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Are You Delivering a Learning Experience That is Engaging, Memorable and Unexpected?

NOTE: This is a revised post from my original blog site at

This week, let’s talk about what you deliver to your learners. Not the specifics of the end product that you deliver, but your learners’ actual experience with you as the trainer/teacher/instructor or with the training product that you create.

And staying true to my company's name and philosophy, I have 3 specific criteria that I feel truly lead to a great learning experience:

  • Is it Engaging?

  • Is it Memorable?

  • Is it Unexpected?

Would They Describe Their Experience as Engaging?

If yes, why? What specifically makes your training engaging to your learners?

Webster defines engage as: To hold the attention of.

Notice the verb in the definition: hold. This implies capturing attention early and maintaining it throughout the time you are in front of your audience.

This concept does not play out in the majority of classrooms. Why?

  • Most instructors make the mistake of doing student introductions, thinking that’s sufficient engagement, then proceed to talk non-stop for the next 3 hours before taking a break. (You know this is true…you’ve been in those training classes, and some of us have even given such a class.)

  • Or...they have an engaging activity at the beginning of class and then have one at the end of the day, but talk the rest of the time in-between.

  • Or...they have more frequent activities (say, every hour) but those activities become formulaic, predictable and detectable from a mile away (in other words, the instructor always asks the same type of question, gives the same amount of time, always has the students sitting and discussing, and never deviates from that approach). You’ve experienced this too, right?

To summarize, engagement IS NOT:

  • Talking 90-95% of the time - That's the "You" show, BTW.

  • Doing introductions at the beginning, launching into your content until the end of the day, when you ask, "Any questions?"

  • Asking random questions on the fly when things get slow.

  • Taking questions from your students or tracking the # of questions asked by your students.

  • The # of people who "swarm" you during breaks.

  • The # of emails or phone calls you get 1-2 weeks after training.

What Does Engagement Look Like?

Engagement is planned and consistent interactions with your students on your terms, in your timing, and for specific learning purposes that you have planned for.

In the simplest approach, engagement is your students interacting with one another for a specific educational purpose that you have designed. That could be:

  • Having them pair up and discuss a specific question prior to the start of the class.

  • Having them form groups of 3-5 students to discuss a question you have asked.

  • Individual or group presentations that demonstrate a learned technique.

  • Working as a small group at a wall chart to complete an end-of-the-day mind map exercise.

One of the reasons why facilitation as a training technique works so well in the classroom is that is forces you to plan your engagement opportunities ahead of time.

There should always be a lesson to be learned or a nugget of truth to be gained or revealed from any activity. Ideally, you are using engagement opportunities to reinforce the main points (or takeaways) from either the content you just covered or, more broadly, from the content covered so far in the training.

So as you plan for engagement, you simply look at your content, determine what the key takeaways are from each section (a section being defined as content that you cover in approximately 10-20 minutes), and build questions around that content so that your students can pull out those key takeaways.

And you do that early and often. That way your students understand how your classroom "works", they become part of the learning process and realize that they are not simply there to watch the “You” show.

Would They Describe Their Experience as Memorable?

If so, is it the good kind of memorable, where you get referrals from former students?

Or is it the bad kind of memorable, where former students tell potential new students to “…”just read the manual instead. You’ll get more out of that anyway”? Raise your hand if you've experienced one of "these" courses.

What does memorable do for you?

  • It creates buzz and word of mouth for you and your training course.

  • Your students pay attention so they are more likely to comprehend, retain and apply the material they learned back on the job.

  • Which leads to more sales of your product, more efficient installations of your product, or more effective customer service experiences with your company.

My point: You should be striving to give your students a memorable experience. One way is to engage them...early and often, liked we already discussed. The other way is what we're talking about next.

Let's recap: How do you deliver a memorable learning experience? You engage your audience in unexpected ways.

Speaking of unexpected...

Would They Describe Their Experience as Unexpected?

If you could listen in on your students' thoughts as they leave your class, what would you hear?

  • "Well, that was exactly what I expected."

  • "Well, that was certainly a waste of my time."

  • "Well, he could have just emailed me the presentation."

  • "Wow! That was completely unexpected...and awesome!"

Which of these would you want to hear? That's what I thought!

So, what do you do that is unexpected?

Did you know that your students come into your classroom with their own expectations? Typical student expectations might include:

  • How the classroom will be arranged.

  • The # of students that will be in the class.

  • "Even though this is a training class, it will most likely be a presentation."

  • "I’ll get to stay in listen-only mode. I won’t have to participate. So I'm just gonna grab a seat at the back of the room."

  • "There will probably be a mandatory test/quiz at the end of the day. Most likely open book."

You don’t exist as a learning professional to give your students what they expect.

Why? Because their expectations are very, very low.

Suffice it to say, after decades of instructors and trainers doing the old “show up and throw up” routine - and calling it Training - that style of delivery is what students have accepted as the norm for a training class.

Beware the Routine

Nothing is more routine than the safety presentation every airline regales you with prior to takeoff. Or perhaps you have an even more ingrained routine in your class?

  1. For example, before your class begins, you allow students to wander in and find a seat. You may or may not greet each one, depending on if you’re resolving last-minute A/V issues, taking a call or reviewing your notes.

  2. You start your class with an introduction of yourself and the course. Then you allow time for each student to introduce themselves (name, role, company, why they are taking the class).

  3. You review the agenda and objectives and launch into your content. Next thing you know, you’ve been talking for 2-3 hours and it’s past time for the a.m. break. This pattern repeats itself again until lunch, then for the remainder of the afternoon.

  4. At the end of the class, you might ask your students (as a group) for one thing they learned.

  5. You thank them for their time and everyone leaves.

Sound familiar? Totally comfortable and safe for you. Totally not a great learning strategy for your students.

Engaging. Memorable. Unexpected. Do those words describe what you deliver in the classroom?

It is my belief, based on my 29 years of experience, that if you can deliver content in a way that is engaging, memorable and unexpected, you can create a unique and powerful learning experience.

It’s what I call The EMU Experience. Make it fun as well and you’ve got a winning combination.

How do you deliver a memorable learning experience? You engage your audience in unexpected ways.



As Chief EMU Wrangler at The EMU Experience, LLC, Ken helps learning professionals deliver engaging, memorable and unexpected learning experiences. By teaching practical techniques to purposefully increase student engagement, along with methods that incorporate creativity into the design and delivery process, Ken can help you create a learning experience that is engaging, memorable and unexpected.

Got questions? Email Ken –

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