Just this month I was privileged to address an audience of cadets, faculty and staff at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Before I got into my requested topic - how to make their Professional Military Ethics Education Program more engaging and inspiring - I thought about how to accomplish what the DPS recruit had so eloquently stated.
I chose a personal story - which can be a powerful training instrument. (See web link to That's My Story and I'm Sticking to It - Storytelling as a Leadership and Training Tool.)
I stood before them without a podium or PowerPoint slide and told them,
I grew up a military brat. My Dad retired as a Chief Warrant Officer from the Marine Corps. Oo-rah! My childhood memories include the whole family in the living room the evening before Dad had a big inspection. Mom would be sewing down some loose edges of Dad's chevrons. My brother would be spit shining Dad's shoes - this was before corfam - while I was polishing brass. Dad would show us the Manual of Arms with his unloaded M1.
My memories also include reading the newspaper every morning before school and feeling sick when the headlines said that Da Nang, where Dad was stationed in 'Nam, had been bombed by VC. At home we'd wait with hearts clenched tight as a fist for the next letter or phone-patched radio call. There was no internet.
Dad is 82 now. I call him every Memorial and Veterans Day to thank him for coming back to us safe and whole, to thank him for his service, and to thank him for serving with friends who didn't come home.
Not too long ago, Dad said, "Hell, I was in Nam for one 13-month tour. I don't know where they get these young people today. They volunteer and they go for 12 to15 months - again and again and again."
That's YOU. And I want you to know that my leatherneck Dad, my family and I revere YOU. This nation reveres you.
At the end of my presentation, audience members lined up to share with me their initial skepticism and how it had been dispelled.
It is not about YOU
Outside the police academy environment, I'm stunned by how many trainers don't get to know anything about their learners but take great effort to ensure the learners know about them, their qualifications, expertise and accomplishments.
I'm an outside trainer so I need to take some special effort to learn about my audience ahead of time. I ask my contact person to give me some representative names and contact information from those who will be attending the training so that I can ask them what their top 3 challenges or concerns are regarding my topic or their work. By representative I mean I look for folks that span ranks, genders, age and ethnicities.
Using the internet, I inform myself about officers who've been killed in the line of duty from the agency or geographic area of my learners so that I can pay homage to them.
Early on in my instruction I ask the learners what they want from the training. I follow this up with asking them what they see as my responsibility in ensuring they get those things AND what they see as their responsibility. I let them know I can't create anything of value without their participation and assistance - we're a team and I expect to learn as much from they as they do from me.
Grab them at the start and finish with a call to action
I've previously written about how to grab learners' attention at the beginning of training. (web link below to Hook, Catch and Don't Release - Tips for Training Openers). It's equally important to captivate and engage learners at the end of your training.
Studies show that audiences retain the majority of information from the first and last 15 minutes of a presentation. Psychologists have proven that the first and last 30 seconds have the most impact. (Web link below to Open and Close Your Presentations with Power.)
One of the greatest presenters of the modern age was short, balding, pudgy, and worked hard to overcome a stutter - Winston Churchill. He knew how to move people to action - and that is what training is really about. In his essay The Scaffolding of Rhetoric, Churchill said that if you want people to change or act as a result of what you've told them, you should close with an appeal to their emotions.
Churchill named 4 powerful emotions a speaker might close with a call to action to: