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How to Train People Who Aren’t Listening

Businesswoman getting bored while attending presentation

Effective communication is a critical part of safety training. But who is to blame when participants aren’t listening—the participants or the trainer?

It’s no surprise that safety training can be dry and it can be a struggle to keep people engaged. When it comes to the content of your training, people typically only listen to the parts that they think they need to hear. And how do you prepare to deliver training to people with selective hearing?

Remember when you were in school and the teacher said, “You’re going to be quizzed on such and such topic.” Inevitably, those topics became what you focused on most because you knew you needed to hear them. And although other things were delivered in that lesson, you may have heard the words but didn’t retain them because you didn’t think you needed to know them for your quiz. 

So, what’s the point of delivering training if no one is going to listen?  In order to appeal to an audience’s listening ability, a presenter must take their audience’s agenda into consideration. If employees haven’t bought into safety training, it’s unlikely that they’ll truly internalize the training’s key teaching points. 

These three tips to deliver training will ensure that your audience hears and understands your message.

State your intentions

Let participants know the objectives of the training. Provide a quick overview from start to finish, paraphrasing the overall message that will be delivered. This will help them concentrate on the points in between. In order to ensure you have a classroom of active listeners, recap what you said at the end to help them focus and reinforce the parts of the message that are most important.

Setting the training up this way will also make sure that you’ve organized it in a logical and practical format. The goals, objectives and content will all fall into place, allowing you to focus on the audience. The training style in which you deliver can go a long way with your audience.

Talk to your audience

Make the training less formal and make sure you talk to your audience instead of at them. No one likes to sit through a lecture, no matter how important the topic is. Participants are more likely to listen to a personal story than they are to a list of facts. Sharing personal anecdotes also opens the door for participants to tell their own stories and become an active part of the training. This will help them retain more information and will allow you to assess the audience’s level of understanding so you can fill in the blanks where necessary.

Another great way to ensure your audience is listening is to ask them questions. If they know that there’s a chance that you will involve them in your presentation, they will be more inclined to listen and have an opinion about what you’re saying. By engaging the participants in the conversation, you will hopefully establish a level of respect that can grow into a lasting connection.

Give them time

Since interactive presentations are beneficial to engaging participants, you need to allow people the time to respond. Many people need to concentrate on what is being said and pause for reflection before responding. It might not seem like they’re listening, but they could be taking the time to process what they’ve just learned. Work your own pause and some repetitive delivery into your presentation before moving on to the next topic. Where you want people to respond, a recap of the information or saying it another way may be required to get participants to interact. It’s human nature to want to continue talking when there’s a lull in the conversation and with a plan itemized for what to say and in what order, it’s natural to want to move on to the next point. But when you actively try to engage participants, it’s important to give them time to consider potential responses. Otherwise, they might mentally hold on to the point they’d like to make about something you said earlier and fail to properly listen to all the points you made after it.

To answer the initial question, there’s no blame but the responsibility for listening is one that needs to be shared between the trainer and the participant in order to achieve successful communication. Listening is a vital part of communication but it’s something that needs to be done on both sides. As a safety trainer, one of the most important aspects of training is to know a little about who your audience is and what matters to them. Once you understand that, you’ll be able to deliver training that speaks to them in a way that they’re likely to hear.


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