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How Disney Taught Me to Be a Better Trainer

Monday, May 13, 2019
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After attending ATD 2018 in San Diego, I visited Disneyland Park in Anaheim with my husband and adult daughter. To be truthful, it was the fourth Disney park we would visit after Disneyland Paris, Walt Disney World, and Tokyo Disney. I went somewhat reluctantly because I had seen it all before—three times! Ho-hum.

And yet, there was nothing ho-hum about it!

I spoke to families that day who go to Disneyland every year and had been for generations (such a strange concept for us Australians!). I began to wonder what it is that Disney does that continues to surprise and delight visitors regardless of how many times they visit? And how can I as a corporate trainer learn from this?

Here are five things Disney taught me about how to be a better trainer:

1. The experience begins before you arrive. Disney sends welcome emails that build excitement and encourages guests to check the website for upcoming special events.

I send welcome videos introducing myself and building excitement for a workshop. Sometimes I send “lumpy mail”—participants receive a small item that has relevance to the workshop content.

2. How you greet people matters. At Disney parks, the lines can be long. Regardless, workers greet guests with a smile, engage them in conversation, and wish them a great day.

When someone walks into my training room, no matter what I’m doing, I always approach and greet them warmly. I ask (and remember) their name. I try to find something we have in common and engage in brief conversation. Because they have seen me on the welcome video, they feel they already know something about me, so the conversation is easy.

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3. The physical environment has a big impact on the experience. Every area of a Disney park has a different theme, and the physical environment reflects it. It’s interesting notice for yourself and others how each theme makes guests feel, from the mysterious jungles of Adventureland to the whimsy of Fantasyland and the “olde world” feel of the Main Street.

Setting up your training room is equally important. I use posters and props and even change the room setup depending on the topic I am teaching. I also have music (appropriate to the topic) playing as participants walk in and during the breaks.

4. Variety is the spice of life. A day at Disneyland is not just about rides! There are shows and parades, walkthroughs and shops, special appearances by Disney characters, and themed restaurants. There is even an app you can use to explore the park while you wait to get on a ride.

When designing our workshops, we need to add a variety of experiences. I typically try to include some combination of group work, pairs work, individual reflection, card sorts (small on tables and large on walls), online interactive platforms, games, activity stations, and so much more! You are limited only by your imagination.

5. How you end the day matters. A typical day at Disneyland ends with the parade—an all-singing, all-dancing, special effects–moving spectacular. It serves to leave visitors feeling upbeat and happy, eager to come back again.

I talk to trainers a lot about “ending with a bang.” We want our learners to finish on a high, excited about what they have just learned and looking forward to the next time they spend the day with us.

Rather than approach the close with a less-than-inspiring slide summary of the day’s events, consider techniques like learning circles, where you gather the learners in a circle and participants share their takeaways from the program, or a balloon wall, where each balloon contains a key topic from the program inflated and attached to the wall. Participants choose a balloon, burst it, and share what they’ve learned about that topic. You can also try a game show format, where contestants answer questions related to the content covered.

Let’s consciously move away from the ho-hum in our training rooms. Applying the lessons from Disney has certainly helped me refine my craft and enabled me to continue to surprise and delight my learners. That means all of us look forward to a return visit!

About the Author

Tania Tytherleigh is a professional speaker and corporate trainer who leads the Master Trainers Institute Australia. She has presented at national and international conferences including CPA Congress (Melbourne), LearnX (Sydney), the New Zealand Human Resources Institute Annual Conference, the Australian Shared Services Association conferences and many more. Tania speaks on, and shares her expertise in, the art of connecting with others - be that in training rooms, in teams, with stakeholders or peers. She is known for her engaging style and her expertise in providing highly interactive, relevant and practical learning experiences that capture hearts and minds and create real behavior change.

4 Comments
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This article has inspired me to include more engaging activities in a session I'm developing.
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This article attracted my attention because I just love Disney)But as soon as I started reading read, I realised how many good advices this article contains. Thank you for this fun and very relevant information!
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As a trainer for my company and an ATD member I found this article to be very very useful! Full of nuggets which can easily be applied, I am excitedly looking forward to implementing some of these suggestions in my next sessions. Thanks Tania!
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