6 Secrets for Powerful Training and Meeting Openings


We’ve all been to the training program that starts off with, “Welcome to part 1 of xyz, I’m Sally, and I am going to be the teacher today. Turn off your cellphones, grab a glass of water, and let me know if you need a break to refresh your mind.” Sally then proceeds to go through a list of housekeeping items for 10-minutes, including a little bit about herself and her background. She ends it with a ‘let’s get started’ and tries to say it with as much enthusiasm as possible because she knows you’re already bored.

This is so standard and predictable that even if the information is exciting in nature, you’re already bored. You’re thinking about your emails, the work you could be doing instead of sitting in on this training, or daydreaming about what you’re going to do when the presentation is done.

The thing is, if Sally were to approach you in a different way, this preprogramming could change with some tricks, tips, and techniques for the first couple of minutes. Corporate training needs to be based on adult learning theory and principles, helping you to really immerse yourself in the content, so you feel alert and somewhat enthusiastic about the content at hand.

Start with the First and Last Piece of Information

When designing courses, coaching, and mentoring, it’s essential to understand the basics of the ID9 Intelligent Design psychology method: primacy and recency. In essence, ‘people remember best, what they hear first and last.’

Think about it. Primacy relates to the information that was presented first, while recency relates to the information presented most recently. The recency effect results in a better recall of the most recent information, and when paired with primacy, it tends to be the only two things you are probably going to take away from the presentation. Therefore, professional development training needs to take these realities into account.

Sousa, David. A 2011 book on ‘How the brain learns’ described Primacy and Recency

 Sousa suggests one factor affecting retention is the primacy-recency effect – essentially, the idea that in a “learning episode,” we recall the things that came first (primacy) and the things that came last (recency) better than we recall the things in the middle.

Several of Sousa’s points can be summarized in an ideal learning design system, outlined below:

  1. Teach the New Material First: This isn’t just stating the obvious. Sousa gives the example of an English teacher asking a class what onomatopoeia There’s a brief discussion with lots of wrong answers (because the students had no idea). But the students wrote those wrong answers on the subsequent test – partly because they occurred in that initial period. This kind of teaching format captures more attention and acts as an assessment tool to measure learning outcomes that your team can observe for new corporate training programs down the line.

  2. Use the Prime Time Wisely: Prime Time is the minutes that form the start and end of a learning session. Even with the best of intentions, teachers can do the following: after commanding focus by telling the class the day’s lesson objective, the teacher takes attendance, distributes the previous day’s homework, collects that days’ homework, requests notes from students who were absent, and reads an announcement about a club meeting after school. As a finale, the teacher tells the students they were so well-behaved during the lesson that they can do anything they want during the last five minutes of class (i.e., during prime time, as long as they are quiet).

    How many training sessions in business have you endured with a similar pattern? They start with, “today we’re going to learn how to effectively plan sales campaigns, or let’s start here from so-and-so in the sales department,” or, “look at these sales figures from 2005.”  And, they may end with, “Let’s have an early mark, please complete your evaluation forms, and then you can go.” Unfortunately, in this business example, Prime Time is underutilized with primacy and recency opportunities wasted.

  3. Retention Varies with Length of Episode. “As the lesson time lengthens, the percentage of down-time [when retention is at its lowest] increases faster than for the prime -times.” Shorter (in general) is better. And varying the type of activity, the instructional method, or even the topic between peak periods is beneficial to learning. Learning and development specialists base their entire training design and development around brevity, knowing that the brain works in ‘sprints’ when gathering and remembering information. Countless studies have detailed what happens with retention when training times drag on.

The Primacy and Recency Effect on Your Next Purchase

Let’s look at the primacy and recency effect as they relate to purchases to provide a better understanding of the concept. Since the primacy effect means that people tend to remember the first piece of information presented about something instead of the facts given 20-minutes into the presentation, advertisers and marketers place particular emphasis on the first impression of the product they sell. They may use shock factor, flashy colors, or personal testimonials right out of the starting gate.

However, the recency effect comes into the picture and can make or break that primacy effect, which is why both need to be considered when selling.

