Use These 5 Questions to Get Buy-In for Your Next Training

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This one time I remember leaving a coalition meeting feeling deflated.

A few organizers and I had developed a training and successfully ran it with some members.

This was great except the coalition was much larger and our efforts were reaching a relatively small number of people.

I stood up at the end of the coalition meeting with about 50 people gathered in the neon-lit union hall and mustered my best pitch.

“Yes, it’s a great resource,” the meeting facilitator said dismissively and moved on.

I sat down.

This, I learned, is how not to get buy-in for your training.

The Challenge of Buy-In

Maybe you have had a similar experience.

You have a clear idea for a training that will take your group to the next level.

But try as you might, you can’t get everyone you need on board.

They won’t give your training the time, access or resources it needs to succeed.

As a result, the movement flounders and you keep fighting the same internal battles that block your group from building real power.

What to do instead

If your training is going to have any chance of making change, you need to connect with your learners beforehand. If you are…

  • A director maybe it’s coalition partners
  • A supervisor maybe it’s your team
  • An organizer maybe it’s your members

Schedule a time to sit down one-on-one to understand their experience, dreams, hopes and challenges.

Use these 5 questions as the starting point and watch buy-in begin to grow.

1. Tell me more about your work.

This opener is meant to help you understand their day-to-day reality in their work for social change.

Make sure to get beyond job title and the name of the organization or the program they run.

A tip I got from instructional designer Cathy Moore: if you took a photograph of them doing their work, how would it look?

2. What do you hope to achieve in your work?

Here you are listening for the things that drive them.

There are intrinsic factors like wanting to pass health care for all because of a family member’s health condition to principles like fairness and equity.

Extrinsic factors might include things like “the national decided that this is the campaign we will be working on” or “my boss assigned it to me.”

3. What’s the biggest challenge you face trying to achieve it?

There could be any number of challenges and some people will really use this time to vent.

You want to listen for the specific behaviors and actions that are bothering them.

Not just, “people don’t get it,” but, “when I invite friends to events they don’t reply to my texts.”

Don’t stay here, make sure to transition to the next question.

4. What have you tried to address it so far?

Here you might learn about any number of things, including trainings they have organized or attended.

Maybe they regularly send members to an institute or they have a reading group.

People’s time is limited and you want to be able to distinguish your training effort from what they have already done.

5. What type of support do you need?

Even if you are unable to provide the support they name, it will be helpful to identify what the need is in their own words.

Plus it may be helpful for them to consider what it will take to solve the problem they are up against.


The late Brazilian educator Paulo Freire says,

“The educator needs to know that his or her ‘here’ and ‘now’ are nearly always the learners’ ‘there’ and ‘then.’”

In order for your training to be successful you need to understand the people’s “there and then.”

Reserve your advice and suggestions and hold back your pitch, simply repeat back what you hear.

Then make sure to end with a specific next step.

It could be a follow-up meeting, time on the next coalition agenda, or permission to send a proposal.

Take time before then to reflect on how the content of your training will help resolve the challenges you heard about in your interviews.

Use what you learn to fill in your training for action template.

The late Brazilian educator Paulo Freire says,

“The educator needs to know that his or her ‘here’ and ‘now’ are nearly always the learners’ ‘there’ and ‘then.’”

In order for your training to be successful you need to understand the people’s “there and then.”

Reserve your advice and suggestions and hold back your pitch, simply repeat back what you hear.

Then make sure to end with a specific next step.

It could be a follow-up meeting, time on the next coalition agenda, or permission to send a proposal.

Take time before then to reflect on how the content of your training will help resolve the challenges you heard about in your interviews.

Use what you learn to design your training.

Try it out and watch it work!

Hey, isn’t that just organizing?

You got it!

To mobilize the people, ideas and resources you need for your training to be a success, you need to think like an organizer.

Not the charismatic leader fed to us by Hollywood, but someone who listens and cares deeply about the people and their reality.

I don’t have time to sit with everyone who is going to be in the training!

It may feel that way.

But think of all of the work you are about to put into creating materials, doing outreach and planning logistics all for less than ideal turnout.

The people in charge just want to preserve their power, they are not interested in training the people.

That may be true and you may reach a point after listening where you question whether you really want to work with this person.

(Even that would be useful to know, wouldn’t it?)

But their ignorance may reveal something else: they have a problem they are not able to solve on their own and they need your help to do it.

Don’t let your training sit on the shelf

There are so many things your team needs to learn to build real power and your training will help them do it.

So start scheduling some meetings to understand the challenges your team faces and plan a training that will help them solve it.

A word of caution, though: some problems simply can’t be solved through training.

Learning to distinguish when training isn’t the answer will be the subject of a future post.

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Riahl O’Malley and Indira Garmendia, co-founders