Turning L&D Haters into Superfans

At a time when attention spans are shorter than ever, long drawn out training sessions are the perfect recipe for punishingly boring L&D programs. Shelley Osborne, Head of L&D at Udemy shares three tips for designing impactful L&D programs

I love professional learning & development, and I love my job. But I understand not everyone starts out as excited as I am to participate in training sessions. Past experience has convinced some people it’s a waste of their time, and they’ll come up with any excuse to opt out.

Of course, I dispute this view of L&D and know that, when done right, training can be effective, impactful, and even fun. Winning over the haters is not only possible, it’s critical to building a culture of learning throughout your organization . The secret is not to force it on people but to listen to them and let them discover the value for themselves.

Give them what they want

For those who simply state, “I hate training,” you need to demonstrate right away that your content is practical, relevant, and actionable . Start by conducting a talent needs analysis based on interviews with people across the company so your first training is squarely aligned with their most pressing needs.

When I joined Udemy, I heard there were issues with our culture being “too nice,” which was getting in the way of honest dialog. So, we planned “Feedback is Fuel” sessions for everyone to learn the importance of candid feedback and how to give and receive it. The program was incredibly successful because the topic focused on something people were already thinking about that’s part of their day-to-day work. We talked through realistic scenarios, and employees came away with concrete steps that could be put into action and yield results immediately.

Now, former training-haters understand I’m not here to hijack their valuable time. I’m here to be of service to them. Instead of telling them what to do, the L&D team listened to what they needed in order to achieve their goals. Next, we’re rolling out training on effective interviewing, something else people have explicitly asked for. It works the same way at the department, team, and individual levels. We don’t push; we listen and deliver.

Empathize and care—for real

Listening is fundamental to building relationships and establishing trust. L&D can only succeed by putting our learners’ interests first and acting as a facilitator . It helps if being friendly and positive is a natural part of your personality because when it’s genuine, it’s contagious.

The best way I’ve found for communicating empathy is through storytelling. Every training session we run follows a narrative arc to keep the audience engaged. By sharing personal experiences, we create a sense of community in the room and trigger those “a-ha” moments people can connect and relate to.

Another part of being authentic is acknowledging what you don’t know. And the truth is that you really don’t know what it’s like to do someone else’s job. Employees in specialized tech roles, for example, will see right through you if you try to pretend you understand the complexities of their job.

But they may also wonder why they’re receiving training from someone who has no idea what they do. This is when it’s helpful to ask them to do the sharing. If someone asks a question you can’t answer, don’t fudge it—throw it back to the room and solicit their ideas. Again, make it clear you’re a facilitator, not a know-it-all.

Share your power and engage

It’s also important to design programs with plenty of interactivity and multiple modalities, from video to visuals to handouts so people can follow along . Many would-be learners became haters after sitting through sessions where leaders talked at them for an hour. But you can’t just toss out information and assume it’s being absorbed. You need to stay close to the audience and be more teacher than lecturer.

Reading your audience will also help you identify the haters so you can involve them quickly. Don’t give them a chance to check out! Make it easy for them to be present and engaged by getting off to a really strong start. That might be as simple as showing a funny video that introduces the themes for the day; you can’t be negative when you’re laughing. The power of humor can’t be understated.

In fact, your entire demeanor sets the tone. I like this sentiment that I first heard from Oprah Winfrey: you are responsible for the energy you bring into a space. To have an enthusiastic audience, you need to be enthusiastic yourself. To get people interested in what you’re telling them, you have to be interested in them too.

Start by listening to the haters. Then design programs that align with their priorities and give them real tools for taking action. Make sure your content is relatable, looks as good as it sounds, and has a winning personality. This will go a long way in building the types of respectful, productive relationships that can turn L&D haters into your biggest fans.

This article originally appeared on HR Technologist.