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Getting Into Your Training Groove (even when you don't dig your topic)

— by Trina Rimmer


I’ve always believed that no matter how dull a training topic might be, it shouldn’t be a barrier to creativity; rather, it should inspire ingenuity.  But even those of us self-described “creative types” must admit there are some topics that are just hard to get excited about.  When your job is to create an engaging, profound, performance-altering experience (due yesterday and with no budget, of course) how do you ignite that creative spark to help you turn the world’s most boring material into the world’s most amazing training?

Make Peace With Your Role
Designing training is hard, and let’s face it, it’s pretty thankless thinking of ways to motivate other people all day.  You may find yourself saying, “Where’s my love? Where’s my motivation?”

But while you’re busy feeling unmotivated, remember this: Your training has the power to unlock someone else’s passion!  It may sound trite, but just because you’re not fascinated by your topic doesn’t mean it’s not the center of your trainee’s universe.

To make peace with your role in the training universe, turn to your trainees for help.  Most of us have a few loyal followers out there; we just tend to overlook them when we’re in the midst of an existential crisis.  Try this win-win approach:

  • Reach out to your training believers
  • Take advantage of their high opinion of your work by asking them to share some “training testimonials”
  • With their permission, use their testimonials as a tool for promoting future training efforts and as a way to keep motivated during those creative low points

Remember, what you’re doing matters to someone – even when you’re not feelin’ the love.

Put Yourself In the Trainee’s Shoes
Ever been in a training class where the training designer’s dislike or confusion over the subject matter came through in their treatment of the material?  The truth is we don’t always like, enjoy, or even grasp what we’re obliged to teach, and it can be difficult to hide our frustration.  So next time you’re struggling with a topic – despite your access to SMEs, tools, and resources – think about how difficult it will be for your trainees to get it! 

Try this quick empathy exercise to put yourself in their shoes.

  1. On a scale of 1 to 10, think about how it feels to be annoyed to at least an 8.
  2. Now, put yourself in the trainee’s shoes. Imagine what they would say if asked about their training experience using your design. Be honest! What frustrates him or her most?  Answer as if you were the trainee, i.e. “The objectives aren’t realistic”, “It’s too long for the amount of information being covered”, “I feel overwhelmed” etc.  Write these ideas down to help you prioritize later.
  3. Finally, on that same scale of 1 to 10, rate your level of aggravation with your training experience, as the trainee.

What happened? Did your aggravation level go beyond an 8 as the trainee or was it lowered as you realized you have the power to fix it?

Seek Out Inspiration
Inspiration often lurks in unexpected places.  If you’re feeling creatively blocked, try web surfing for sites that aren’t related to your training topic or even training at all!  Some of my best ideas come from Googling the word “design” and then just giving myself permission to wander for an hour (I tell my boss it’s “research”).  As I wander I save web links, notes, and screen shots in Evernote for later reference.

If you need help focusing an existing design, you may want to seek out more training-specific inspiration.  The has a great list of resources – from examples of storyboards to links to online learning demos.  Seeing what other training designers are doing can give you the fresh perspective you need to realize your own designs.

For ongoing motivation and inspiration become part of a community of fellow training designers (either online or in person).  The eLearning Guild, ASTD, or social networking sites like Twitter are great sources for camaraderie, new ideas, and access to free guinea pigs to help you test out your designs.

Speaking of being part of a community – why not contribute your ideas, thoughts, or questions to the Mindflash community?  Please share by clicking on the comments link.

Trina Rimmer is a learning and communications consultant with twelve years experience designing, developing, and delivering smart, engaging training solutions. When her training skills aren't being tested by her children, you'll find her helping others to develop their own design muscles. Contact Trina at

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