Giving Instructions to Improve Training Outcomes

Published on 2013-10-11

AN ACTIVITY IS ONLY AS GOOD AS IT’S DELIVERY. Giving instructions determines the overall success of an activity, sometimes even more so than the design of the activity. So follow these steps to make sure your activity runs smoothly in your training:
Break it down
The more steps an activity has, the more complicated it will be. Trying to run all activities at once is almost destined to result in failure. For example, in our Presentations workshop we train a five step planning process where participants first set a goal, translate the goal into a key message, brainstorm all of the content, then filter out all of the irrelevant content. Finally, the remaining content would be categorised to reveal the final structure.
When I first started training this process, I would first explain the whole process and then tell the trainees to work together in teams to prepare a presentation using it. This did not go well. For those trainees who did not understand certain parts of the process, they simply skipped through to the parts they did understand, giving them no chance to gain the whole value of it. This led to another problem; because different groups skipped through different steps of the process, some finished a lot earlier than others, resulting in me having to push those teams who were working well to finish quickly, whilst the teams that were not working well sat there and played with their phones.
So instead I changed this around and did one step at a time. First I would explain the step, then give the trainees a set time limit to perform it. This made the timing easier to control, but also once they all finished a step I could bring the whole class back together again to ensure they all performed the step correctly. Reviewing the same step together as a whole class at the same time meant that where one team didn’t understand, I could use the example of another team that did understand. And even better, I could get the other groups to correct each other’s mistakes.
So sit down and take some time to think through the activity. How many steps are there? Make sure to break it down to the individual steps, and run it one step at a time. After each step, pause for feedback and use the trainees that do understand to help those trainees that don’t.
Probably one of the most valuable, and simple tools a trainer has at their disposal is repetition. Repeating content at spaced intervals throughout the workshop can increase retention, as I write about in my article ‘Designing Unforgettable Experiences‘. And in running activities, repetition is a key to giving instructions.
All you have to do, is repeat your instructions. It really is that simple. Whenever I give instructions, I will typically repeat myself at least three times, and for more complex activities I may repeat them even more. Sometimes this may annoy trainees, as you may notice their heads nodding very fast as they lean forward in their seats getting ready to stand up and do the activity. That’s a good sign! It means they know what to do and they are ready to go. It’s much better to see this reaction from trainees than them scratching their heads and looking confused.
As you repeat, aim to simplify your language. This is especially important when you are working with participants who don’t speak the same mother tongue. So instead of saying:

“OK, now what I want you to do is to work your way through the crowd, approach the different people in the room and deliver your elevator pitch, and remember to leave a memorable first impression!”

You should change it to:

“Stand up, find people to talk to and practice giving your personal introduction. Remember, the goal is to make them remember you.”

As a rule of thumb, keep it short and simple – K.I.S.S.
With activities that have important details, for example character backgrounds in a role play or a list of rules for a particular task, it is best to get the trainees to repeat these to you after you have given the instructions.
Think about the most important details for this activity, and the things trainees are most likely to forget. For example, one activity I run whenever I talk about the difference between direct and indirect language is a quick role play. Working in pairs, both partners must pretend that they are colleagues, both sales people, who are about to walk into a client meeting. But there is one very important extra detail – one of them has really bad breath. So for this activity, first I tell them about their roles and then I check with them using the following questions:

Me: “So what are your jobs?”

Trainees: “Sales people”

Me: “Are you both colleagues? Yes or no?”

Trainees: “Yes”

Me: “What are you about to do?”

Trainees: “Go on a sales meeting”

 And then for the last question, I will get one half of the class to leave the room whilst I tell the other half the secret detail regarding bad breath. I then I check with them to see if they remember:

 Me: “So what is the problem?”

Trainees: “My colleagues breath smells bad!”

Me: “And what do you have to do?”

Trainees: “Convince them to make their breath smell better!”

 Once the trainees are telling you how to run the activity, you can rest assured that it will run smoothly!  Using the ‘Break it Down’, ‘Repeat’ and ‘Check’ methodology will allow you to run the best training in China.