3 Ways to Introduce the Element of Surprise into Your Online Training

Written by Trina Rimmer | Apr 27, 2010 4:45:27 PM
Ever left your wallet at home only to find a long-forgotten $20 bill in your coat pocket - just in time for lunch?  Or, ever pulled up to a highway toll plaza only to discover that the person ahead of you, a stranger, has paid your toll?  These are life’s little moments of surprise and delight – a welcome break from the expected that can transform an ordinary moment into a memorable one.

Yet in training, we tend to regard surprise as a negative element to be “overcome” or “avoided.”  But what would happen if we stopped trying to outfox the element of surprise and started leveraging it to create better training?  Here are some benefits I've experienced from adding a few surprises to my training:

  • Increased Engagement: When your audience perceives training as dull or predictable, they mentally check-out.  By adding the element of surprise to your training, you open the door to unforeseen possibilities, create curiousity, and generate a sense of anticipation - all of which lead to increased attention levels.  And I'm sure it's no big surprise when I tell you that trainees who are paying attention are much more likely to retain information.
  • Better Application: Grabbing your audience on a level that stirs both reason and emotion triggers the domino effect that puts understanding into action.  Case in point: Since my encounter with the mystery toll-payer, I’ve made a habit of paying the toll of the person behind me.  One surprise has changed my driving/toll-paying behavior and contributed to a slightly friendlier world.
The argument for adding a few surprises to create a better training experience is compelling.  But the real question is how to do it.  How can you add a little surprise without it feeling like a big gimmick?

1. Ditch templates in favor of visual variety

Consistency is nice, but with online training it's all about grabbing attention and conveying information that resonates and affects change.  So as long as navigation cues are pretty uniform across your online training, do you really need the visual consistency a template provides?  Compelling visual design can be the jolt of surprise your training needs to energize and motivate an audience who's grown accustomed to the canned look & feel of corporate templates.  Use the tips I’ve already shared with you for trainee-focused designs, photos, clip art, and fonts to push the design envelope. 

2. Deliver a "Big Reveal"

One of the most powerful ways to use surprise in training or presentations is to bust the expectations of the audience with a "big reveal."  For a recent example of this technique in action, watch the following segment from Steve Jobs' launch presentation for the Apple iPad. Pay close attention to how he uses the expectations of the audience to generate excitement when revealing the iPad’s pricing. The crowd goes wild for pricing?!  What are some ways you could use this idea in your next training?

3. Inject some humor

Few communication techniques are more surprising or effective than humor.  But many of us find the idea of using humor in training as unprofessional, risky, or simply too intimidating.  So, how and when can you use humor in training?  Check out this great blog post from Cathy Moore who champions the use of self-deprecating humor to add fun, surprising twists to the traditional training experience. 

No matter how you use the element of surprise in your training, the key to making it work is to provide payoff in the form of fresh, fun, and relevant experiences that make training stick.  Surprise yourself and your audience by approaching training, not just as a means to deliver content, but as a way to deliver insight with a dose of delight.

Are your surprising ideas received with open arms or skeptical minds?  The Mindflash community may be able to help.  Share your questions, ideas, or design dilemmas by clicking on the comments link.

Trina Rimmer is a learning and communications consultant with twelve years experience designing, developing, and delivering smart, engaging training solutions. When her training skills aren't being tested by her children, you'll find her helping others to develop their own design muscles. Contact Trina at trina@rimmer.net.