Let’s say you are interested in a product because you saw it on a morning show segment. You later discover that the product is not nearly as amazing as it was presented to be. Your recent experience with the product is negative, yet a few days from now, you hear more positive reports from people in relation to the product. Your recency experience is now positive, and since your primacy experience was positive weeks ago, you now think of the product as ‘good’ again.

Marketing people use this constantly, which is why they control the very first message you hear about the product. They also control the last message as well, on social media, in comments, in articles, and through social proof. They are not concerned with the information and discourse that is shared in the middle discussion.

Controlling the first message: marketers will find every way they can to bombard you with big, public information about the product. They will buy out ads, billboards, and videos to make your first impression a positive one. They will pay media outlets to make them seem like the best thing since sliced bread. Media outlets will cover the product in a positive story, even if the product itself lacks integrity.

Controlling the last message: marketers can’t control what people say about the product along the way. Some people from the get-go may just hate it and make that opinion known on social media. There is no way to stop it. But what the marketer can do is focus on things like packaging the product in eye-friendly containers, with a sleekness and color branding that oozes sophistication. The more attractive the packaging, the more useful we are going to assume the product is (even if it is not).

While we are busy being duped by the primacy and recency of marketing, we forget about the middle ‘stuff’ that is actually the most important in consumption. So how can you rise above that?

Step 1: Don’t Look at Ads

You can proactively look away from the advertisements that swirl in your face every day. You can go right to a trusted source and unbiased information by doing your own research. You can look at Consumer Reports and make your own opinion before one is fed to you. You can mull over the data on your own so that no one has time to skew it to you.

Step 2: Trust the Process

Don’t let the packaging sway your opinion that you already have from your research. Keep the research with you while you shop and trust what you have written. Don’t let displays or colors fool you – the product is an entirely separate entity from what is shown to you in the store. You can even close your eyes during an unboxing and open them when it’s just the product on the table. You will be amazed at how product flaws are suddenly exposed when the packaging is never considered.

You are stronger than the biases inherent in your mind.

The Language and Structure of the Sensational Meeting Opening

Let’s go back to the foundations of learning experience design and how to become a certified trainer that captures the audiences’ attention. Your welcome should take two minutes or less. If you are unsure of how long it is taking, rehearse it at home with a timer. The more you practice, the more you will learn that even one minute is a lot of time for a welcome.

What should be included in this meeting welcome? We’re glad you asked!

  1. Let Go of Your Outdated Ideas: Don’t be a Sally. The innovative future is here, and it’s time to embrace it.
  2. Start Traditional and then Dive into the Big Picture: People love stories. You can state your name and who you are but then dive into a story. Articulate the end goal of the program by tying it into a captivating tale.
  3. Capture Attention, Then Go Formal: Start out with eye-catching quotes, facts, and figures that get them thinking. For example, you can say, ‘over the past two months, we have lost 35% of our market share to our closest competitor. If we don’t act soon, we will go under in over one year. This is not an option for you and me, which is why we must come together to craft this new future. You are a key player in this victory, which is why I am ready to show you what we need to do today. Are you with me?’
  4. Be Completely Unexpected: Music, lights, singing, dancing, weird GIFs on the screen, home videos… you name it, if it is unexpected, do it.
  5. Start Before You Start: The show has begun when the first person arrives in the room (whether virtual or actual). Have an activity for them to engage with. Don’t just ignore them awkwardly in the corner. THAT will become their first impression, which is not something you want to promote.
  6. Do Your Prep Work: You should be preparing for this presentation days in advance so that you are ready to perform when the lights are on. Send out reminders to people who are joining and make the reminders fun with a quiz or two.

Bonus tip for virtual learning tools: for presentations conducted online today, you need to ramp up the energy and shock factor since the distractions are at an all-time high.

Instructional Design Online Courses: How to Be Compelling

With all of that, you now have what you need for designing learning programs that primarily works. There you have the 6 Secrets for Powerful Training and Meeting Openings.  Remember, brevity, shock factor, the beginning, the end, and dramatic statistics are the best ways to capture your virtual or in-person viewers. All you need to do is get started preparing and remember: you can do this.