Most courses have huge dropout rates.
And yet that's not the case for some teachers and trainers. What makes some courses so dramatically different? The slightly surprising answer is that the course material itself can doom the course. If that makes no sense, follow along, because there's a method to this madness. Find out how to create a scenario where clients never want to leave.
If someone doesn't do something they signed up for, should you throw them out like a bad apple?
The answer is almost irrelevant, because what applies to a course, should then apply equally to life. Let's say you're a trainer that believes in a rigid mentality of “you're in, or you're out”. Well, how would we apply that concept to life?
If you signed up to be a parent, and your kid didn't eat her meal, does your kid get taken away?
If you signed up to get your electric supply from the utility company, and you forget to pay your bill, should the utility company throw you out and refuse to supply power forever more?
If you bought yourself a meal and didn't feel like eating it, hence abandoning the meal, should you be forever banned from the restaurant?
The logic of throwing out a client bases itself on these three “theoretical” scenarios. It says: If you're not 100% in, you're out. And that would be a very harsh world indeed. I can't think of one of us who hasn't run a red light, has not told several dozens of lies and who've at some level failed to keep a promise.
We continue to exist because we make this world more forgiving. One may say: that's only the philosophy of it all. I think philosophy is important. It's what allows us to make decisions that are beneficial to us.
This concept, by the way, also applies to countries and torture tactics. If you read about how the intelligence community works, you'll quickly realise that a lot of information can be gathered through cooperation, not coercion.
Coercion leads a person to tell you what you want to hear. This isn't to suggest that cooperation can always be obtained, but the chances of getting results tends to be better through cooperation than coercion.
Once we get past the philosophy, we can dig into the method. Is it truly possible to get clients to finish a course? What causes them not to finish a course? What can you do to help them get there? And do you even have to incentivise them at all? (the short answer is NO).
Let's get to the method, shall we?
The three points I'll cover:
– A Mindset Flip: How do you design a course where clients never want to leave?
– The Core Understanding: No one really wants your course or product.
– The Importance of Groups and the Safe Zone.
Part 1 – A Mindset Flip: How do you design a course where clients never want to leave?
You may (or may not have heard) of the watercolour story of my nieces, Keira and Marsha.
Keira was not really interested in drawing saying bluntly to me, “I can't draw”. She's 9 now, so she knows her mind. Marsha on the other hand will go along with a plan, because of her nature, but she too rated swimming as a 10/10 and drawing at a 5, which in a teenager's rating system is the closest thing to “meh”.
Four months later, the biggest highlight of their week is drawing class every Friday
What changed, you may ask? The answer is “fun”. From the very first session, the big idea was to have fun. They'd arrive on a Friday at 6 pm, and the music would soon be blasting.
They pour themselves drinks, complain about each other's parents, chomp through chips and dance. The drawing class is supposed to be from 6-7:30 pm. We conveniently shove it into the last section and give them just 30 minutes to draw and paint.
This usage of time might seem incredibly wasteful for most trainers
A course, a workshop, any kind of course should be about getting the biggest squeeze out of the day, shouldn't it? Yet, when you get to a Psychotactics workshop, for instance, you'll notice these enormous gaps in between the work. And some of these gaps came about by fluke while others were meticulously designed.
Take the Singapore Sales Page Workshop, for example. The meeting room was on the fourth floor, I think. No coffee or tea was available as it was just a meeting room, nothing more. To get to our coffee, we had to descend four floors, cross over to another building complex, get on an escalator, and 10-12 minutes later, we'd start to order the coffee.
The entire sequence of returning to the room played out in reverse. When you consider 20 minutes of travel and about 30 minutes of coffee time, that's a staggering
50 minutes of wasted time. And just for good measure, we'd do it thrice a day: two coffee breaks and lunch (which was even longer).
Can you spot what's common between my nieces and those doing the workshop?
Sure you can. It's all downtime and mostly fun time. To understand why all of this fun time is so important, you have to understand the “want factor”. The “want factor” is when people say they want something, but they actually want something quite else. Which goes to suggest that clients who come to a workshop will tell you one thing but want quite the other. What's worse is they don't know what they really want, at least at the start.
To test this theory out, let's ask the question: What do clients want when they attend a workshop?
