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Best Training Practices
Will Kenny
3927 York Ave N
Robbinsdale, MN 55422

The Unappreciated Power Of Surveys

asking questions produces more than just answers

(reprinted from The Training Tipsheet)

I am sure you already use surveys in some form to collect information from participants in your training events (and perhaps from the internal clients who request and sponsor those events). I'm broadening "survey" here to include things like the usual course evaluation at the end of a seminar.

You may also collect information from more general surveys, perhaps an annual look at how you are perceived by your audience, what they are looking for, and the like. Sometimes Human Resources does employee satisfaction surveys, and they may include specific items about the training function among their questions.

That covers after-the-fact reactions to specific events, as well as more general attitudes.

But how do you use surveys leading into events? With the easy availability of anonymous web-based surveys these days, you can ask your participants for feedback before and during training activities, and maybe influence their behavior along the way.

Take pre-work and homework. Perhaps your facilitators ask participants at the start of a seminar how many people did the reading or other exercises assigned before the event. In that public forum, there's a lot of hedging, a lot of excuses, a lot of lying, frankly, about whether the work was done.

But a simple one-question poll -- "Did you do it?" -- before the first meeting could give you an idea of what to expect, and because it is anonymous, the answers are more likely to be honest. And at the same time, just being asked might make them slightly more likely to look at their homework.

Accountability helps, of course. Some trainers just have participants print out a "Survey completed" page from the survey web site and bring it in. Many survey systems allow you to e-mail the links to the survey in a way that allows completion tracking while still preserving the anonymity of individual answers.

Especially with such an e-mail system, "split testing" becomes possible. Different versions or revisions of the assignments can be provided to different participants, or different instructions for their completion, and that can be tied to which group is more likely to complete the work. Regular use of assignment surveys with frequent revision may just lead you to a more effective approach. (And, again, automating e-mails is so easy these days that this sort of thing can be managed with very little manual intervention.)

Meanwhile, if your training runs over an extended period of time, additional surveys along the way can check knowledge, or gather feedback about activities that might be less informative if you hold off until the end of the training (especially if it takes days, weeks, or months). Keep them short, use them often, and you can learn a lot about the participant experience that traditional evaluations aren't telling you.

Managing participant expectations and behavior, and benefiting from their feedback, is often much more effective when it is done in smaller pieces. Take a creative approach to asking questions more often, in smaller bunches, tied to what's happening in the classroom or the online platform, and you may find yourself seeing all sorts of things you never noticed before.

© 2013 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

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