If you have ever delivered training before, you’ve no doubt heard the word “Practical” come up lots of times. “That’s really practical”, “We specialise in practical training”, “We are looking for something practical”.

The problem is that sometimes people are merely paying lip service to this word and not following through. Sometimes training is just a lot of great ideas but nothing that can be applied. But for training to be practical it must be about action. So how can you ensure that your training is practical?

These 5 questions will help you review your training and assess whether it’s practical or not:

Is there an action?
Practical is all about action, whereas theory is all about ideas. Theory is OK, so long as it links to action.

For example, if you were to design a course on stress management, then you might be tempted to include a section on the 3 different brain regions (The Reptilian Brain, The Limbic System and The Neo Cortex). You could then talk about how stress affects the different regions and how these influence our reactions to stress. That sounds quite relevant right?

And yeah, maybe it is relevant. But as a stand alone, it’s not practical. It needs to link to action. It would be much better if this theory was linked to certain techniques for managing stress, such as deep breathing techniques.

Technique backed up with strong theory helps create more buy-in, and helps make the technique seem more meaningful. So including theory can be great, but it must be linked to action.

And as you collect content for your course, you’ll probably collect bits of theory and techniques. But be warned, too much theory and not enough technique is a sign that your focus needs changing.

Instead of focussing on what trainees need to know, focus on what they need to DO.

Is the action beneficial?
So practical is all about action, but not just any action will do. The action must be helpful to the trainee.

Consider their motivation for coming to the training. There will be extrinsic motivators, such as turning up to keep their boss happy or hitting their annual target of training days attended. Extrinsic motivators are great for getting bums on seats, but not great for learning.

They will probably have intrinsic motivators as well, and these are the ones you need to pay attention to. Intrinsic motivators are the ones that drive them to learn.

Instrinsic motivators include their goals, the problems and challenges they are facing, the things they complain about that training can help with. Do as much as you can learn to about these, because with this knowledge you will know how your training can help them.

With knowledge of their instrinsic motivators, review the techniques you have collected to share in your training. Are these techniques going to help them achieve their goals? Do they help them deal better with the challenges they are facing? Are they solutions to their problems?

The more these actions link to their intrinsic motivators, the more practical they will be.

Does the action have a cue?
Actions do not just exist in a vaccuum. They are dependant on certain conditions. They only happen at a certain time, when something triggers them.

For example, maybe you just learnt a technique for positive thinking called ‘Reframing’. It simply involves looking at a negative situation in a positive way (instead of “Oh no my training got cancelled!” think “Yay! I have 2 days off now!”). This is quite a useful technique, especially if you practice it quite frequently.

But you wouldn’t use this technique if you were in a good mood. You wouldn’t need to. You probably also wouldn’t want to use this technique if you were a pilot flying a plane when the engine cut out (“Oh no, the engine cut out. Oh well, at least I get a few minutes of peace and quiet!”). It’s much better suited for times when we are feeling overwhelmed by negative feelings and would benefit from thinking positively for a few minutes.

So when introducing actions in training, introduce them in context. Explain when you would use these techniques, and when you wouldn’t use them. Explain what they are good for and what they aren’t good for. Doing so helps trainees identify valuable cues that are so important for taking those valuable first steps.

Can they do it without thinking?
Probably the biggest barrier to action is lack of clarity.

For example, eat healthy. Go on, eat healthy. That’s pretty clear right? It means eat healthy foods and don’t eat unhealthy foods.

I’m hoping you realised that “Eat healthy” is not clear at all. It gives no indication as to what foods to eat and what foods to avoid, nor how to build healthy eating habits and break down unhealthy eating habits. It’s a pretty useless piece of guidance that probably leaves you feeling a bit frustrated.

I would be much better off saying something like “Eat one apple every day”. Sure, that’s not exactly the same meaning as “Eat healthy”, it’s not as broad, but at least it’s an action that doesn’t leave much to the imagination. Got an apple? Eat it. Done.

As you share actions in training, they need to be delivered in such a way that leave no room for misinterpretation or confusion. Ask yourself; can they do it without thinking?

As you review your materials, and ask yourself that question, you’ll probably end up scratching your head a lot as you realise that a huge chunk of what you are giving your trainees is simply not practical. This question forces you to break down content into actionable chunks.

If they need to figure out how to use what they’ve learnt in training, then they need the time to figure it out. Given that so many people these days are overwhelmed with their workload, I am very pessimistic about the chances of trainees taking the time to figure out how to use something by themselves after the training.

Consider what is more important; something they can do straight away? Or something they need time to figure out how to use?

Is the action within their grasp?
If you were to run a marathon having never run before, would you just leave the house and run a marathon?

No, you would build up to it, slowly and gradually. If your first run was 26 miles, you would be incredibly overwhelmed and burn out very fast. But if instead your first run was a 1 mile run, and all other runs were incremental progressions, then you would find it much easier to follow through.

Practical actions are within their grasp. They are things they are fully capable of doing, they just haven’t done them before. It might take a little bit of effort to get used to these new practical actions, but they are definitely achieveable.

For example, one thing I used to train in presentation skills training were some techniques for speaking louder. However, I quickly discovered that some people were able to speak louder instantly, whereas others really struggled and ended up frustrated. I realised that speaking louder was partially down to technique, but more down to developing one’s capacity to speak louder, something which requires practice. So whenever giving feedback to trainees, I stopped focussing on speaking louder, and instead gave them some recommendations on exercises they could use on their own after the training to develop their speaking capacity.

By focussing on actions within their grasp, you will suddenly ignite a spark of enthusiasm. They will realise they can do these actions straight away and get the results they’ve been longing for. And such enthusiasm will help drive them to actually start implementing these actions.

The next time you are wondering whether or not your training is practical, take a few moments to review your materials with the following questions in mind:

  • Is there an action?
  • Is the action beneficial?
  • Does the action have a cue?
  • Can they do it without thinking?
  • Is the action within their grasp?