The obvious answer is “to get all the possible information”. But let's say you were to give them not just the information, but twice as much. Instead of ending their day at 4 pm you go on until 8 or 9 pm every night. See the look of horror on their face? The clients say they want to learn more but when given the chance to do so, they want to escape from the room. They're focused on the EXIT sign. When they get up and move they're having fun. They talk, they move, they engage.
The same principle applies to any group either online or offline
A group in the midst of a course may assure you they're there to learn, and indeed they are. Even if you're not just giving information, but are imparting a skill, they're still having to work super-hard. Every day is a pain and what you're effectively saying is, “learning is hard, learning is not fun, learning is practice, practice, practice”. Is it any wonder why people simply drop out?
Let's not forget the goal in this quest for fun
Marsha and Keira still paint amazingly well week after week and in barely 30 minutes. The students who come to our workshop, come back time and time again, almost demanding another workshop as soon as possible. Clients who do one Psychotactics course, will do anywhere between 2-5 courses even though the courses cost a few thousand dollars.
The goal of imparting a skill is not throw to the wind. Instead, it's part and parcel of the entire learning experience. However, in the quest for skill, we have to make sure there's no overload. That at all times, clients are just 5-10% outside their comfort zone. And that even while they're shaky on day one of the assignment, they get reasonably comfortable by the end of the week.
If the assignment needs two weeks, then two weeks are what they'll get. They get to a stage where the new learning is no longer something to be feared, but something they have a decent grasp over.
How can you design a course where clients never want to leave?
Instead of trying to make them stay, how about creating something that's so much fun that they dread the thought of the course ending, even though the course has only just begun? This course design involves a great deal of preparation and understanding of what clients really want. But the core of what they want is this:
• They want to have fun. What can you do to make it fun for them? Are the groups having a blast or is everyone sulking in their own corner?
• What skill can you guarantee? With all the coffee breaks and trek up and down, we guarantee the skill. That is the primary reason clients come back. If all you can do is guarantee more information, more slides and more notes, well, that’s the hell that most courses put us through. Which is why learning is such a pain in the butt.
• Do you design the assignment so that they can control it reasonably well within the week? And what if they can’t? Do you have the breathing space for two weeks? People who struggle aren’t having fun. If you don’t design a course with lots of breathing space (and breaks) your clients are always going to feel like they’re running uphill. Guess what happens next?
Most trainers talk about the mythical concept of course completion
Course completion is like finishing school. Yippee, yahooey. What's the point of simply going from start to end? People want to have fun along the way as well. If you design badly, your clients will be miserable and then a bad teacher blames the student.
A good teacher looks for pockets of fun. Be that teacher. The teacher you always wanted to have. Start with the mindset flip in your own brain and watch how it changes the behaviour of your clients.
Part 2: The Core Understanding: No one really wants your course or product.
What does the mother want? The labour pains or the baby?
Pretty pointless question when you think about it, right? Then why is it that we all tend to focus on the labour pains as the main selling point? Why do we put our product or course on a pedestal? When you really stop and think about it, would a client want to do an Article Writing Course? Would they really?
Would you want to put yourself through three months of discipline just so you can write quickly and with confidence? What if you could have a fairy godmother wave a magic wand and gift you the ability to write like a dream?
You get the point, don't you?
No one really wants your product or course. No one wants your book, your workshop, your whatever-it-is-you're-selling. They want the end result, that's for sure. And if they have to go through your book or your course and workshop, they want something else. They want to enjoy the journey.
Let's think of a long journey, shall we?
Let's say you're flying all the way from Auckland to say, Houston. That's 15 hours of non-stop travel. The goal isn't getting on the plane and definitely not sitting on the plane. Which is why airlines make the journey at least a bit palatable. You have a meal in the skies, imagine that. Many meals, in fact.
And that keeps most of us busy. If we're not eating, we're watching endless videos on our personal screen. The journey—that 15 hour journey—is tedious at best, but take away all of the meals, TV screens and get you to sit on a bench like in those bombers and you'll notice that you're suddenly looking for a parachute.
People leave courses because it's plainly not fun
And for it to be fun, the responsibility of the student must lie with the teacher. Yes, there are dozens of things to be done with regard to course design, but one of the most important point is to know your student. For instance, on a Psychotactics course there are participants that love to make long posts.
