How to Train Effectively? It Starts with Priming your Audience

How to Train Effectively? It Starts with Priming your Audience

All of us have participated in a training where the material went right over our head and we left without a single practical application.  There are many reasons a training might be ineffective.  Today we’re talking about one simple way to increase the effectiveness of your training, and it all happens before you start teaching!

Prime your Audience

Priming your brain involves exposing yourself to one stimuli before you are exposed to another type of stimuli.   For example, if I say “yellow” and then 10 to 30 seconds later say the word “fruit,” what comes to mind?


Great!  The word “yellow” helped your brain associate with a banana when I mentioned the second word, “fruit.”  If you mentioned pineapple or mango, or any other yellow fruit, your brain was also primed.  (Psychologists study this in depth — read more here on Very Well Mind or Psychology Today).

At MoveUp, we know and celebrate the value of priming in providing effective digital and in-person education.

Megan’s Personal Finance Class

Megan signed up last week for a training on personal finances. The day of the training, a typical Tuesday, she woke up at 5:30 that morning to do a quick workout and drop her kids off at school, spent 9 hours at work, and raced to the training, arriving 10 minutes late…and ready to learn about personal finance?! Megan happens to be a marketing manager at a large company; it’s probable she didn’t think about personal finance all day.  As the training facilitator launches into an explanation on how to build a family budget, Megan’s mind wanders to the dirty laundry awaiting her when she gets home. Slowly, her head begins to droop.  She jolts back awake, and spends the next 15 minutes frustrated by her inability to understand what the facilitator is writing on the whiteboard.  This is a completely normal and common occurrence when individuals participate in a training event if they haven’t been prepared for the training before attending.  Unprimed brains plus our busy lives and constant distractions can lead to very low retention.

To learn something new effectively, our brains must be prepared first. It’s not enough to simply say, “Okay, time to learn the quadratic formula!”  Priming is not complicated, but it is intentional.  Here a couple of best practices to help you prime your participants for upcoming trainings. These practices can be applied across a wide range of trainings and events, virtual or in-person, for all different learning styles and levels.

Prime the learner before they sign-up for the event

Event invitations should prime participants for the material covered in the event.  Let’s continue with the personal finance training as an example.  Perhaps after the in-person training, you upload a post promoting a webinar on personal finance to your organization’s social media.  In the post’s description, you provide a sentence or two about what the training is about.  Then, when individuals click to sign up, they are automatically directed to a page to sign up for the webinar that has much more information. Be sure to use bullet points, graphics, and other visual aids to encourage participants to read this information and internalize it.  Be sure it is NOT just a paragraph of text written in small print.  This text “primes” the participants for the content that will be discussed in the webinar.

Prime the learner before the training

After signing up for the webinar, your participants return to life as normal, and probably forget most of the information mentioned in the invitation and sign-up page. It’s important to prime participants again before they arrive to the training.  At MoveUp, we do this with a pre-training quiz on our mobile application.  These quizzes, which are normally 1 to 4 questions and take less than 2 minutes to complete, serve to wake up the participant’s mind to the topic we’ll be discussing.  A quiz is much more effective than a paragraph of text, as participants are forced to engage with the topic.  It’s up to you whether to provide the answers.  We like to not tell the user if they got the answer correct to add a bit of suspense. Making the quiz a pre-training requirement is another good strategy to help participants understand the importance of the material and the training itself.

Start the training by…yep you guessed it! Priming!

You cannot assume participants arrive to a training ready to engage in whatever you’re talking about, be it personal finance or how to use Photoshop.  This is true regardless if the training is physical, virtual, or even in an individually paced course.  Our minds are complicated and wild, and prone to wander to whatever is most pleasurable or interesting.  If that’s not personal finance or Photoshop, then you’ve lost your audience. If you had users complete the quiz, you can quickly ask individuals to volunteer their answers.  You can make the activity more participatory, having everyone who responded “true” stand up when you say true (if physical) or sending out the quiz again on a webinar platform to gather and show the survey results.  There are many other ways to prime learners when starting a training. What is important is that you do it, and that hopefully, this is the third time the user has been primed to think about the topic you’re going to teach.

Now you, and your participants, are truly ready to learn! Priming does not ensure participants will be engaged, but it is an important first step to ensure they are set-up to do so. Next week we’ll continue our series on how to train effectively by talking about setting and communicating learning objectives.


Are you interested in how MoveUp primes users for learning on our mobile learning platform? Contact us today!


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