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Is training a waste of time?

How can we make typically “boring” classes more engaging?

This question has been on my mind a lot. Of course I think the answer is no, not all training is a waste of time; but there is a point to be made.

Over the past ten years, I have attended a lot of training sessions and have spoken with a lot of practitioners who have been through training programs. Students at correctional academies, sheriff’s offices, probation departments, and police departments across the country sound the same refrain over and over: “That training was boring. That training was a waste of time.”

The exception frequently mentioned is defensive tactics and related courses. This is because, according to the participants, there is action and engagement. The question is, how can we create “action” and “engagement” in courses that typically involve little more than sitting in one position for an hour or eight?

There may not be a magic bullet for suddenly transforming all training into a useful and, dare I say, enjoyable experience, but here are some quick suggestions that may help in the short run.

Don’t use PowerPoint as a teleprompter: Most instructors use a PowerPoint presentation to deliver their message. Unfortunately, it’s commonplace for many of them to use it as a teleprompter, loading up as many words as possible onto each slide and then reading them.

When an audience is faced with an onslaught of writing on the screen, they start reading. That is, they stop listening to the instructor.

When an audience is faced with an onslaught of writing on the screen and it’s after lunch, they start sleeping. Post-lunch coma sets in pretty quickly. The result is the same: They stop listening to the instructor.

Use fewer words and more images. Regardless of the presentation topic, the idea is to connect with the audience – yes, even in a criminal justice setting.

Be clear about the theme or the takeaway: It’s all too common that the theme or primary message gets lost in a barrage of PowerPoint slides. When there are countless words being crammed down the participants’ throats, it’s very easy to lose track of the point. With so many words, it’s difficult to decipher which are the most important. As it frequently turns out, they’re all equally important, which means none of them are important.

Be sure to state the major theme of the presentation up front and repeat that theme throughout the presentation. Illustrations such as diagrams, videos, and even war stories should contribute to the major theme.

Don’t stay in the same teaching mode: There are various kinds of learners in any given classroom. There are those who learn best by listening, those who need visual information, and those who need to touch. If the instructor remains in a monotone lecture mode for the duration of the presentation, he or she is bound to lose a high percentage of the class.

Use varying vocal inflection, stories, videos, diagrams, and displays when appropriate to reach as much of the audience as possible. At a drug identification class I hosted several years ago, one of the instructors set up an elaborate display of drug production equipment for the audience to examine, thus providing a deeper layer of learning.

Money down the drain?

Consider this: If there are 100 students attending a four-hour class and the instructor fails to make a meaningful connection with the audience, that’s 400 work hours (plus the instructor’s time) of largely wasted time. That’s a lot of money to lose in difficult economic times.

Dr. Joe Serio is a popular and sought-after criminal justice speaker and trainer. He is currently delivering a series of classes on time management, emotional intelligence, leadership, customer service, and other topics at the Harris County (Houston) Sheriff’s Office Training Academy. Dr. Serio is a featured speaker at SHIELD, Sheriff Institute for Ethical Leadership Development, at the Travis County (Austin) Sheriff’s Office Training Academy. He also speaks at adult and juvenile probation departments as well as police departments.