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Nigel Walpole Maximising Attendance on Training Courses

“If only people would take up available places on in-house training courses…even if they do book they end up dropping out… using all sorts of feeble excuses”

Have you ever wondered how to:

  • Increase the number of people who want to attend learning events
  • Have participants who know what they want to get from those events
  • Get people to provide feedback on how an event has improved their performance

Over the years we have worked with many client organisations to develop the following strategies to achieve these aims – of course, some of the strategies will only work in certain organisations or cultures and some require financial investment. Others are clearly just good practice.

Hopefully one of these strategies will help engage your people to invest their time in staff training and development.

Marketing Message/Marketing Medium

When designing any marketing to promote learning events it is really important to ensure that they demonstrate why a participant would want to attend and what it will mean for them in terms of their job and for them personally. Too many event flyers and programme outlines only tell potential participants what will be covered or generic information about why it might help.

To help managers and staff identify programmes that are likely to be of benefit to them it will help to link the programmes clearly to:


  • Particular levels or grades
  • Particular specialisms
  • The organisational competency framework and performance management process

Critique your marketing message. We often find that organisations only have one key message which is frequently “this is what we offer and when you can attend”.

It is definitely advantageous to consider other ways to hook your audience and design your marketing message around that hook. For example:

Greater personal success, future prospects, improved performance, better results, more successful working relationships, etc.

Marketing research suggests that marketers need to engage with potential ‘customers’ up to seven times before they will commit, so when designing your strategy you should consider whether you can promote it seven times and in a variety of ways to engage with different audiences.

A ‘Learning’ Organisation

Consider whether your organisation would consider itself to be a 'Learning Organisation'.

Look at ways to increase individuals ‘buy in’ to learning in general. You should consider:

  • Checking how valued your performance / development review system is and if the process is applied. Is there room for improvement? A well applied performance appraisal / development review system will automatically create more requests for development.
  • Consider focusing your marketing on ensuring that managers support staff in their development. Encourage that they work with them before any development to agree outcomes and objectives, and after the development process to support the participants’ application of the learning.
  • Impressing on departments, leaders and participants that learning is important. Some organisations provide monthly or quarterly reports on who is taking up learning and what percentage of time is spent on development.
  • Looking at the KPI results and taking a proactive approach by working with teams leaders who are not performing as well as others to identify whether there are any team needs.
  • Making life easy for potential participants and their managers. As soon as it gets onerous to book or managers need to fill in numerous forms, your level of bookings will drop. Managers in particular need easy access to relevant information about all courses their staff are likely to need.


Wherever possible generate PR and capitalise on good feedback. All too often good experiences are not recorded or related back into the organisation. Wherever possible speak to participants and promote their experiences on your website and in internal communications

You should consider the following:Man _Soap Box

  • Identify ways that will enable participants to share their learning with other colleagues i.e. feedback page on intranet
  • Elicit feedback and examples that can be used in your marketing materials
  • Openly publish which divisions or departments are spending the most on learning. This can be very powerful when spend on learning is linked to increased performance or specific business benefits, especially if it can be seen that the lack of spend also has a correlation with less effective performance.
  • Nominate your programmes for awards
  • Encourage staff to vote for managers who support learning as part of a competition 


Consider whether it would help to brand your whole L&D offering and/or specific programmes or events.

Branding specific programmes or events can be useful to help you portray a specific message or help an event stand out from the crowd.

Someone experiencing poor sign-up once said to me that they had launched a course called ‘Getting Yourself Promoted ‘- it proved very popular!

Continuous Improvement

Wherever possible carry out research (via focus groups) to understand why people are or are not taking up training and development opportunities. We have found the following to be common reasons - ones that can be readily addressed:

  • Participants don’t actually know the process for booking onto an event and don’t like to ask
  • They cannot afford time out of the workplace - if this is a genuine concern then consideration should be given for bite-sized sessions, web based events and e learning options (alternatively, have a look at my recent blog containing top tips for time management)
  • The needs of those who work part time are not catered for
  • The location of the event is not easily accessible
  • The waiting list is too long 


Consider whether the provision of an accredited programme would be of value to participants. Many participants are prepared to invest more time and effort if they know they are able to achieve a qualification at the end.

Capitalise on Sign Up

Once someone has asked to attend a programme look for ways to 'cement' their booking. This can just mean that every communication they receive after signup confirms that they have made a good decision and not attending would be detrimental to them.

You can achieve this by:

  • Issuing a confirmation email with joining instructions
  • Joining instructions highlighting ‘what’s in it for them
  • A taster or pre-reading list, or other information prior to attendance
  • Telephoning the participant to ask them for personal objectives. Send these to the tutor in time for the programme.
  • Asking the manager to confirm that they have discussed with the participant their reasons for attending and what they expect the participant to be able to know/do differently on their return. Loyalty cards. When participants can demonstrate their application of learning they can earn credits and can redeem them for something
  • Consider charging them for the event out of their own budget i.e. Internal charging - or in reverse they / their department get a 'credit' when they do attend

However much effort you put in, you’ll never completely stop the ‘feeble excuses’ for non-attendance but you’ll be able to say:

 “I set the bar high” 

Contact us to discuss how we can help you create a learning and development strategy that your people will buy into.

Nigel Walpole

Nigel Walpole, MD, Bray Leino Learning

In my series of blogs I’ll talk through my thoughts on some of the key issues facing managers in the workplace - lessons learnt, tips for success and general musings.

Copyright © 2014 Bray Leino Learning

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