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How to Make Your Training Course Like a Disney Experience

In Oct 2013, I stood in line for the Tower of Terror ride at Disney World. With me were my wife, and two kids, 8 and 10 at the time. It was our kids' first trip to Disney, and my 8-yr-old daughter was eager to ride (she is our little daredevil whose been doing thrill rides since she was 6).

My son, on the other hand, plays to his strengths and logically concludes (yet again) that this is not an experience that would be in his best interest. So, he's with us for the wait until we could hand him off to the safety of a cast member just before getting on the ride.

The Disney Magic

For those readers that have been on the Tower of Terror, you know that the wait in line begins to build anticipation, excitement and nerves. But once you enter the Tower, something more happens.

You are invited into the story of the Tower. When your emotions combine with the story, you become immersed in the Disney experience. Layer those with the physical sensations from the ride itself, and you've created an incredibly powerful memory - also known the Disney magic.

And that is the exact same sensation your training participants feel after your training, right? [crickets]

Why not? Why can't you, the awesome instructional designer that you are, design this sort of training experience? Why can't you, the gifted and experienced facilitator, deliver an similar Disney experience in your training course?

Wait, Why Are We At Six Flags?

What we are usually delivering to our training participants is...well, it's a Six Flags experience. Six Flags, you say!? Why I love Six Flags! That's great. Yes, they do have some great rides. But throttle back that excitement, because if we attempt to draw the similar parallel with Disney in terms of the experience, here's what we get at Six Flags:

  • Long lines!

  • Once you make you way into the ride's enclosure, there is no immersion into a story. Only rows of stainless steel rails to guide you through switchback after switchback as you make your way to the ride.

  • The best part, and really the only memorable part, is the ride itself.

  • And then you're off to the next attraction's wait line, enclosure, ride.

Six Flags rides, and the associated experience, come and go quickly - much like most of the training courses you've attended. For me, all I had growing up in Georgia was Six Flags. For me, early in my career as an adjunct instructor, then instructional designer and facilitator, I created a lot of Six Flags-style training - there may have been some powerful, impactful moments, but ultimately what I created was many forgettable training experiences. I really didn't know any different until I went to Disney for the first time - literally.

What Makes A Disney Experience So Powerful?

People returning from Disney World have story after story describing their experiences, along with smiles on their faces and excitement in their voices. Yes, even the long wait times have their place in the story! And families will reflect on their time at Disney World months and years later. By contrast, a family's experience at Six Flags might get discussed the next day. But I'm guessing a bride on her wedding day is not likely to thank dad for the annual family pilgrimages to Six Flags.

Unfortunately, I believe that the majority of training programs are at home in Six Flags. They are unengaging, predictable and forgettable. The Disney World experience is that which we as educators, instructional designers and facilitators should strive for...and achieve. A training experience that is engaging, memorable and unexpected training - what I call The EMU Experience. That's what this blog is all about.

What Can I Do Differently Today?

Engage your participants early and often.

  • Promote your training in a way that builds excitement and anticipation.

  • Engage them in creative ways as they arrive (i.e., movie theaters get you involved with on-screen content before the movie starts. How can you emulate that approach?)

  • Involve them within the first 15-30 minutes to subtly let them know that, in your training, they will be participating. One way I involve my participants can be found here.

  • Arrange the room into tables, with 3-5 chairs per table.

Memorable: Ask your participants what they want to get out of your training, then take the time to go deeper.

  • In my Train-the-Trainer workshops, I use this approach.

  • Your content will be more memorable when it is relevant to what they do and you make the content easy to implement.

Deliver something unexpected.

  • Again, my favorite right-out-of-the-gate activity is 99 Seconds.

  • In future articles, I will talk about why playing BINGO in your course is a great idea and how graffiti art can be used to wrap up the course.

  • Have fun. I believe everyone has a sense of humor. Be yourself, be genuine, be funny and help your participants have fun.

BTW: Not only did my daughter enjoy the Tower of Terror, but she rode every coaster, including Space Mountain and Rock 'n' Roller Coaster.

So, back to you? How are you going to make your training Disney-esque, starting today? Need some help?

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