Top 10 Training Tips to Keep Students Engaged

We’ve all experienced flat-out boring training sessions; the kind that makes us feel as if we’re trapped in an episode of the “Wonder Years,” listening to Mr. Cantwell drone on. Though it is easy to fall into a comfortable training routine, as trainers we should do everything in our power to prevent classroom boredom. Here are some tried and true tips to keep every eye open without the need for Scotch tape.


Really, this one can take all ten spots. Absolutely no one over five years old wants to sit for any length of time and watch you read something on a screen to them. The point of a presentation is to enhance you, the speaker. It isn’t just decoration or a script for you to read from because you are unprepared. So do not treat your presentation that way. Review your presentation days before your training class, if you find any detailed information that has to be stated exactly as it reads in the presentation, remove it from your slides. This is information that you are supposed to say, conversationally. If your presentation contains all of the juicy nuggets in the slides then just email it to your audience instead of torturing them in a group by reading awkward and slow. Oh and reading “almost” verbatim is not acceptable, either.



Your training room may come complete with a podium or desk or whiteboard but that is no excuse to act as if you’re surgically attached to it. Move about the training room, the conference room, or the front of that auditorium. Give more students the opportunity to see you up close and hear you a bit better. This will help you see them better, too. I have found this especially true in conference and training rooms where students are following along with the lesson. I find most adults do not speak up in a room of other adult peers when they are stuck on something in a training class. It is annoying but it is human nature. I only discover the confusion by walking around. If I stay at my podium, all I see are smiling, nodding faces and a load of extra desk-side training work later on.


I know this one seems like a no-brainer but in today’s corporate training world we tend to pack too much information into too tight a time-slot. Sometimes exercises fall by the wayside and we leave them as an after training assignment. I always make room for in-class exercises. It is one of the major tools to help me, gauge whether or not attendees are really absorbing the material. It also serves as a great way to give the brain something physically different to focus on for a few minutes.


If you are a corporate office IT Trainer, you may have the luxury of seeing your audience everyday, at the water cooler, in the hall and cafeteria. You’re probably friends with many of them. This is an asset. Use the knowledge that you have about your audience, what features they would find most useful, pitfalls that might fall prey to and divulge them during class. Get a discussion going. I find most people like it when a class feels like it is tailor-made for them.


This one might be the most difficult to accomplish, effectively. As a professional trainer in some of the largest international law firms, I have long pondered how to schedule effectively. I have finally come up with a plan that makes me happy, at least. If it is your responsibility to enroll students into training classes, use the knowledge that you have about your audience to group people who get along together in the same class but do not enroll best friends into the same class. Be very careful scheduling training at the end of the day and around lunch periods (unless the class is catered). No one is engaged when they are watching the clock. Do not enroll quick-learners into classes with slower learners. The class will move too slowly and frustrate them. Attempt to speed up and slow learners will be lost. I have even gone as far as placing name cards at tables to avoid a very near-sighted attendee from constantly sitting in the back row. Taking the time to do this level of recon helps keep everyone happy and engaged.


Sure you can host a generic Excel class for your company’s Marketing department. Or you could help them tackle a common problem specific to them. Build a class around creating and updating an event tracking workbook. Specific real world examples that are immediately usable are always a big sell and it provides an opportunity to delve deeper into more obscure concepts effortlessly, like data validation.


Done right, this can really get a class going. I do not recommend having parts scripted out. This can quickly feel stiff. Just keep it loose and assign roles, like boss, Marketing Assistant, etc. In class, time can seem to stand still but in the cubicle everything needs to be done, 5 minutes ago. A classmate pretending to be the boss waiting impatiently for a report can make a training assignment feel more real.


I still print handouts, not a lot of them. Just enough for the exact number of attendees. The printed handout may seem antiquated. I could email the handouts or post them on the company’s training site but that places the burden on the attendee to do it. It is easy enough for me to remove that burden by printing handouts. My handouts come complete with a space to take notes and on the back are the in-class exercise questions so I am sure there is no waste.


Prepare for your classes. Do not simply rely on the company course outline and then stumble through training. Everyone will know something is amiss. I have witnessed this scenario in action and no one was fooled. This move proved to be detrimental to the course, the course attendees, and the trainer’s career.


Nearly every class needs a break period, if only for five minutes. When possible, schedule breaks into your training material where it feels natural, like before beginning a new concept. If no time feels exactly right, break after completing an exercise. At the very least, break before all eyes glaze over.


Should Instructor-led Training Become a Thing of the Past?

This past weekend, I attended an instructor-led fruit tree grafting course. My husband and I have planted hundreds of trees in the past, all of which we have purchased. Grafting our own trees would allow us to continue to plant trees while reducing costs and insuring quality.

As I sat in the class, handling a small pocket knife in one hand and a skinny twig in the other, with all the dexterity of a newborn baby, I found a new appreciation for instructor-led training.

Prior to attending the class, I thought I had “done my research”. I read about grafting trees. I watched some YouTube videos. You know, the typical research. Now I sat watching two instructors with more than a couple thousand grafted trees under their belts.  With the greatest of ease, they swiped pocket knives through twigs, making perfect bias cuts. I and a room of about another twenty eager learners were now tasked with completing the same action. Guess what? We couldn’t do it. Not at first, anyway.


The two instructors proceeded to go to each table to provide a better close up and to reiterate what had so obviously been shown. To make the bias cut, the knife is held still and the twig is moved across the knife.

I was struck by this. A group of more than twenty adults got the same thing wrong over and over again. Even the last table of students, which by that time had heard the instructors several times, required personal attention, and that was just the beginning. There was a wealth of knowledge transferred through impromptu questions and answers, from the viability of planting trees in the presences of established walnut trees to what happens if the grafted tree is planted with the graft inserted into the soil. These were questions I did not ask but I certainly benefit from the answers.

During the four hour ride home, I thought of the frustration I might have faced on my own and of the continue importance of instructor-led training.