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From the Road: Training #241- How to Keep It New and Exciting

Steve Willis is a master trainer and vice president of professional services at VitalSmarts.Steve Willis is a master trainer and vice president of professional services at VitalSmarts.

From the Road

I’m often asked how frequently I train our courses. Depending on the course, my answer is somewhere between “a lot” and “a whole heck of a lot.” My response is almost always followed by the same question: “Don’t you ever get tired of teaching the same program over and over again?” (I know that, in the back of these people’s minds, they’re thinking that even the Love Boat wasn’t as “exciting and new” as the theme song claimed during the 4th and 5th seasons).

So I reflected on my experience. Was I getting tired of teaching the same course, and if so, to what degree? To the surprise of many, including myself, I found that, while the content doesn’t change, I genuinely find the training experience fresh and new—even after so many “repeats.”

This realization got me curious. I started to wonder if others have had a similar or different experience, and what people consciously do to keep their experience fresh. One thing that I have found makes a difference is finding different ways to apply the training. For example, ask yourself the following questions: What group will I work with and what opportunities will be similar or different? How does this program relate to safety or how does it play out in project management? What are the applications to healthcare?

Share your experiences and ideas for keeping it fresh.

27 thoughts on “From the Road: Training #241- How to Keep It New and Exciting”

  1. Rob Sanders


    As an HR consultant for a Fortune 1000 company, I present 25-30 different seminar topics to a base of between 35 and 40 clients. The “a-ha” moment for keeping the material fresh was when I adopted a more “facilitative” approach. I began using the “standard” corporate-created source material as a foundation for discussion, interaction; and story-telling. By avoiding becoming a “slave” to the material and instead using your source material as a “guide”, it creates a different journey each time one presents.

    Anyone who trains has to be comfortable and conversant enough with their material so that one can adapt to each separate group. This is what keeps it fresh – for the audience and yourself.

    Warm regards,

  2. Marlene Caroselli

    To keep it fresh: keep your ears/eyes open to current events and your finger on the pulse of trends. To illustrate, a recent news report–admitted “fluff”–talked about “Snowbamas.” If teaching a communications course that includes portmanteaux, you could use this example. Not only does it reinforce the concept being taught (one you may have taught 100 times before), but its immediacy creates a link with those in your audience who may have seen the same news report. Et voila: freshness.

  3. Marlene Caroselli

    Thanks for this opportunity to share ideas.

  4. Pete Cage

    I think it is a matter of intention. If your intention is to be a ‘trainer,’ and your goal is to ‘deliver material,’ then yes, it can get repetitive and boring.

    An alternative intention is to be a ‘leader,’ with the goal of being fully present to the participants. This becomes possible as you gain a deeper understanding of the source concepts of the material, and it frees you to listen for (and create) teachable moments that engage the participants in ways that resonate for them.

    The course material is beautifully set up to allow participants to generate some dissonance around current ways of thinking and behaving. Once that dissonance exists, they are engaged in closing the gap between what isn’t working and what could work for them. They are fully present, you are fully present, and the interaction spirals upward.

    Best of all, you can then model the concepts while leading the concepts, which helps with your own development. It’s a win for everyone.

  5. Mark

    I’ve done presentations at least 3-4 times a year on the same general technical area for over 10 years. One of the ways I keep it interesting for me is to assume that at least a few of the people in the room heard my presentation the last time, so I try to come up with some fresh stories, new jokes, etc. Keeping those creative juices flowing keeps me from just reciting the same stale stuff over and over and getting bored myself. I also tend to be very interactive with the audience, so get a little different experience each time I present.

  6. Lynda Lakin, Ph.D.

    I have been teaching the same corporate Leadership courses over the past thirteen years at least 25 times a year. I do not ever get tired because of the new perspectives that come from each new group. I believe that when the focus is on the participant learners, the content never will be old; just covered in rearranged ways. I take my lead from the group on what they want to emphasize so this very fact often account for the variety I get in teaching same content year after year. Thanks for asking!

  7. Pamela Preston

    Hi Steve,
    Having been in training for 12+ years, I frequently deliver a national roll-out of the same program. As a reflective practitioner I reflect upon each experience as its’ own, adapt the delivery to the audience and I have adopted the “change your story, change your life” principal for myself! I tell different stories in my programs all of the time and then the experience of the program stays fresh for me as well!
    Thanks for asking!

  8. James Campbell

    Steve, great that you are able to maintain a ‘fresh’ mindset…maybe that is that what it is for many of us. We may (mis)perceive that we are doing the same thing over and over, day after day, year after year…but are we…really? Or is that just a negative mental mindset (trap?) that we too easily fall into? Albert Einstein might argue this process is more linear and not cyclic. And if we are really stuck in that mindset, may be time for a career change!

