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Stick in their Minds


Trainer Author and illumine trainer, Gillian Burn, outlines some techniques to help make training more memorable.

The first measure of training effectiveness is what people remember about what they have been taught. If the words you speak aren’t taken in, if the practice you design isn’t understood, if the presentation you make is forgotten then you are wasting your time.

This is why sticky training has to be a priority for trainers. And here are ten top techniques that will help your training to stick.

1. Incorporate all the senses whenever you are communicating to your audience.
Some learners like to ‘see’ the big picture or be ‘shown’ why it’s important. These people have a visual preference. Others like to ‘hear’ someone out or ‘listen’ to every point of view. These people have an auditory preference. And then there are those who like to get a ‘feel’ for the subject or ‘try’ things out and these people lead with their kinaesthetic sense.
Effective trainers build each of these three main senses into their material so that their participants can easily access the messages that are being delivered.

2. Stories or metaphors can also be a powerful tool in installing learning.
In brief, stories can provide a different frame of reference through which people can relate to the learning message. For example, I often tell stories about my own life experience to illustrate the difficulties that can occur around communication, relationships or problem solving. Such stories hold the learning in a way that is immediately accessible to audiences and does so in a way which is also engaging and easy to remember.

3. Use colours and numbers to distinguish the different aspects of learning that you are trying to get across.
This is a simple technique but it makes it far easier for people to follow when you are coding different pieces of information clearly. Numbers also tend to make pieces of information jump out - so in my own training I may well tell participants that “it takes 21 days to create a habit”, or “you need to practice speed reading for three-to-five minutes a day.”

4. Use the memory skill of linking and associating.
This skill of linking is relevant because when we associate a new piece of learning with a known fact it improves our chances of recall. So when I am introducing myself to participants I may say that my name is Gillian Burn from Burnham to help them link my name with a piece of information they already have. And in the same way many trainers will sometimes ask delegates to introduce themselves with an interesting fact about themselves e.g. I used to work with the Flying Doctor service in the Australian outback. This may be an icebreaker but it also underlines the point that people remember better when interest is added to learning.

5. The idea that you can link personal experiences to learning is also useful for memorability.
Just to give you an example I was recently working with a group exploring the principles of brainstorming. And when one of the participants volunteered to use the example of the communication difficulties he was having with his wife as a sample issue it proved catalytic. Everyone could relate to it, everyone had ideas to offer and the learning became extremely easy. As an exercise to help people remember key facts it also proved a real winner.

6. Anchoring is a powerful NLP technique that certainly helps learning to stick.
If you recall the way in which the rugby player Jonny Wilkinson holds his hands together before taking a penalty kick you can see an anchor at work. This anchoring movement helps him to get into the relaxed but focused state he needs to be one of the best goal kickers in the world. Similarly some trainers use music to help their participants into a positive frame of mind. In this respect music is an anchor that helps learners into a receptive learning state.

7. Muscle memory.
As a trainer I often invite my participants to get up, walk around, or set up different areas in a room in which to work. This approach helps them to link specific messages to physical activities or areas and is another way of helping learning to stick.
Similarly when I am coaching people I often encourage them to write down the messages that they have heard, not because I can’t give them a written copy of what I have said, but because when they write it down they are use their own words to make it theirs.

8. Taking a break.
Trainers who push their participants through a day without planning in adequate breaks are working against everything that is known about memory and recall. In essence research shows that when it comes to learning people remember the first and last things they have read or been told. This is why breaks are essential for learning. So if you have a key message get it then say it at the beginning and repeat it at the end for greatest impact.

9. Use analogies.
If I know what industry or profession my participants are in, or I know what interests them then I will use analogies that come from their world. Let me give you a personal example. My partner coaches rowers so when I am trying to get something across to him I will often I use stories relating to rowing so that he will have a clearer understanding of what I mean!

10. Mnemonics
When I was learning about the body as part of my learning about health I had particular problems in remembering the hamstring muscles – biceps femorus, semi tendinosus, semi membranosus. The answer to this problem was simple. I started to use the acronym ‘BS’ and I wrote it in red and then thumped my thigh to install the learning. How did this help? It first of all gave me a quick association through the letters with the words I was trying to remember and also made an additional association through both colour and the senses. In short I made several links to support my learning.

These are not the only sticky techniques available to trainers. But they are some of the most powerful. More than that they are easy to apply. The challenge for trainers is to start using them.


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