How To Squeeze The Most Out Of Any Training Session

Last week, I attended a two-day training event called, “Crucial Conversations” by the innovative corporate training company, VitalSmarts, in Los Angeles. As the Director of Customer Service Training and Leadership Development for my company, The Bill Marsh Automotive Group, I make it a priority to attend one to two professional development events every year — something I highly recommend.

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Despite the fatigue of travel and a 3-hour time change, I was completely energized throughout the entire session. (I also visited my son, Will Marsh, who is launching his career as a world musician in LA, which added to my energy!) The content was rich, the learning pace was fast and intense, and my fellow attendees were talented, engaging learners from multiple backgrounds and industries — one of the advantages of being in a big international city like Los Angeles.

In reflecting on my trip, I realized that, given the considerable expense in time and money to attend events like these, you absolutely must go with a game plan — a set of physical and mental commitments planned in advance — in order to create the productive new habits and disciplines promised by the training. Otherwise, the experiences become what we in our company call “sunburn training” — that is, once you return and get back to your normal routine, most of what you learn wears off like a sunburn.

Based on my experience, here are five tips that I believe will help you optimize any training program or conference:

1) Sit in the front seat. Have you ever noticed in meetings, classrooms, and conferences, how the back seats fill up first? While most people scramble to sit in the back to avoid looking conspicuous, sitting up front not only projects confidence, it will position you to get more from the entire experience.

2) Sleep. Resist the temptation to indulge in sleep-depriving diversions, especially when you’re traveling. According to the latest research, our minds are extremely active during sleep, integrating new information learned during the day, processing memories, and sorting the significant from the meaningless stuff we remember. Getting enough sleep ensures your mind will be at it’s best.

3) Eliminate Distractions. This has become a much bigger issue than early in my career, when all you brought with you was a notebook and pen. As hard as it is, turn off your smart phone and don’t check your email the whole time you’re there. All it takes is one unexpected issue from the home office to hijack your focus and deplete your experience.

4) Create a crisp, one sentence self -introduction. One of the biggest benefits of off-site training is networking. Many times, I’ve learned as much from the contacts I made as I did from the training. Come prepared to make a positive impression by creating a succinct, positive summary of who you are and what you do and memorize it. Then shut up, listen, and learn — you will be amazed at what you can gain from others’ insights!

5) Review your notes immediately after the session. Since the flights home from LA to Traverse City took a full day (I had a four hour layover in Minneapolis), I pored over my notes, re-read the book, Crucial Conversations, and listened to podcasts on the subject, reinforcing everything I learned while it was still fresh in my memory. I cannot recommend this strongly enough. When you mentally anchor the most important content from your experience, you enable the creation of new habits and thought patterns. And isn’t that what “professional development” is all about?

If you have ever experienced the costly, time-wasting frustration of “sunburn training,” follow these simple but effective personal strategies to enhance any training experience!

What are your thoughts? What’s the most impactful conference or training you’ve experienced in recent years? Are there any other suggestions you have for maximizing your experience?

If you are interested in learning more about “Crucial Conversations,” watch this short video from Vital Smarts.

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    9 Responses to How To Squeeze The Most Out Of Any Training Session

    1. Mike Peacock June 11, 2014 at 7:55 pm #

      Networking is a valuble, resource effective method of surrounding yourself with your subject or agenda.
      One of the key things i’ve learned from networking at conferences is surrounding yourself with positive, successful people. Once you’ve introduced yourself to an individual or group of people assess their philosophies and personality traits. Are they on the same course as you? Do you feel positive about sharing information with these people? What can you learn from each other. After I’ve selected my colleagues I get their email addresses, websites, cell phone, business card, all the information I can, I document these people with their repective business. Then I have the resources needed to keep in contact with them.
      Usually you have to be the catalyst to initiate a networking agenda. People forget, get busy, lose focus, whatever. If you keep the subject burning and topical you can keep the ideas and dialogue going. Be tenacious and positive!

      • Bill Marsh, JR June 11, 2014 at 9:37 pm #

        Thanks for your insights, Mike. Your comments are right on; in fact, maybe you could conduct a training session entitled, “How to use networking to build your personal brand.” You’re spot on about being the initiator–people can be forgetful and often you need to be persistent.
        Although it’s been more than 20 years since you first interviewed with us, I still remember–and tell the story often–of when you walked into our showroom in Honor and introduced yourself. After interviewing multiple candidates who barely looked me in the eye, your world class intro told me everything I needed to know. The rest…is history!

    2. Mike Anderson June 12, 2014 at 7:56 am #

      I have had the pleasure of reading this book as well. My first thought was that the book should be part of required reading for any management team. The ability to remove conflict through skill proved advantageous in past leadership roles.

      Great post.

      • Bill Marsh, JR June 16, 2014 at 4:37 pm #

        Well said, Mike. We are strongly considering implementing Crucial Conversations training for our management team starting this fall. As you know, it has plenty of applications in the car business.
        Thanks again for your comments

    3. Cindy Weber June 12, 2014 at 8:51 am #

      Thanks for the great insight, Bill, and the book recommendation. Do you have a good source for finding great programs such as these to attend? Thank you!

      • Bill Marsh Jr June 18, 2014 at 4:19 pm #

        You’re welcome, Cindy. I hope all is well with you. One resource I would check out it You can sign up to receive their free newsletter, which contains some great content on leadership, communication, and change management.
        Another excellent resource is Michael is a former CEO who blogs on productivity, leadership, relationship building etc. His site has connected me to numerous books, articles, conferences and other great resources.

    4. Paul Guyon June 13, 2014 at 10:40 am #


      I like the phrase “sunburn training” and your list is a good one. I agree the introduction is perhaps the most important thing you can prepare when in a networking situation. Many simply tell what you do and don’t zero in on the results they get, which I believe is key to letting someone know if they should listen or want to learn more about you.

      I also like the suggestion to sit in the front row, after all, we have to conspicuous if we want to truly help others!

      Good blog Bill!

      • Bill Marsh, JR June 16, 2014 at 4:42 pm #

        Good insight, Paul. I wish I could take credit for the term, “sunburn training.” I first heard it from an old acquaintance and it immediately resonated. I can’t tell you how much money we’ve wasted sending people to 3-day conferences; they’re fired up for a week or two, but with no consistent follow up, most return to their normal routines.
        Thanks again for your feedback.

    5. Mary Rogers August 2, 2015 at 10:17 pm #

      Bill, Great advice. I was lucky enough to read this while attending a conference in Dallas on podcasting. Feel like I was drinking from a fire hose for 4 days.

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