    I think the goal for most presenters/facilitators may be to create an environment that enables an ‘a-ha’ moment to take root and flourish. The material or content are tools or road maps (or fertilizer?) to get the ‘a-has’ going. The experiences of the audience (more on the audience in a second) are what brings this all to life, what makes it real. Everyone is different with a multitude of experiences. The participants’ ability to integrate the content, their ability to make the road maps their own makes it all worthwhile. And, with that, they need to be telling their stories too. Steve’s comment about being a facilitator is spot on…not a presenter (too one sided), but a facilitator, to hear the stories and connect the stories and show how things can grow or options for a different path.

    I facilitated essentially the same content (updated annually with the latest research and benchmarks) for over 5 years. Each time, the experiences of the participants made the difference. I learned so much each time. Then in the next session, again bringing previous participants’ stories back in again made it all real and applicable.

    I love the analogy about people attending workshops (the audience). There are 3 types. Vacationers, prisoners and sponges. Vacationers are there as a break from their ‘regular’ work, you can see them mentally wearing Hawaiian shirts, feet in the sand, kickin’ back. Then there are the prisoners…mandated to attend yet another training, behind bars, have to be there, can’t get out. And finally the sponges…there to learn, to absorb to grow. Energetic, alive and actively engaged.

    My goal as facilitator is to make sure the sponges are getting everything they need, try to get the vacationers to challenge themselves a bit and hopefully help the prisoners see things from another perspective.

    All of this comes down to choice…we can make a choice to say it is the same program over and over, heard it all before and end up in that mindtrap or we can make a choice to be a sponge…I know which one is more fun!

  9. Kathy Ryan


    I present new employee customer service orientation for our health system once per month. Each month, I try to make the presentation better by incorporating evaluation comments from previous participants. I also review the power point each month and edit it for clarity and recent updates. This helps me to familiarize myself with the material and be thoughtful about my presentation. I do believe my delivery improves each month.

    Thank you for your Crucial Skills updates. I find them very informative and useful!


  10. Laurie Battaglia

    A few years ago, I facilitated leadership classes full-time for my company. The best things happened after I absorbed the content and allowed the group to run with it. Each group had a different personality, so each session was a different experience, for me and for them. My co-facilitator approached each group as an experiment in group dynamics, and I learned quickly all the ways that I could influence that dynamic, both good and bad. It was one of the greatest learning experiences of my life, and it never got old. Thanks for offering us the opportunity to comment! I see many like minds here.

  11. Kevin


    In reading your initial post and several of the follow up posts I noticed a trend of “Working” at making the training more fun, exciting, relevant, etc. I guess I have been doing it wrong. I have been doing sales training in various roles for 20 years, and recently added Crucial Confrontations to the mix. I stilll have portions of training tha I have done the same for 15 years. I never get bored with these. I am so passionate about how impactful the techniques will be when someone truly applies them that I can’t wait to have another group in training. I feel the same way about Crucial Confrontations. I love the analogies and stories that are part of the program, Law of the Hog etc., and truly enjoy bringing them up in conversation. One of my firt encouragements to any sales person I am training (and yes, all you trainers reading this are sales people, you want people to buy the ideas and implement the suggestions) is that the first sale they make is not to a customer, but to themselves on why they are doing the job they are doing. Then go share that story as often as they can.

    To your continued excitement,


  12. Barbara Hauser

    Your comments have really struck a chord with me. As I read through them I’m thinking that to keep the content and delivery fresh – we, as trainers need to stay fresh. The new stories, examples that relate to the audience, new things that are coming up in our lives are all great ways to stay on top of our games. This posting and sharing is another strategy.

  13. Cathy

    Back in my 20’s, I volunteered as an actress in many community theatre productions. The director was constantly reminding us that each audience was new — they had no idea what the past audiences’ experiences had been. The new audience paid their admission ticket price just the same as the last and expected a fresh performance. I still remind myself in my “real world” job that this audience could care less about my past performances. They want and deserve to get their money’s worth from me. I especially remind myself of this if, for instance, I have a headache, or a piece of equipment fails at the last minute — the audience “paid” for my optimal “performance” so I do my very best to overcome the obstacles that otherwise would have me less than my best. I also ask myself what would I want to see out of me if I was the audience member? (Sort of an “out-of-body experience” with me observing myself as an audience member.)

