The secret ingredients of setting-up a successful soft-skill training

So, you have a development plan for your employees: every now and then they follow soft skill trainings. But does these training have impact? If you’d ask people what they remembered two weeks later, what would they say? And if you would observe their behaviour, would you see some changes? Here are our 4 elements we believe are necessary to really create learning moments that stick.

If you only have 1 minute:

  1. There’s only a limited amount of information people can process, so think about what you want people to remember
  2. There are 5 specific moments when people easily learn something, implement those moments in your training (and make it more memorable by adding a sparkle)
  3. “What happens in a training, stays in a training”: create a safe and secure environment where people dare to get out of their comfort zone
  4. The training is only the beginning. Follow-up is key


1. Kill your darlings

No matter the topic, when you are setting-up a training, you gather as much information as possible on this topic (you follow training yourself, read books, immerge yourself in the content, ….). It’s an interesting and necessary process because you want to know as much as possible about a topic before standing in front of a group and having to explain it to them, right? However, you shouldn’t try to give all that information to your audience. There’s only a limited amount of information people can process, so you should think about what you want people to remember. If you don’t, your audience will be completely overloaded with information and won’t remember anything.

Yes, you’ll have to kill some of your darlings.

Bert recalls it himself: “when creating a new training, I always find a lot of exercises and I’m always excited to try out as many of them as I can. And while that might enable me to show off a little, that doesn’t make it a better training for the audience: only one exercise will do the trick. “Keeping it simple & stupid (kiss) is key.

Another thing to keep in mind: as a trainer you’re not the only person with information to share and learning is never an individual process: let participants share their own experiences to inspire each other.


2. Dare to add a twinkle

Research tells us there are 5 moments when people really learn something:

      • when they must do something for the first time
      • when they fail
      • when something changes
      • when they can delve a bit deeper into a topic and reach a deeper understanding
      • when they have to apply it into practice

For a trainer this means you should make use of these learning moments as much as you can in every training. And when you deliberately set up an exercise that will (most probably) make participants fail, you should show some vulnerability yourself too. Dare to be vulnerable yourself (e.g. by making it personal, telling your audience where you struggled yourself or what you still find difficult today). Dare to make it special too, or out-of-the-box: people will remember much more when you give them something they didn’t expect.

Bert: “For our stakeholder management training, we take our trainees to Planckendael and observe monkeys. This makes it fun and trainees remember much more of this training because of this extraordinary setting. Stakeholder management/politics in organisations can be a tricky topic, so by tackling the subject in a playful way the pressure that comes with it goes away. Playing is the stick that stirs the drink”


3. What happens in a training, stays in that training

There are different learning styles and everyone has his or her personal preference: some prefer learning by doing, some like having a model or theory to hold onto, others want to reflect on things and then there are those who want to start applying in a real-life situation …. By implementing all these preferences in your training, you trigger everyone. When you are giving a training about feedback, you could:

      • Let people give feedback to each other (doing)
      • Discuss what happened when someone gave feedback (reflecting)
      • Give people a model they can use to give feedback (conceptualising)

Next to those different learning styles, it’s important that people feel safe to try things out. They need to know they won’t be judged or mocked if they make a mistake or when they are vulnerable (e.g. about what they find difficult). What happens in a training, stays in that training (or: you won’t be vulnerable and tell something in a training, if you know your colleagues might use this against you the next day in a meeting). If people feel safe, they will get out of their comfort zone and learn new things.

Bert often compares it to rock climbing: while one person is climbing, the other one is securing him. The person climbing needs to know he is secured (this way, he is safe and can try to go higher) but he is not pulled up if he doesn’t try anything (= staying in your comfort zone and not learning anything).


4. Don’t forget to follow-up

Often forgotten, following-up is perhaps the most important step when setting up a learning moment. The end of a training is only the beginning, not the end. If you fill a bathtub but don’t put the plug in it, water will keep running but your bath will never be full. If you give an amazing training but never follow up afterwards, people will never change their behaviour or learn to apply what they have learned. Here’s how you can make sure theory is put into practice after the training ends:

      • Make sure people know what’s in it for them: change is easier when you feel the what’s in it for me.

Bert explains: “When people are experiencing the “pain” of a missing skill, participants almost always put into practice what they have learned. In our communication training, we always let participants exercise with cases from their own experience. For example: they practice a difficult conversation with their manager or a co-worker. Chances are high a trainee will use what he/she learned in that training to have that conversation with his/her manager. However, don’t expect to see immediate change either: sometimes it takes some time for new knowledge to sink in”

      • The numbers tell the tale: measure the satisfaction, understanding and implementation of learning
      • Organize follow-up moments after a training: talk about it in a coaching session, give assignments in order to practice, inform managers about what employees learned, …

Don’t know where to start with your own training after reading this article? At Ormit Talent we have 20 years of experience in setting up soft skill training for trainees in one of our traineeships. Since 2020, the Ormit Greenhouse offers soft skill learning tracks for individuals and teams.

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