What makes training stick? We’ve got a few ideas.

We do a lot of training workshops. And we know sometimes – like great writing – great training can seem like magic.

But it’s not good enough to have a hunch (especially when people are paying for your hunches). We want to know why things work. And we’ve found behavioural science has a lot of the answers.

Recently, we held a mini breakfast workshop with a difference. While our guests were trained in great writing, we kept a running behavioural science commentary over the top.

People understand what works in the room by doing. But this way they could also understand the tried-and-tested thinking that sits behind it.

As with any exercise, warming up works wonders

Without saying so, everybody knows that a workshop starts with a warm-up. But why? And why this warm-up?

I ask for people’s favourite words and write them up on a chart. Obviously in a writing workshop we’re going to be thinking about words. And shouting out random words - fun ones, silly ones, hard-to-spell ones - is an enjoyable activity.

Then I talk about the reasons why it might be relevant and interesting to look at what we say, think and reveal in response to this question.

But what else is going on?

- I’m priming the engine

Before the session, we asked people to think about their own writing – and maybe bring something they’re grappling with along. They’ve invested, and it makes them ready to learn.

- We’re making a gang

We’ve established a group identity. Because all suggestions are welcome and there are no right or wrong answers, the teacher-pupil dynamic is nipped in the bud and we’re in an adult-to-adult relationship (which works much better for learning).

- I’m getting a foot in the door. In essence, the whole session is about choosing words for their impact on the reader. Accept this idea now, and it’s easier to build on (and harder to reject later).

Putting in behavioural nudges is very effect-ive

As I launch into introducing the session, I don’t use a screen with bullet points or any obvious script. I respond in the moment to issues that people raise in the room. I make sure to listen – and have a laugh.

It’s not just so that I don’t get pelted with rotten tomatoes. It’s one of the secrets of being remembered. Here’s how it works:

- I catch more flies with honey. The affect heuristic means we’re more likely to pay attention to people we like.

- I ‘fess up to flaws. Despite being a writer, I sometimes slip up at spelling. By admitting to it publicly, I increase that likeability. It’s called the pratfall effect. (Watch out for that one, though. It won’t dig you out of a hole if everything is a shambles. You do actually have to deliver the goods otherwise.)

- I choose my moments carefully. We remember things better at the beginning and end of a session (scientists call these the primacy and recency effects). I’ve put a lot of effort into defining the first few minutes of the session to set the tone and establish trust. And I’ll make sure that the structure of the rest of the session is set up to take advantage of these effects.

But I’m also at the end of the line, ready to chat about designing a workshop to help you solve business problems.

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