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A Chat With Doug McCallum:

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The History & Future of Participant-Centered Training

Doug McCallum, recently retired and extremely brilliant senior training consultant, has had a rich history with The Bob Pike Group. He trained for over four decades and was recognized by his peers as a top national and international training professional. Most notable of all, McCallum is one of the original Creative Training Techniques® trainers with Bob Pike.

McCallum sat down with The Bob Pike Group recently to pass on his wisdom, knowledge, and advice to today’s training consultants. His legacy will most certainly live on as he embarks on his next chapter!

What is it about participant-centered training that transcends industries, organizations, generations, cultures and group size?

To me, the thing that transcends across all is that you’re looking for results … and high retention. If you’re looking at instructor-centered training, you don’t get either of those. Participant-centered training = high results and high retention.

  • With participant-centered training, you will see 75-80% results/retention.
  • With lecture-centered training, you will see 15-25% results/retention.

Think of it as the value of a dollar. If you spend $100 and only get 20% retention, you’re looking at a $20 value. Everyone cares about the bottom line. Dollars = time = results and retention.

Participant-centered training is really about results, retention, and how it has a direct relationship—and it reinforces the fact that there’s money wasted with lecture-centered training.

What’s kept you passionate about participant-centered training for 33 years?

I’ve learned that through participant-centered training people learn, retain, participate—and actually enjoy the process! In the end, both sides feel good about what happened.

There is a direct correlation between what you do and enjoying it or doing something and not enjoying it or retaining it. There is a higher percent chance people will remember, participate, and enjoy interactive training.

You literally can see the light bulb come on! That in itself is enjoyable to me as a trainer. No one likes to be forced into learning, and people like to learn when it’s fun. This type of training does that!

Describe what learners want and need from training that’s missing all too often

The bottom line is that everybody wants to be included—nobody wants to be left out. Inclusivity is big. Self-value is big. I frequently hear people say, “I don’t want to feel stupid or like I don’t have value … that I don’t have anything to offer, or this isn’t for me.”

You need to create training that makes your team feel included, valued, and engaged in something that’s meaningful. It is one thing to be simply engaged … and another thing to have that training engagement be meaningful.

How have you seen this style of training make the trainer’s job easier?

It makes it easier because if it’s done right, it should be about the learner and not the instructor. Trainers are working way too hard. You should be working 20% of the time and participants should be doing 80% of the work. Usually it’s flipped and trainers do most of the work. To make the trainer’s job easier, you flip the responsibility. That’s the key. Make the participants responsible.

  • Trainers already know it. Participants NEED to know it.
  • Flip the responsibility—otherwise trainers are working way too hard and are exhausted.

What are three essential supplies you always pack for every program?

  1. Flip charts and magic markers
    Every trainer ought to have flip chart paper and scented magic markers. The thing is that trainers don’t understand the value of the magic marker! Scented water-based markers add enjoyment to the process but don’t bleed on the paper. Alcohol markers will bleed to the next sheet.

    With flip chart paper on the wall and water-based markers available for participants to use—you increase their energy and blood to the brain as they stand and write. Did you know blood to the brain equals higher retention? This is a super valuable method not only for being able to write and recall, but it also aids in overall retention. And this is far beyond just being a training tool. You’re using another style of learning to enhance participants’ senses of smell, touch, and vision.
  2. Props
    Any kind of prop that will help people learn! A rope, ball, pitcher of water, any kind of prop that will help people learn and retain. Trainers don’t use enough props. PowerPoints have less than 20% recall. I can put a rope in your hand and teach you how to tie a square knot. But if I showed you a picture of one, chances that you remember it are slim to none.
  3. Handouts
    Include handouts that participants must write on. If you write it, there’s a higher percentage of remembering it. If you only hear it and see it, chances of retention are low.

What are your must-do training exercises that you’ve never skipped?

Making name tents. Have participants write down the name they want to be called and not what’s on the registration papers. This can include a military rank like colonel or captain. Or maybe someone prefers to be called Jen, not Jennifer.

This gives value to participants’ personalities! By using a name tents instead of name tags, trainers can see everyone’s name easily, plus it gives everyone the value of choice in what they’d like to be called.

Also, ask participants, “What are you going to do with what you learned when you get home?” This exercise helps participants create an action plan with what to do next. It puts pressure on them to do actually something with what they’ve learned.

Where were the strangest places you trained?

I have four “weird” places I’ve trained!

  1. I finished 33 years of training by having my last workshop in a funeral home!
  2. There was a fire drill, and everyone had to go outside. The company was paying money for me to be there, so I trained everyone all afternoon long in the parking lot. We took chairs outside, brought out some tables, and trained for three hours out there. Don’t ever say you didn’t get your money’s worth out of me!
  3. It was dark bar that smelled like beer … but it was where the client wanted to have their training!
  4. There were no conference rooms available inside the hotel, so I trained staff in a mobile trailer in the parking lot of Caesar’s Palace.

Can you recall your most challenging or resistant training groups?

My most challenging group was a manufacturing company of all men. It was 2:00am in the morning, and they didn’t want to be there … and they let me know that. I trained them for three hours on how to be better communicators. The participants truly did their best on trying not to be there!

The most difficult participant situation I’ve had that actually turned into a satisfactory experience was a group of crane operators. They didn’t want to be there, and they also did everything possible to show me they didn’t want to be there. At the end of the 3-day training, the guy in charge said, “We want to thank you for being here and want to give you something.” Those 10 guys had put together a cookbook of their mothers’/grandmothers’ recipes, gave me a t-shirt, hats, and called me one of their own. I walked on glass to get there but got a cookbook! It felt awesome.

How do you win over difficult groups?

When dealing with difficult participants, you must trust the process. You must believe in what you’re doing—walk the walk and talk the talk. If you don’t, training participants can smell fear and they know you don’t believe it. It’s okay to be calm as a duck on the exterior … but paddling like crazy underneath.

What’s the biggest difference about training from when you started?

Well 33 years ago, the majority of people had the mindset that they wanted to learn. Back then, anyone who came to a seminar was thrilled to be there, and they wanted to make change. Now they think they can find it on the Internet.

What’s something that'll never change?

Involvement works. You have to figure out how to get people involved. It worked 33 years ago and still works today. Show people how much you care. People don’t care how much you know—they want to know how much you care about them. Invest in them and help them in their situation.

What are the basics that every trainer needs to know?

Once we determined the foundation for instructor-led, participant-centered training, then everything builds on top of that. That took a lot of time, blood sweat and tears, self-evaluation, team evaluation, and company evaluation. It’s called “boot camp” for a reason. Boot camp is simply that: a foundation for building your next steps. Once we decided what the foundation principles were, we had to determine what techniques could be duplicated and replicated. If you can’t do either, you’ve wasted time and money on both sides.

The new BPG Boot Camp Workbook is a world of difference. I spent endless hours refining and revising content so that trainers can duplicate and replicate the process. Boot camp gives you all the tools you need as a trainer!

So, what’s next?

McCallum is looking forward to retirement! He will be a tour director for bus tours across the United States! He’s off to see the world and tell others how great it is. His next trip is to the Arctic … wow!