How to Impress Your Audience with Technical Training

Jack Zakarian, JAZTech Consulting, LLC

Today’s world is fast-paced, technology-driven, and constantly changing. Continual training has become essential for all of us – whether it be for learning how to use new devices, improving your career prospects, or learning the basic functions of your current job. But learning and retaining this new information can be difficult if the material is dense, impractical, or mundane.  

Many of us have endured training classes on and off the job that left us with little knowledge retention or improved skill. During my 37-year career with Chevron Lubricants, I observed and shared the pain with my fellow employees over ineffective and uninteresting training classes. When I was asked in 1992 to deliver technical training to our sales force, marketers, and independent distributors, I made a conscious effort to develop training programs that delivered information in an enjoyable, useful, and memorable way.

Since that first training session, I have spent more than 20 years training thousands of people, and I have consistently had high reviews on the impact of my training. In this article, I’ll describe the key principles that will help you become an effective trainer. Even if you are never asked to deliver training yourself, these principles will help you evaluate classes and suggest improvements.

To help remember the key principles, I coined the acronym IMPRESS – which you can use to capture your audience’s attention and leave them with lasting, helpful knowledge. To impress your audience, your training presentation needs to be:

  • I – Interesting (Best done by knowing your audience)
  • M – Memorable (Give them aids to remember what you said)
  • P – Passionate (If you don’t care much, why should your audience?)
  • R – Relevant (Why is the information important?)
  • E – Educational (Make sure they learn something)
  • S – Sticky / “Seat worthy” (Keep their attention)
  • S – Simple (Make sure you don’t lose them)

Make It Interesting

A training session consists of three principal components:

  1. Information to be presented.
  2. The presenter.
  3. The audience.

The best presenters make an effort ahead of time to understand their audience. The audience is the most important part of the class, and the training material should be tailored to meet their needs.

Before my marketer training presentations, I looked over a survey sent to the attendees weeks before the class began and noted who was coming, where they were from, and why they were attending. I used this knowledge during my talk to not only engage with audience members on a personal level, but also to present the class material in a way that fit their abilities and expectations.

For example, if you are giving technical training to salespeople, you don’t want to focus on complex, scientific details. Instead, you want to help your audience understand how technology provides lubricant products with features that end users need.

Make It Memorable

There are many ways to make your training memorable. This includes utilizing:

  • Mnemonic devices.
  • Humor.
  • Stories.
  • Unexpected behaviors.
  • Songs or rhymes.
  • Well-designed slides and presentations.

A mnemonic device, such as an acronym, is a tool to help your audience retain your information. For example, when I taught the freshman chemistry lab class at the University of California, Berkeley, I used several mnemonic devices to help students remember the basics of oxidation-reduction reactions.

Figure 1 is a picture of Leo the Lion who is growling and saying “ger” (think “grrrr”). LEO is shorthand for “Lose Electrons Oxidation”, and GER represents “Gain Electrons Reduction”. Those are the fundamental definitions of oxidation and reduction.

In addition, you can remember the terms “anode” and “cathode” by noting that the Anode is where Oxidation occurs, and A and O are both vowels. Similarly, the Cathode is where Reduction occurs, and C and R are both consonants.

Figure 1. Mnemonic device to help remember oxidation and reduction. 

Make It Passionate and Relevant

There are many interconnections among the seven key principles in the IMPRESS system. For example, a presenter who is passionate about the subject material will usually make the class both more interesting and memorable.

Think of past training classes that you have attended. Are there classes that stood out because of the presenter? In some cases, the presenter is more memorable than the material presented! I probably went overboard with my own displays of passion, mixed with humor, during my gear lubricant training sessions. I developed a persona called “The Gear Doctor” and would interrupt the class with an emergency signal in order to change into my doctor’s outfit (see Figure 2). I would then sing a song about how to fix ailing gearboxes.

Figure 2. The Gear Doctor in action. 

