By Alexander Goh

Alexander is a rising sophomore at Yale-NUS and a summer intern at Skillseed. He’s interested in learning how to create ground-up sustainable change. He also likes corgis.

Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

They say elephants never forget. 

I must profess that I can’t quite relate to our pachyderm pals, and unless you’re eidetic or a literate elephant, I’d wager that you don’t possess the gift of total recall, either. Try as we might, human beings have a tiny window of attention and an extraordinarily brief memory span. As trainers, we understand that it’s not enough to create great content – we have to make sure that our audience both receives and retains our lessons. In order to create a truly unforgettable training session, we must strive not only to hold our participants’ attention during the session but also to ensure that our lessons remain with them long after they’ve left the classroom.

Remember: an engaged and attentive audience remembers much more than a bored one. This is how we make our participant’s memories more elephantine:

We Manipulate the Training Environment

We take note of seemingly minuscule details, like the arrangement of the tables and chairs, and the amount of lighting in the room.These details matter: for instance, if our participants are seated in a way which allows them to chitchat unnoticed by our trainers, their attention might be diverted. Making sure that our participants are seated so that they can see the trainers and the trainers can see them is an obvious step, but a crucial one nonetheless. 

We also make sure they can all see each other by arranging tables in semi-circles or clusters. We do this to avoid 'lecture'-style vibes, which triggers a very particular Pavlovian reaction in most of us. In other words: we get real sleepy real fast. By making sure that our participants can see each other, we provide a space for them to hold each other accountable for their learning. It's hard for participants to engage in interactive, peer-to-peer learning when the entire class is just facing the trainer. Our seating arrangement primes the group for a dynamic experience, where they are expected to actively participate and engage with their own learning, instead of passively absorbing information.

Ultimately, we manipulate the training environment to optimize engagement with our participants where possible, in order to cultivate an engaging, peer-to-peer learning environment.

We’re Unpredictable

However, there’s only so much we can do to manipulate our training environment. If the lights in class are too dim or ambient, our participants might be lulled to daydream. If our training session is scheduled after lunch, beware the dreaded food coma. What’s a trainer to do? 

A simple trick we use is to integrate techniques from other fields, such as social-emotional learning or the arts. For instance, we often start our training with a  “check-in”, during which our participants describe how they are feeling at that very moment using a metaphor (such as color, texture, weather or food item). It’s a little out of the left field, and that’s the point. Besides helping us gauge where everyone is at emotionally, the check-in is also unfamiliar to most participants, so they tend to be engaged by the activity.. At the very least, this unorthodox activity piques their curiosity – and a curious audience is a captive one.

The check-in is just one technique we’ve used to introduce unfamiliar, exciting elements into our training practices. For more information on other practices, check out our adaptations of techniques like Endowment Portraits or Prototyping with Legos.

Take Breaks

We’ve all been in a seminar which starts out great, and proceeds to go on… and on… and on. 

Enduring a seemingly interminable speech is painful for trainer and participant alike. The solution is obvious: incorporate brief breaks throughout the training session. Not only do such breaks allow participants the opportunity to process our content, but they also give them the chance to enjoy a quick rest before delving back into the training session, refreshed and raring to go. In short, breaking up a densely packed training session into digestible parts is really helpful, to avoid your audience’s eyes glazing over midway through your presentation.

Send out Periodic Reminders

It’s not enough to make sure that participants pay attention to our lessons; in order to create a genuine impact on them, we must make sure that they remember what they learned long after the class is over.

One handy way to stimulate participants’ memory of what they learned is to send  periodic reminders after the session. According to spaced repetition theory, if we receive reminders about a certain set of content at specific intervals, these prompts carve out a neural pathway which allows us to retain our memories of such content. With this in mind, we incorporate these regular reminders into our post-training follow-up processes: we send consenting participants emails one day, ten days, thirty days and ninety days after our training ends. The idea is that even an unopened email in your inbox will spark participants’ recollection of the training, allowing our lessons to embed themselves deeper in their memories.

To be honest, these emails serve a strategic business purpose, too – by reminding participants about the quality of our services, we also provide opportunities for them to collaborate with us on future projects.

Create Excellent Training Content

We wouldn’t have gone to these lengths to make our lessons unforgettable if we weren’t sure that our training content was worth remembering. Skillseed’s ultimate mission is to optimize the impact our lessons have on our participants and consequently, the impact our participants have on their communities and societies.

Most of our course alumni have done pretty well in this respect, and we believe that all of them possess the potential to change the world... if they paid enough attention to our lessons to remember how to apply themselves. 

Curious about our training programs? Check out this page or email us at for more information.