3 Ways to Help Participants Take Action After The Training

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You’re listening in on one of your volunteer’s GOTV calls when you hear it, the exact thing you told people never to do! Or maybe you hear someone suggest to call the cops who you know participated in a rally on defunding the police.

It happens. (And if it doesn’t then you are probably always preaching to the choir). It can be frustrating at best, demoralizing at worst. You think, why did I go to all this trouble to plan a training and recruit people if they just revert back to the old ways afterwards?

It’s probably not the quality of your content. You are brilliant! You have given some great analysis, talking points, and anecdotes from your own life… 

There’s a simple brain trick that will help your training participants remember and apply what they’ve learned in the world after the training. It doesn’t have to do with the content you include, but how you include it.

Last weekend I ran from my house to my brother’s house. When I tried to map the route beforehand I couldn’t for the life of me remember his address–funny, because I used to live there! I managed not to get lost and once I stepped foot in my old neighborhood the address popped into my head out of nowhere: “1371 Orchard Street.” (Address changed to preserve privacy).

Perhaps you have had a similar experience: a fact or memory pops into your head, triggered by your surroundings. This is because memory links feelings, sensations, and smells to a particular place. 

As a trainer you can use this to your advantage (and to the advantage of all those who stand to benefit from your social change efforts). Here are three techniques you can try so participants take action after the training:

  1. Write Realistic Scenarios that Show Don’t Tell

You’ve presented some poll-tested talking points that people can use during the phone bank. Before sending them off to make calls, give them a realistic scenario written with them as the protagonist. Instead of, “Sally is an elderly Democrat in her 60’s who seems disgruntled” try to set the scene by describing what happens, “You introduce yourself, she says her name is Sally. You ask if she is planning to vote in this year’s election and she responds sharply, I don’t like either one of ‘em, the whole thing is a mess.”

Have people discuss in groups how they might respond and then report back. Have an example handy of how you might respond using the talking points you reviewed with them previously.

  1. Role Play in the Place Where They’ll Be Using It

You’ve reviewed some do’s and don’ts for marshalling at the upcoming rally by showing a stylish Powerpoint slide and asking if there are any questions. Make time to go out to the street afterwards (maybe even where the action will take place, if you can safely do it safely) and play out a scenario. Think of one or two characters beforehand that you can ask volunteers to play out with the marshall as the others observe: The rowdy protest participant, the angry counter-protester, the insistent journalist. Talk to your comrades beforehand to think of some real scenarios that have happened. Play it out and ask participants afterwards what they saw.

  1. Space out your Trainings and Give an Action Assignment in-between

Research shows that it takes time for the brain to rewire itself to retain new information. This happens while we rest and while we sleep. You can help participants remember what they’ve learned simply by spacing out the training into shorter chunks over time. Ask them to use the time in-between to practice using what they’ve learned. For example, have a conversation with someone you are close to about defunding the police using the vision-problem-action framework we discussed. Then leave time to reflect and get feedback once people return.

Some of these might be familiar to you, others might not, but it contradicts the common phrase that experience is the best teacher. In learning, as with life, experience can reinforce old habits just as it can engrain new ones.

If you use any of these techniques, make sure to leave room for feedback afterwards. You can do this by offering your own solution to the problem by using the approach you presented, asking participants how else they might respond to this situation, or asking people to name the consequence of adverse behaviors (what might happen if we respond to the caller’s complaints with a list of things that Trump has done wrong?)

And remember, learning takes time. It can be hard to have patience given the urgency of our situation, but taking action, reflecting and trying to improve for next time is all we can do. That’s as true for us as it is for our participants.

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Riahl O’Malley and Indira Garmendia, co-founders