Wake me up when it’s over! (Most training sessions are far too long)

Rob Gentle’s calling for brevity in training.

Which of these three workshop options would appeal to you most as a busy, time-pressured manager or department head: half a day, a full day, or two full days? I’m guessing you chose the first option. When I first started doing business-writing workshops in the corporate sector some 20 years ago, I reckoned that three hours, from nine to twelve, was more than enough time to get the message across.

It meant the class never had to battle the dreaded afternoon slump, a fact known to science as well as anyone who’s ever struggled to stay awake at a conference during the session just after lunch.

The head of training at KMPG once old me bluntly: “What we particularly like about this training is that it’s only half a day.” It’s a remark I continue to hear across many industry sectors. Department heads and managers say they simply cannot afford to have people out of the office for a full day, never mind two, three or four.

Show me the money

Yet marathon training workshops are common in the global training calendar, whether in London, Dubai or Singapore. Their long duration also makes them expensive – $1 000 per person per day is not uncommon – which means not everyone in the team can afford to attend.

Do these workshops really have to be that long? Good training is not about classroom time and covering a lot of ground; rather, it’s about focus, and how persuasively and effectively the material is delivered. Anyone who has ever watched a great TED talk knows this; you can get a lot across in 18 minutes.

Good training is not about classroom time and covering a lot of ground; rather, it’s about focus, and how persuasively and effectively the material is delivered. 

Alas, this message doesn’t seem to have reached the training sector. For example, Google ‘Time Management Workshops’ and you’ll find that they’re all full-day, eight-hour sessions. Am I alone in seeing the irony in this?

In any event, real learning doesn’t happen during the workshop, but back at one’s desk, when the workshop concepts are (hopefully) used, repeated and anchored.

Ideally, a workshop shouldn’t exceed half a day for the same reason that a song shouldn’t exceed three minutes, a movie 90 minutes and a book 300 pages. It doesn’t mean that anything longer is necessarily bad – in fact, some of it is really good; it’s just that it may end up reaching a smaller audience because not everyone has the time, inclination or budget.

Less is more

One of the first things any new journalist learns is that whatever it is you’re trying to say, you’ll say it better using fewer words.

A similar logic applies to training. If you’re a corporate trainer with a long workshop, try cutting it down – and not just because of the afternoon slump; you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much better it becomes, and how much more business it generates. If you still need at least a full day, consider breaking it down into two morning sessions.

If you’re a company training manager or department head, challenge your trainers to shorten their workshops to fit your time constraints. They might well agree, because they want your business. The result will be more training at lower cost, with better learning and retention.

Everybody wins.


About the author

Robert Gentle runs the training company RobertGentle.com



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