Training presentations done well can impart information that stays with you for a considerable amount of time. The same can be said about poor training presentations, but for all the wrong reasons. The good news is that all it takes is a few key techniques and people will end up taking much more away from your courses than the free pens and paper.

In a previous life I dabbled in the murky world of teaching English as a foreign language. I like to think my students learnt a great deal about things like the Saxon genitive and the subjunctive, but I too came away having learnt a great deal myself. I learnt a whole pile of things about how people learn, the most effective ways to get a concept to stick, and some of the more ineffective strategies… These are definitely things we can apply to the way that we train people and they’re key watchwords when preparing training material that’s actually going to work.

Who are you teaching?

It’s a well-known fact that children and their developing brains are like giant sponges that are wonderfully attuned to absorbing new information. The older you get, however, the easier it becomes to leave the house in the morning without your keys, get in the car and forget where you’re going, and… there was something else I wanted to say, I just can’t remember what it is.

If you’re presenting information that needs to be retained then the older your audience, the harder it becomes. This is a really good excuse to slim down your content. You’re likely to be presenting to busy people who resent having to take valuable time out of their schedules to listen to you. This is another really excuse to slim down your content. The combination of these two factors will likely give you a pretty bored audience before long. This is definitely the best excuse to slim down your content.

Teachers tailor their content to their pupils – you should tailor your training presentations to your delegates. This also means trying not to teach a wide-range of people in the same sitting. Like teachers have groups determined by age or ability, try and group your delegates by industry or role. Lots of studies have also found that smaller class sizes works better… Think about it…

What do they want to know?

What you want your delegates to know and what they want to know isn’t always the same thing. It could well be that you have two delegates: one is an expert in your best-selling product and they are attending the course to find out how to use the top-end features; the other delegate is a complete novice. The course you present has to cover both types of person, meaning that in both cases you’re delivering information that is obsolete and consequently a complete waste of time.

This links to our previous point about who you’re teaching. Training smaller groups with more specific information won’t take any longer, but you’ll have a much better retention rate.

When I was teaching, my pupils didn’t, to my surprise, want to hear my detailed explanation of the differences between the indicative, conditional and subjunctive mode. They actually just wanted to be able to hold a decent conversation in English. When we did what they wanted they were much more enthusiastic and the results were notably better. Thinking of your end-user before you start making your content will help you to create presentations that match much more accurately the needs and wants of your audience.

Don’t overload

I taught a group of seven-year-olds once. They were fuelled by Nutella and other miscellaneous E-numbers, and were just a bit of a handful. Over the course of the morning lessons I didn’t think it was appropriate to bombard them with twelve different areas of English grammar – however fun I made the games – their retention was pretty poor as it was. Reinforce was the key word. Every morning I’d ask them five or six of the same questions, and occasionally when I thought I was doing pretty well, I’d get knocked down a peg or two:

‘Samuele, how many brothers and sisters do you have?’


There are two reasons I dragged that slightly distressing story out of the recesses of my mind: even if you think people are retaining your content really well, the chances are there are some people you’ve lost completely. Always be pessimistic about this because if you start to lose someone then it’ll be really hard to get them back. And the only way to gauge if people are getting it is to ask them to prove it. Not ask them if they understand – I say ‘yes’ to questions like this on a  regular basis when I haven’t got the foggiest what anyone’s been talking about for the last 25 minutes. You have to get people to prove it to you – either by answering questions, or applying what you’re teaching them.

Don’t be afraid of rocking the boat

We spend a long time in school and, for those that way inclined, at university. Yet often when it comes to our turn to take the wheel for a training presentation we forget how we learnt most of the things we know, and we instead opt for the information vomit and wonder why, several months later, it becomes clear that no-one has retained anything you told them.

Imagine for a moment, if training presentations were structured more like school lessons: something to warm you up, a bit of theory, lots of time to practice and apply what you’ve just learnt, and then a wrap-up at the end. Retention would jump through the roof. Classrooms should be places where teacher and pupil can interact with each other – it’s active learning. Training presentations are so often passive and do absolutely nothing to stimulate the audience and keep their attention.

Just because you always train roomfuls of people for two days at a time, it doesn’t mean that it’s the only way to train. It could be that your content is retained far better if it’s done in the form of an online course with quizzes and activities built in. It could be that your training is great but needs to have more time for your delegates to work on assigned tasks together. It could be that what you just need to do is send out a searchable PDF of an instruction manual…

We all have so much experience in learning things that we’re all experts (though we don’t often realise it!). Next time you’re building a training presentation think ‘classroom’ instead of ‘conference’ and see if you can revolutionise the way your company trains people.

If you’re super keen on learning things then why not read this blog post.

If you’re even keener to learn about how we can build you a bells and whistles training presentation, then head over here.

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Hannah Harper

Principal consultant

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    I did not think it was possible for an external team to get our message so quickly and accurately. You got our messages better than we did, and delivered presentations that were slick and really effective.

    Guy Shepherd Bouygues