training courses where audiences are engaged and engaging throughout, questions are asked and voluntarily answered and most amazingly, on the way out at the end of the course delegates ask if they can do any more health and safety training with us!


I would be fascinated to hear your views and read your comments about this approach.  If this approach has got you thinking then it would be great to have you on board and to join our selfsustaining training revolution! The aim of the Revolution is simple – make training more engaging, more useful and measurably more impactful everywhere,


You can find out more on Facebook at @selfsustainingtraining including details of the Ted X talk the author is giving in October.