Making Your Message Stick: 7 Tips for Trainers and Teachers

You're standing there, behind the podium, because you have an expertise to share.

But can you make your audience learn, especially the ones in the back row? You know the ones, tipping back on their chairs, with their arms folded and eyes half-shut.

That is the challenge for anyone who is a teacher or trainer.

Adult learning is about adjusting your teaching methods and reaching precisely this group, says Karen Stentz Huebner, who aims to "help people learn by means other than talking at them or showing them," through her consulting company.

What this requires, according to Huebner, is interaction, a dialogue that keeps students actively engaged in the learning process: "Not just hands-on, but minds-on," she said. It's not enough to know the subject matter. Effective adult learning is about making it relevant and helping the students find its meaning.

Huebner offered her insights during a teleconference held by the Verbal Judo Institute. She was the featured guest panelist in an exclusive discussion as part of the members-only Verbal Judo website.

Throughout her career, Huebner has specialized in teaching disenfranchised students, first in the military, the public school system, the business community and ultimately within the field of law enforcement. Huebner recommends Verbal Judo as a communication tool for the teaching within all of these environments.

Here are 7 of Huebner's tips to be a successful trainer:

Disregard how you were taught. Whether it was lecture or death by PowerPoint, the old school methods of teaching and learning are ineffective. "The content was shoved at you and you had to regurgitate it. It put people on the spot, and they immediately went into survival mode." It's easy to fall into this trap because of its well-worn path. Don't do it to your students.

Start in their comfort zone, then move out. Adults in particular are more willing to ask questions, make mistakes and rise up to challenges if they are in an environment that is not demeaning or threatening. Ask yourself: Wouldn't you be more willing to rise to challenges, even ones outside your comfort zone, if you weren't afraid to fail?

Understand your strengths. If you're already a good trainer, don't just chalk it up to having a "knack." If you can't articulate the qualities that make you successful, you aren't going to be effective. While you may be unconsciously competent, others will find it difficult to replicate your success.

Build a community of learners. The old-time tactics of starting impossibly tough as a means of weeding out the group or threatening with one-fail-all-fail ultimatums is counterproductive. "You're not creating a team, you're creating a pack of wolves," Huebner said.

Train as you would in real life: "Officers are taught to never question verbal commands, then have to deal with people in a world where 'no' is the norm," said Dr. George Thompson, founder of the Verbal Judo Institute. Also, as students make gains in their training, it is crucial to recognize these improvements. "If we recognize the baby steps, it gives them the power to go further, not just as a class but as a career," said Verbal Judo Trainer Bob "Coach" Lindsey.

Use memory aids. Just as physical repetition builds muscle memory, Huebner says tools such as repetition and the use of acronyms can build "mind memory."

Your goal is ultimately to empower students: First give them the tools then challenge them to succeed. "They do need to be put into difficult physical and verbal situations, Huebner said.

"However, don't throw them in until they've had the opportunity to learn and practice these skills. You don't throw them into the deep end of the pool and tell them, 'Swim, sucker.'"

"Students do want to excel," said Lindsey, who teaches students including police recruits to corrections professionals. "But for the adult learner, when exposed to any intellectual stimulus, has to find out first and foremost why is this being presented and why should this be important to me."

For the past two years, Kathy has worked closely with Vistelar partners to both deliver information, and to tailor the information appropriately to each target audience.

This has meant everything from developing academic course ware to setting up social media outlets. It's meant becoming a certified Verbal Judo trainer and applying that knowledge in various capacities. Kathy plays a critical role in translating the professional concepts of Verbal Judo to make them relevant to families, children and the public in general. For more information on Vistelar Training and what they offer, visit

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