Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Role of Emotion in Learning

When was the last time you cried, laughed, got angry, got happy or just plain felt anything while taking training or afterwards?

Probably not too often, if ever!

And yet, what is retained by our brains more than anything else?


Memories trigger emotions and vice-versa.

Emotions create a strong impact in our cortex, where our memories are stored. Things that are stored in the cortex therefore are retained. If you can create training that is memorable, you need one or more key elements in order to ensure retention afterwards:

  • IMPACT - 


Impact is when you have a strong emotional response. Someone laughs out loud, cries, gets angry or any other combination of emotions. When something is strong enough to be noticed and create a reaction that is emotional, it WILL be remembered. In training, retention is the single most important thing we can strive for (of course, retention without comprehension is somewhat useless, but it is a beginning)...

Remember, the key to impact is creating any kind of emotional response, preferably the one desired.


If something affects us directly, then it is relevant to our experience and needs. If the training being given is very relevant to the employee's job, there is more of a chance the concepts taught may be retained.

Relevance, while important, usually does not have the power of retention that IMPACT has. Combine IMPACT and RELEVANCE and you have doubled the retention potential.


Empathy is the ability to feel for someone else and relate to that feeling.  This is a harder property to track and judge in training. It is highly dependent on the employee's emotional maturity and ability to feel for someone else (somehting  that is definitely generational as well).

If one can feel for a character in the training, or a situation, then that feeling combines impact, possibly relevance and almost a guarantee of retention.

How to make your training more emotional

There are many ways to make training have more impact, be relevant and even spark some empathy. Unfortunately, much of the training being created is usually nothing more than a regurgitation of some process manual, compliance rule, HR directive, etc. In other words, most eLearning is this side of mind-numbing, completely non-memorable and of no personal relevance to the employee.

How do we change this pattern of boring, meaningless, training? Here are some ideas:


Write content that includes some kind of emotional response. Humor is a great way to retain training. People remember funny scenarios, funny characters or funny sayings. The humor has to have some "relevance" to the training and should be something the employee can "relate" to in order to guarantee a higher level of retention.


We recently created a Safety video for Southern CA Edison's OSHA training in which we were teaching the importance of time management and safety on the job. The employee, a meter repair person, was rushing through her day. She was preoccupied and not paying attention to the safety rules. After several botched installs she makes the ultimate mistake and died.

We created a scene where all we used were some sound effects and a shot of her lying dead on the floor. The video slowly rotated around her dead body and the next scene we see her work mates at the office emptying out her desk and crying.

To people like these, where one mistake could mean the loss of a life, the emotional impact of the training really hit home. When it was shown, managers and workers were literally crying at the end. Not only did it have the emotional impact, it also was very relevant to their jobs and it tugged at the empathy they all felt. 

If you can find something that sparks emotion of some kind, you will create a memorable experience that the learner will not easily forget. If the impact is also relevant then chances are the behavioral outcomes of the training will have been achieved as well. All of that means greater productivity.

Summary and suggestions

As instructional designers, or trainers, it is very critical to employ the power of emotions in our training in order to achieve optimal learning results. All too often there is no impact, relevance or empathy with the training and, as a result, little or no improvement in retention or productivity. In other words, the training is this side of useless.

Keep these three simple words in mind when writing:


I would highly recommend that instructional designers and trainers take some lessons or read some books on screenwriting. Learn how to set scenes up, scenarios that evoke something out of the learner. The more vivid and life-like our writing, the more results we will see from the learners.

Also, do some research on NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) techniques as well as read up on how cognitive functions in the brain work. 

All of this will help make your training much more viable, useful and productive.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Virtual Presenting Techniques - VOICE

Hello Everyone!

With our economy tight and travel costs severely restricted in many cases, holding training and meetings virtually is becoming a very accepted standard.But presenting virtually has some challenges:

  • How do you present to an audience you can't see? 
  • How do you keep the attention of your audience?
Simple questions which require some thought and effort to achieve successfully. I'll cover some of the most important points to keep in mind, which will help your presentations be interesting, lively, compelling and interactive. My focus today is on the importance of your voice.

Your Voice

How often have you been in a meeting where the speaker:

  • Had no oomph
  • Mumbled
  • Seemed off point
  • Went on incessantly
Now imagine that same presenter in a virtual environment. Not a good image is it?

Good presentation skills in the classroom or conference room, will transfer well to the virtual arena. And there is one tool, above all others, that will make all the difference in the world:


Yes, your voice. In a virtual environment, where the audience can't really see you unless your webcam is on, the only thing you have to distinguish yourself is the quailty of your voice. 

One of the first things people will notice in a virtual classroom is the sound of your voice.  It needs to have some of the following characteristics in order to make a positive impression and serve your purpose as a trainer, Sales representative or meeting host, Your voice should:

  • Be clear
  • Sound energetic
  • Not be monotone, have some inflection
  • Never mumble
  • Sound like its in command or focused
Following are some examples of the same introduction to a course spoken in different ways. Can you tell the difference? Which do you like most? Click on each one below:

Voice Introduction 1

Voice introduction 2

Voice introduction 3

The first voice was monotone. Listening to this for several minutes will most likely put you into a coma or chatting with your friends while suffering through the meeting.

The second voice was unfocused. After a while you get the feeling that the speaker doesn't know where he's goinga nd that you don't want to follow him to whatever undefined place he's heading.

The third voice has energy, speaks clearly and seems to have a purpose. It grabs your attention and, if combined with other good presentation skills, will keep it.

First Impression

Each of the voices you heard above left an immediate first impression. It may even have been the prompt to keep you in the meeting or to leave.

In person, we make impressions almost instantly. We have gut level reactions to how a person looks, sounds, smells (yes, too much perfume or not enough bathing will definitely make an impression) and dresses. Everything counts and it's all taken in consciously and sub-consciously within seconds.

In most virtual sessions you probably won't have a webcam on to conserve bandwidth. That leaves one main thing to keep your audience's atention: your voice! Sure it helps to have compelling content, but a boring speaker with great content will still be, well, boring!

How to Improve your Voice

If you don't feel you have a great voice, don't worry, you can do some simple things to trainit to sound better. All it takes is a little effort and the desire to sound better and improve. Here are some suggestions:

Practice your presentation - nothing makes perfect like practice. The more familiar you are with your presentation's content, the better you will sound. If you don't know your content, it will definitely show in your voice. Practice builds confidence!

Record yourself - what your ears hear is not what others hear. Most of us don't like how we sound until we get used to hearing ourselves. Record your presentations before giving them and be your own worst critic. But be fair with yourself too. Listen for the good and bad. The more you do this the better you will get.

Get Feedback from others - this is a tricky one. If people like you they may not be brutally honest. If they don't like you they may only focus on the negative. Ask people for their honest feedback and poll them on what they liked and what they didn't care for.  Leave your ego at the door and let your mind be receptive and open. Feedback can be very important and will help you become a stellar presenter!

Listen to others - we are creatures of emulation. We copy mannerisms, fashions, language, etc. Watch and listen to others presenting. Take what you like and try to copy it. No, I don't want you to become that person, just feel like that person for a bit. Try to feel what a successful presenter sounds like and copy that style if it suits you. Refine it and make it your own.  This is actually a pretty important step and will fast-track you to better presentations.

Get training - if after doing the above steps you still feel that your presentations are lacking, get training! There are many speech and voice-over coaches that can help you find that inner actor. They'll teach you how to breathe and project. They'll help you enunciate and feel confident with yourself and your voice. This can be priceless but, keep your hand on your wallet. Some of the trainers are looking to buy that new luxury car on your tuition...

Happy and successful presenting!