It’s YOUR training. What’s in it for ME?

Categories: Winnthinks

So there you are, explaining to a group of upturned faces all this interesting, useful and frankly GENIUS stuff that they just MUST be interested in, right?


Trainers, meet the Prisoner in the room. The person that’s looking anywhere but at you – or staring blankly at you with ‘challenge’ etched in hard lines on their face.

If you haven’t spotted them already, you’ll find them soon enough when you check what the group wants to get out of the day. The Prisoner’s answer? “I don’t know. I was told I had to come.” (Arms firmly folded).

In other words,

  • I don’t want to be here
  • I don’t know why I’m here
  • This is a waste of my time
  • How dare you tell me how to do my job
  • You don’t know my world and the challenges I face
  • I’ve got more important things to do
  • I resent the implication I’m not doing my job well enough

And all sorts of other baggage.

To be honest, I’ve been the Prisoner in the room myself – sent on training that everyone had to do in order to tick a compliance box, or because the business has bought in a broad-brush training package and they need to get their money’s worth by putting bums on seats. I have a lot of sympathy – but I can’t let the Prisoner’s resentful features dog my day, nor can I let their cynicism bring down the rest of the group.

So, what to do?

Early in my training career I learned that it’s pointless to even begin with the day’s subject matter until you’re confident that everyone present is in a Learner’s mindset: curious, bought-in, ready to engage. So how do we convert that Prisoner (and it might be a roomful of them) into a Learner? Indeed, how do we help everyone engage productively?

An observation.

Work-based training is often pitched around the needs of others. The business’s need for greater efficiency, the customer’s need for a better experience, the colleague’s need for a more harmonious working environment, the manager’s need for a quiet life. All of which boils down to the organisation’s need to achieve its purpose effectively whilst generating more income and/or spending less to achieve it. That includes not wasting expensive time while line managers deal with poor attitudes, confusion about roles and unsupported skills.

Does that message sell it to me, your Prisoner? Are you KIDDING?

What your Prisoner needs to know is this: “If I spend this time with you, what’s in it for ME?” (WIIFM for short).

Over many years of working with groups of disenchanted, cynical or change-weary workshop participants, I can tell you plainly that when the individual finds their own reason to engage – for themselves, not for their boss, business or even out of politeness to the trainer – THAT’S when they become a Learner.

The WIIFM might include:

  • Knowing this stuff will make your job easier
  • Being more confident dealing with people or situations that are new or difficult
  • Growing a set of skills to take your future career forward
  • Discovering an approach you can also apply to your world beyond work
  • Reducing your stress levels

I often find myself striking a bargain with the Prisoners in the room: that if they will engage with the day, stay curious and question what they don’t agree with, I will make sure they go away with at least one concrete thing they will value and that will make their day worthwhile.

I also ask every group I work with to be generous with what THEY know. Who wants to sit still being told stuff all day? We all have valuable experience and knowledge to share so let’s all benefit! I steal shamelessly from the groups I work with and encourage them to do the same. It’s how we keep moving onwards and upwards.

It isn’t about training people. It isn’t even about making people learn. Good trainers create an environment where people want to learn for themselves and enjoy helping other people do the same. Everybody wins (and it makes the trainer’s job easier – that’s my WIIFM).