You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. This age-old adage rings true for many safety trainers. The formidable job of translating regulatory requirements into a sought-after learning experience is not easy.

Finding the proper motivation is crucial. While many people think a weekly paycheck is motivation enough, things like achievement, recognition, and responsibility can increase satisfaction and encourage effort and performance. The secret to successful training rests in finding the proper motivators for each student and discovering your ability to tap it. This article will help you do that by discussing nine ways to create an environment that is conducive to learning.

1. Plan carefully

Increase the opportunity for success rather than failure by creating training content that is targeted to your audience. If learning material is delivered at a level that is too high for students, the experience can quickly undo any willingness to succeed that might have existed. On the other hand, if the material is at a level too low for the audience, students can become bored and lose interest. Pay attention to language and the use of terms, making sure students understand. Some students might be shy, so it’s a good idea to try to predict what terms might need defining and develop a course glossary ahead of time.

2. Be direct

Students want to know what is expected of them and how they fit into the big picture, so they will arrive with pre-conceived ideas and questions, such as:

  • What is the purpose of this training?

  • Is it a topic that interests me?

  • Who will be in the class?

  • Is it important to management?

  • What is the reward for participating and passing?

  • Will I be better off after being trained?

  • What is the risk (perceived as punishment) for not participating or failing?

  • How long will training last?

    Address these questions by describing the purpose and objective of the course. Make sure students understand what is required for successful completion. Provide an outline of the objectives so they can follow class progress.

3. Be genuine

Think of employees as “human beings” rather than “hired workers.” Begin all training sessions with student self-introductions that encourage them to share why they are in the class and other information about themselves. Showing a genuine interest in their explanations acknowledges their individual needs, drives, characteristics, personalities, and contribution.

4. Stick to your plan

Remember when you were in school, seated in your chair, listening to the teacher? Her droning bored you to sleep until another student bravely yelled, “Is this gonna be on the test?” A “no” meant you could go back to sleep, but a “yes” had you grabbing for your pencil. While a 15-minute dissertation on the history of OSHA might be of interest to safety trainers, the regulatory requirements do not require that employees know this to meet their training requirements. Anecdotes can be interesting, but keep them short, interesting, and relevant.

5. Use learning activities

Final exams are intimidating, so trainers should provide periodic learning activities to reinforce learning. Think of your training course as building blocks. Each student must master one “chunk of knowledge” before moving onto the next. Test their understanding at the end of each “chunk,” allowing for questions and answers before continuing. This will ensure that any lingering questions are addressed and will allow you to identify individuals who may need more help and encouragement.

6. Encourage questions

There is never a stupid question. A question signifies that the student doesn’t understand the material or that the student has assimilated the material and has advanced into a learning application that can benefit the entire class. Give students the necessary time and as much feedback as possible to account for individual learning capabilities. Also, use positive affirmations when responding to questions, such as, “Yes, that is a good question, and I am glad you brought it up,” or “Yes, I think you’ve hit upon something there.” By using the word “yes,” you show that you care about your listeners, value their opinions and insights, and welcome their participation. This builds rapport and positive feedback.

7. Stay positive

If students disagree with you, you can still use their opinions to build rapport. I use a technique I call “Reflect, Respect, Respond.” If a student asks a question that is negative in nature, do the following:

Reflect — Reflect on the question and restate it while you position your positive response.

Respect — Respect any question; regardless of its delivery.

Rephrase — Rephrase the question in a positive manner.

For example, if a student says, “I don’t think this would work in our company,” don’t debate the issue. Instead, reflect on what you just heard and respond with a statement of fact: “You don’t think your company would go for this.” This will show the students that you were listening and value their input.

Use the respect and respond components to make it clear that you don’t find contrary feelings or thoughts unreasonable. You might say, “This is a valid question. I can see how it might be confusing. Let’s examine how we can address your concern.”

Remember that to use this technique successfully, sincerity is the key. But don’t be surprised if the person is embarrassed or suspicious. This might mean they’re not used to praise and need more of it.

8. Succeed through groups

Employees take pride in the work they do. By encouraging participation in work groups, students can use their decision-making skills in social situations, which places value on their input and can contribute to learning effectiveness and retention. Make sure to acknowledge the positive outcome each group achieves, highlighting their individual strengths and contributions to the topic.

9. Use case studies

Case studies go far in achieving training objectives. They drive home main points and reinforce learning objectives. Your stories should be relevant, true, and contain a moral at the end. And it’s important to have your sources available if a student asks. If you can’t quote your source when a student questions you, you’ll lose credibility quickly.

So when you’re planning your next safety training class, toss out the notion that students are there because they want to be. That might sound negative, but the fact of the matter is that safety training is usually held to comply with the law. Try to turn it around by using some motivating techniques to make your training sessions stimulating, engaging, and enjoyable.