Want to Make Your Training Stick?

How one Amazon disarmed a legion of Warriors.

The year was 1998. I was in Mobile, Alabama leading a breakout session at an international law enforcement conference. The training was titled an in-your-face Wake Up Warriors! There are Amazons in Your Midst! It sounded funny when I submitted the instructor proposal.

What percentage of the audience do you think was male? If you guessed about 90%, you're right. Did I mention this was a decade ago in Mobile, Alabama? Mobile boasts gentle gulf breezes, seafood so good that if you put it on top of your head your tongue would slap your brains out trying to get to it, and gracious hospitality. It is rich in history and tradition. A vanguard of discourse on topics like women's roles in non-traditional professions - it is not.

I was scared spit less. I called my husband, voicing the fear that I was about to bring back tar and feathering. He reminded me that no matter what happened, he and the dog would always love me - no small consolation.

I considered whether I should go ahead with my costume change and transformation into Valcano - a female superhero, cape and all, who flies around the room seeking Justice Avengers - with a stud finder that gets no readings. When I'd rehearsed before my husband he'd responded,

Sweetheart, this is another one of those times I'm glad you kept your maiden name.

As my training room filled with mostly men - some appearing openly hostile and obviously mandated to attend what they assumed was gender diversity training - my mouth went dry. I reached for a glass of water. My hand shook so badly I splashed the table nearest me - along with the gentlemen seated at it. Everyone was looking. I looked back. Then I ad-libbed in what I hoped was a voice my high school drama coach would have been proud of,

You think that's nervousness? No way! I just can't contain all my power!

Everybody laughed. So I laughed. I plunged ahead. I talked about the unique leadership styles of men and women and what we can learn from each other. I also poked fun at both genders. We laughed lots more. I didn't get tarred and feathered. I did get a lot of hugs, made some lifetime friends, and my repeat session was SRO.

Ten years ago in Mobile, Alabama I was transformed by the power of humor to open hearts and minds to a potentially provocative topic.

Humor is serious stuff.

Research shows humor can not only open hearts and minds, it can:

  • Improve morale
  • Increase productivity
  • Enhance relationships (what team building is all about)
  • Build loyalty

Researchers have found when workgroups engage in the innovation process, those that laugh most readily and often are more creative and productive than their more humorless counterparts. Whether breaking the ice or seeking to successfully shift perspective in a strategic meeting, humor is a powerful tool in many work exchanges.

Based on research results, leaders are studying the power of humor as a leadership tool. Google "leadership humor" and you'll see what I mean.

This article is about humor and fun as serious training tools and there's plenty of research that shows humor:

  • Strengthens the relationship between teacher and learner
  • Creates a positive, maximum learning environment
  • Increases attention
  • Makes even the most boring material more interesting
  • Enhances recall of material

A funny thing happened on the way to... zzzzzz.

Raise your hand if you think you tell great jokes? If you're like my train-the-trainer audiences about 95% of you didn't move.

Now, raise your hand if you like to laugh and like people who don't take themselves too seriously? Nearly every hand goes up.

Using humor as a potent training tool is not about being funny. It is about having fun. Being funny is about you. Having fun is about what you and your learners create together.

I can't tell jokes. I can't remember them or I deliver the wrong punch line - sort of like my Mom's fractured proverbs:

Just when you think there's nowhere to turn, there's another corner.
One good scratch deserves another.

You don't have to be funny to have fun.

Being funny isn't natural. Having fun is. But we often lose the child's spontaneity to have fun. Ask a group of recruits or officers you're training

How many of you can draw a picture?

Chances are you'll get less than 5%, if that many, to raise their hands. Then ask,

How many can sing a song?

Same kind of response.

Walk into a kindergarten class and pose the same questions and every hand will shoot up and wave enthusiastically. Some will even start singing.

What happens to us? We replace our natural, spontaneous drive to have fun with worry about embarrassing ourselves. We grow up and start to take ourselves seriously.

Law enforcement trainers know we are preparing officers to face serious, high stakes incidents. We and our learners need humor even more than most. Because research also shows that humor is a great stress reliever.

But because our learners are adults and our topics are serious, we have to create the humor and fun of learning and then give our learners permission to join in while working hard and learning serious stuff.

Steve Farmer has 20 years experience in law enforcement. He's trained and certified officers to use revolvers, semi-automatics, shotguns, tactical assault rifles, OC, batons, and Tasers. He also trains citizens in carrying concealed. Serious stuff. Yet he encourages people to have fun when practicing the fundamentals.

You will be amazed at how much better you shoot when you're having fun. I even once had a student that told me in her testimonial, "The more fun I had, the better I shot."

Do YOU have fun training?

If you don't have any fun training, chances are your learners aren't. And that means you're both missing out on the learning potential that the research shows humor and fun can create.

Stay tuned...

Okay, so there's a ton of research establishing the benefits of using humor and fun in training. How do I do that when I'm not funny?

Next month's article will be packed with "how to" tips for harnessing humor to power up your law enforcement training - even if it's a topic like Blood Borne Pathogens. Seriously, that can be a memorable hoot.

If you can have fun, you can learn how to use humor to be an inspiring trainer. Tune in.