  14. Debbie Reasoner

    1. I believe in “What you think about you bring about” So I try to think about the outcome I would like to have by visualizing it in advance and expecting it. I am the Director/Instructor of a Medical training school and my intention is to help the student picture themselves as if they already were what it is they would like to become. I do this by teaching them the power of positive thinking. This requires that the instructor sets the tone and the example each day.”Be the change you want to see in the classroom” I do teach the same basic materials required by certifying agencies but I always add the personal touch with related stories and examples. Students learn in a variety of ways and being aware of this will bring life to your presentations. I also believe that “Everyone who shows up in your life has something to teach you” so I will learn from my students everyday and that keeps things interesting for me. That’s team work!!

  15. Camille Rudolf

    Through the course of a typical year, I teach “Annual Education” 17-25 times; the day is composed of contractually mandatory topics – fire safety, WHMIS, emergency preparedness, new initiatives, OH&S legislation, etc.
    In order to keep it interesting for myself, I always set one small goal to improve my teaching by the end of the day. For example, I might take a look at how I move around the classroom, or intentionally use first names when giving feedback or asking questions. One day I decided to focus on laughter in my classroom, intentionally joining in on appropriate jokes and thanking contributors for lightening the mood and keeping a safe environment for honesty and immediate feedback.
    At the end of the day, I know that in addition to teaching others, I have learned or practiced an important skill that will make me a better facilitator.

  16. Stephanie Owen

    I used to be an adjunct lecturer (professor) in an MBA-level management consulting course. I think if you are a practitioner and “live” your topic, then you can always use new and different examples or “war stories” that each particular audience can relate to (of course you will have done your “audience analysis” at the beginning). Also when I watch TV, I’m often thinking of how popular TV characters can be used to illustrate the theory/concept I’m teaching (eg Dr House is a great illustration of diagnostic technique, not just in medicine but also in consulting!)

  17. Mary

    To me, training is a conversation not a monologue. I don’t use powerpoint at all and use flip charts sparingly. I want the trainees to focus on, and talk, to me. I don’t want them staring over my shoulder at images a screen. My training style is very interactive with lots of scenarios and discussions to keep the groups involved and give them a chance to apply the content immediately. I also tell lots of stories. My presentation changes – as do my stories – depending on each group. Since every class brings different experiences, every training is different and that keeps it fresh.

  18. Illysa Izenberg

    Great ideas for keeping it fresh, everyone. It’s clear that we must be participant-focused to 1) teach and learn well and 2) keep ourselves engaged too!

    Every group is different.

  19. Steve Willis

    Hi Marlene,

    I find this type of approach is really helpful. Clipping articles, or even watching the news the night before/during a session to identify current trends and relevant topics. For me it highlights additional, and often new, insights.

  20. Steve Willis

    I like what Pete says about returning to source material. I think as start to understand the principles and skills at a deeper level it helps when I’m teaching and applying the skills.

  21. Steve Willis

    One of the other things that’s helped me, is to be able to watch someone else doing the same program. Not everyone has the chance to do this, but if you do, I’d highly recommend it. It can really invigorate your experience. @Pamela Preston

  22. Steve Willis

    Thanks for the comment Kathy. That’s a wonderful practice to incorporate the session feedback. I’ve found that keeping my finger on the evaluations helps me know when I’m “phoning in” a session rather than being present with the group. @Kathy Ryan

  23. Steve Willis

    Hi Kevin, I’ve also found that I’m more passionate about a program that I’ve experimented with. When I’ve been involved in seeing the direct, positive impact using the approaches can have, especially on an on-going basis, it envigorates my experience. Thanks for writing in. @Kevin

  24. Steve Willis

    I think that the visualization is very helpful–even something as simple as imaging the group having a fun, powerful, learning experience can do the trick. @Debbie Reasoner

  25. Steve Willis

    Mary, I think you make a very good point here. I have to fight a strong tendency I have to amp up the “Steve” show in order to make it more exciting. I’ve also found that approaching it like a conversation unlocks a lot of new ideas that are resident in the group. I find this approach alieviates a lot of pressure from me, and makes the session more enjoyable/interesting for everyone. @Mary

  26. Steve Willis

    Thanks for all the useful ideas and perspectives–keep them coming!

  27. Patti

    Steve, I think something as simple as getting feedback helps to validate what you do (and how well you do it), helps you to see areas to improve, and sometimes opens up lines of communication (with attendees) to add resources for future endeavors as well. Of course Rob took it one step further with an on-the-spot currency for the immediate group. And James pointed out the tools (your material) and the audience. Your best resources are right in front of you–they should be your ahas and you theirs!

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