Whose agenda is it, anyway?

I just taught my 57th Transformational Trainers Workshop and for most of them, the attendees have been independent trainers, consultants, workshop leaders, and speakers who wanted to get more engagement, buy-in, and interaction with their trainees. But in the last few years, we’ve noticed a trend. More and more, our attendees are comprised of small business/practice owners, managers, and team or department leads who say they simply cannot stand the thought of one more boring meeting or team training where everyone in attendance just sits there, blankly staring back, unengaged, and non-participatory… waiting for the meeting to end so they can get back to their normal jobs. Or they report that their frustration lies with a participating team who seems to make progress, decisions, and commitments at the meeting, but then nothing actually changes when they return to their jobs.

Its really not surprising that we are inadvertently killing our team’s spirit with boring, ineffective team meetings or trainings that don’t stick. Just like with most consultants, you have great information to convey, important challenges to solve, and critical training to implement, but while we might understand our information and systems, most of us have never actually learned how to teach it. We’ve not learned how the adult brain actually makes sustainable change. And so, we deliver without discovery. We tell, but don’t transform.

Here’s the good news: The shift from telling to transforming is easier than you think!  And… a whole lot more fun for both you and them!

For example, have you ever walked out of a presentation feeling great about getting a bunch of good ideas for most, if not all, of your burning questions pertaining to the topic? Conversely, have you ever been frustrated that, while a topic was presented, only a few or, worse yet, none of your burning questions about the issues were addressed, let alone solved?

As skilled trainers, managers, and leaders, our job is to not only show up prepared to present our material but to include, entice, and enroll our participants. Getting shifts in thinking and behavior means getting buy-in from your people. This doesn’t happen when you are talking…  it only happens when they are talking. This bears repeating: No buy-in happens when you’re talking. Getting your people talking early and often is the key to any shift for which you and your participants are hoping.

We are often tempted to “unveil” our beautiful, well-prepared, well-thought-out agenda at the beginning of our meetings but, in fact, there is a better way. Although we should be prepared, the goal is to help participants feel that they have some say in the process and to quickly ascertain what their burning questions and current roadblocks are. Without removing or relieving those in some way, we have no chance of true success.

There are a few things that trainers should obtain from their group within the first portion of their program:

  1. What do they already know and/or what is their level of expertise with this subject?
  2. What parts of this system do they believe they perform well? Of what are they proud and confident?
  3. What are their current frustrations and roadblocks to success?
  4. What’s the one question that, if they could get an answer, would make attending this workshop or meeting completely worthwhile?

You can do this very quickly, using a variety of simple training tools and exercises.  Depending on the amount of time, you can use a gallery walk with Post-It flipcharts, notecard questions, (which I collect and answer throughout the meeting), or simply throw the questions out to the group for random responses. Any way you choose, you’ll get them talking and sharing and believing that the course is about their unique agenda … not just yours.

If you’ve done your homework, the answers shouldn’t surprise you very often. But the net result will be that the group will feel heard, understood, included, and optimistic.  As you are listening to their answers to these questions, you will find yourself “checking them off the list” of what you’ve already prepared. Occasionally, you’ll hear something that is new to you, not pertinent, or is an issue that falls into the realm of “unreasonable.” If it is new to you, then explore it with the rest of the group to find an answer. I believe this makes you appear as a growing, confident trainer to the group. If it is not pertinent (or there is not adequate time to address it), you can now address it separately with the individual at a break and share other options or resources for getting their answers. And lastly, sometimes people will bring up an issue that falls into the fringes of “unreasonable.” For example, when teaching telephone skills, I once had a woman say her burning question was how to handle a patient on the phone who was screaming obscenities at her. While this incident may be real, it is not common, so I replied that no amount of telephone technique will help you when it comes to people who are crazy!  Everyone laughed, and then I asked her if it would be alright to spend our time on the issues that happen with 99% of reasonable patients and get to the 1% of the “unreasonables” if there was time left over? She agreed and we moved on.

You can give great, necessary information to your audience in a training, but if you do it in such a way that they feel it is in direct answer to their current concerns, you will find that they are much more receptive than ever before!

If you are leading meetings and/or trainings for your team, I’d strongly recommend registering for one of our upcoming workshops where you’ll learn how to organize your content and how to choose the appropriate exercises and training tools (there are hundreds from which to choose!) for openers, closers, concepts reviews, testing mechanisms, discovery exercises, and energizers.

There are no more excuses for having boring meetings or meetings where your team is not engaged, actively interested, and making changes and commitments that stick. Your information and systems are important and critical to creating consistently great customer and patient experiences as well as amazing employee experiences so find out how easy it is to create ones that you and your team actually look forward to.

Here’s one of our favorite exercises for opening a training session.  We’ll give you dozens and dozens more to choose from at our next Transformational Trainers Workshop!

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

~ Benjamin Franklin




  1. Great stuff! Too bad I am 15 or 20 years past leading meetings, I could have used this stuff,

    1. I know, Scott! I did this very badly for years until I learned a much better way. it’s made things so much better for them and me.

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