I used this technique not only to reinforce the subject material I had just covered but also to keep the students’ attention and show them there are people who really care about gear lubrication. This reinforces another element of IMPRESS, which is Relevance. It’s hard to project a great passion for a topic without convincing people of its relevance. Every presenter needs to find ways to convince their students that the class material is useful and important in some way.

Make It Educational and Seat Worthy

It should be obvious that training classes need to be educational. However, I have been to many that didn’t fulfill that basic objective. Often the class will fail to educate because it lacks the other elements of the IMPRESS system. For example, if you can’t remember what you learned, then it wasn’t very educational! If you were uninterested in either the speaker or the material, or both, then you won’t retain any knowledge from the class.

A presenter needs to work at making the class educational. A good way to do this is to think about what material should be retained by the students well after the class is over. It is a certainty that people will forget most of what you taught. Given this fact, the presenter needs to focus on the key points that will stick in long-term memory. The trainer also needs to focus on how to make the key points interesting, memorable, and relevant. Finally, it is a good practice to leave the students with either a printed or digital copy of the training material. This allows the students to recall the information if needed in the future.

You should also aim to make your talk “seat worthy” or “sticky”, which are terms I use to describe your ability to keep someone’s full attention. In these days of short attention spans and instant electronic gratification, it is harder to keep the attention of an audience. This is especially true if you are doing remote training. In such cases, making your talk “seat worthy” is even more critical because your audience can get up and leave at any time. When you make your class interesting, display passion, and engage with your audience, you have a much better chance of keeping people in their seats.

Make It Simple

This is a concept that is often ignored by technical people in their zeal to present as many details as possible. I have been to many technical presentations where the slides were so cluttered with numbers and pictures that I couldn’t read or understand anything. I have also been to talks where so many equations were displayed that I lost track of the training’s main point.

Maybe presenters cram a lot of material onto one slide because they want the audience to have as much information as possible. If that is the case, then the slideshow should be designed with an appendix (which is not shown during the talk). The appendix can contain all the details needed for future reference by the student.

A trainer should also not assume that the students have any familiarity with the subject matter. If they did, they probably wouldn’t be taking the class! Instead, design your talk so that you start from the basics and add important details from there.

Use visuals, if you can, to reinforce the message. Do not use pretty clip-art pictures that are unrelated to your direct message. The heavy use of inapplicable photos and drawings will only distract attention from your main points. Use graphs, instead of tables, when possible.

I had an embarrassing reminder of my own advice when I recently presented a talk at a technical convention. My first draft of the talk showed excessive amounts of data in a table (see Figure 3). The point of Figure 3 is to show the results of using different viscosity-temperature equations to fit a set of data. One data source was from the American Petroleum Institute (API 42), and another data source was from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).

We used five different equations, and each equation had four different versions, for a total of 20 equations. “AMAE” signifies the average mean absolute error from the data fit, and SPAE is the sum of the percent absolute errors of fit for all of the data points.

Figure 3. Data from a study on viscosity-temperature equations. 

One of my co-authors reviewed the slides and asked if I could represent Figure 3 in a simpler form. I took the advice and graphed the table data, shown in Figure 4. Figure 4 uses only one of the data sources, the API viscosity-temperature data. Another Figure could be prepared using the second data source from ASME. Figure 4 is certainly easier to understand than Figure 3, yet they present the same data.

Figure 4. Data from Figure 3 shown in a simpler form. 


In today’s digital world, it can be difficult to train people. For many, their daily work tasks are overwhelming, leaving little time to even schedule a training class. There are also so many items competing for a person’s attention that it is hard to set aside time to focus, think, and learn.

Your job as a trainer is to know your audience and capture their attention. Once you have done that, it is your job to convey your message in a way that will make an impression and help the student learn. Use the IMPRESS principles to design your talks. You don’t have to sing, dance, or tell jokes. Be yourself. Be passionate. Believe in your message and make your message believable and memorable. Try pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. You and your audience may both enjoy it!

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