05 December 2016

How to teach an old dog new tricks: Tailoring content for professionals


As a trainer or presenter, do you ever wonder how much of what you share is really getting through to your audience? How do you engage time-poor professionals effectively?

Professionals and adult learners are not school students; they have different priorities and resources, and as such respond to new ideas differently.

Here are a few tips to ensure that your message gets through to an adult audience: ensure your content is relevant, problem-centric, linked, necessary and succinct.

Ensure your content is relevant

This seemingly simple idea is often overlooked. I've lost count of the number of times when a presenter starts with ‘a brief history’ of their topic—which lasts 15 minutes.

People lose interest when information is not relevant to them, and may not even be paying attention when the actual content finally comes up.

Give your audience relevant reasons why they should listen to you, and they’ll be more likely to do so. Here are some ways to do so.

Provide problem-centric content

Learning out of sheer curiosity is a luxury many professionals don’t have. Instead, their learning purpose is often to keep abreast of developments in their field and to solve problems.

Therefore, these are the ways to increase their information retention:

  • Present a common problem and relate it to your information.
  • Create the scenario of a problem that can be solved by your information.

For example, when presenting the latest developments in a particular field, create the scenario of a problem that can only be solved with this new development. Alternatively, show how a person's life would be much harder without it.

While problems are great for illustrating training content, there are other ways to bring up positive or neutral stories that create effective learning experiences.

Link to previous experience

Adult learners find information easier to retain if you can link it to their past experience. This makes your job easier as they would have a lot of past experience to draw from, unlike school students.

Gathering background knowledge of your audience is often easy if you start with the target demographic.

  • Are your attendees graduates learning about the requirements of their first job?
  • Are you speaking to 20-year veterans there to meet the professional development requirements of their job?
  • What kind of profession is the target?

Even within the same business, there will be differences. For example, customer service representatives have different experiences than managers. If you link your information to a commonly relatable experience, the audience is more likely to retain the information you present.

While relevant information is important, that’s not the only thing to consider.

Prioritise necessary information

A lot of information is relevant to a person, but may be unnecessary to include in your presentation. Such information includes things that can be learnt through a simple Google search, or what people can find in a standard handbook for their job.

When introducing topics, it is often better to give the most important information only, and then provide a link to additional resources for those who wish to know more. This allows the presenter to present on a wide range of topics, with the participant choosing which is most relevant or interesting to them.

How effectively you can supplement your main presentation is often an issue of format.

  • In-person presentations may include links to extra information, but that relies on the participants remembering or recording that information.
  • Electronic learning systems such as Velpic allow users to embed links in their presentations. The advantage is that these links are clickable by participants, and the sessions are stored and can be re-watched at any time, either for information consolidation or to find these links.

When you stick to the bare essentials, it is easy to achieve the next content tip.

Keep it short and succinct

The optimum duration for a learning session is 15 minutes, at a ballpark figure of two words per second.

Length can be reduced by omitting irrelevant or unnecessary information, but if there is still a lot of content, there are ways to make it easy to absorb.

  • You could split your learning session into several smaller sessions. This may be a logistical nightmare for physical seminars, but digitally, it is a very simple task. Microlearning is a new trend made possible by smartphones.
  • If the session itself cannot be split, inserting short quizzes or tests can serve as content refreshers and breaks. Quizzes and tests can also serve to reinforce ideas and consolidate the new learning while fresh in learners’ minds.

What next?

Although this all sounds fine and good, how easy it is to actually put into practice?

Here’s a great resource with 43 tips for adult learners to make your next presentation more spectacular than your last one.

If you’d like to explore how you can put these tips into action by leveraging Velpic’s innovative and disruptive LMS software, feel free to contact us at Velpic or sign up for a free trial.