The assignment might be 800 words long but the discussion that follows might exceed 2000 words. That participant may want to talk about their family, the challenges they've had in the day. etc. On the other hand, there are participants that don't say much. They participate, do what's required and they're off. As a teacher you need to understand individual needs, much like airlines do.
Even the airlines figured out that one movie doesn't suit everyone
If you flew anywhere until the early 2000's, you had to watch the movie everyone watched. Now, it's personalised, isn't it? And the teacher needs to know, as far as possible how to work with every student; how to make the shy ones more comfortable in the group; when to push and when to let things go.
All of this is about making the journey more interesting. However, if you believe that your course is all about the content and the teaching then you're hopelessly off the mark.
The journey needs to be fun
The teacher needs to know, as far as possible, how to incentivise you as an individual. Be a better airline and you'll become a better teacher. Focus on the journey and how to make it fun.
Part 3: The Importance of the Group and Safe Zone
Who's the most important person in an orchestra?
If you said, “the conductor of the orchestra”, you'd be right. But you'd also be slightly off the mark, and here's why. The conductor may choose the music that's to be performed. They may well make adjustments, to the tempo, the phrasing, articulation. And they will then convey this vision to the performers. But eventually, it's the performers that make the music.
In a course, a similar situation occurs
A trainer might believe they're in charge and is more than likely to have an overrated self of importance. Yet, the real force behind the achievement are the groups themselves. And there's a pretty good reason why. But before we get to the reason, let's deviate a second to a horrible situation.
Let's get to a group where there's chaos
A group where everyone's trying to get attention at the cost of the others. A group that's not systematically been put together on the basis of male/female, existing and new, introvert and extrovert. In short, it's like having an orchestra where there are seventeen trumpets and one violin. A group that's not carefully vetted is a recipe for disaster. And sadly, that's what most groups happen to be like, online or offline.
The reason orchestras make such beautiful music is because the group has been carefully picked
At Psychotactics, we take a lot of care to filter the clients that enter a group. And even when they're part of a course or workshop, there's additional care taken to make sure there's a clear reason why every person is part of the group. Finally, a group is never fewer than six or seven members, a figure we've found that works very well to get a group to trust each other.
Yet, no matter how well a group is chosen, there's no reason to believe they will work well together. We know there's safety in numbers and there should be safety in a group, but that's not the way a client feels. They almost immediately feel unsafe. They're in a crowd full of strangers and that is a problem that needs to be resolved right away.
In a workshop or seminar, this issue is resolved the day before
A group that's too large ends up being totally pointless. You're just one of 50 or more people. You try to connect, but can't. Once again, we used to keep the workshop group to below 35 in all. And since 2015, the group sizes at workshops have been just 16. This small number lets the group members get to know each other. And that camaraderie starts on the day before the event.
The evening before, everyone meets at 5 pm and are introduced to each other. They get to see the room, are told what to expect and then we all go to dinner. In recent workshops, we've pushed that evening to a whole day. In Brussels, the group went to the Tintin Museum. In Munich we'll be going also heading to the town centre to museum and then for lunch, and finally for dinner.
At this point, the introverts amongst us might feel a bit of pressure
Yet, most of the activities are designed for small sets of people. The group might be about 16-strong, but they get to know smaller sets of about 3-4 people. The afternoon passes, so does the evening. Instead of a bunch of strangers walking into the room next morning, the energy is the room is one of friends meeting yet again.
The same kind of fun element can be created on an online course
Instead of rushing headlong into the course, we tend to spend the first week doing extremely simple, almost too simple exercises. What's really happening at this stage?People are still in their unsafe zone, despite being systematically put in groups.
Because the assignment is simple, they first get to know members of their small group of 6-7. Then they go outside that inner circle and meet others. In short, a bonding ritual starts to build up, and it takes all week.
Why is all of this bonding not a waste of time, and instead useful to the learning?
Group dynamics are such that members of the group don't want to let the group down. The violinist may not have had much to do with the guy who's handling the cow bell, but once they've had dinner and gotten along, they're now keen on seeing each other get to the finish line.
You'd think they take their lead from the conductor, and yes, they do. But the smart conductor knows that it's in her interest to make the group trust each other. In a course or workshop, when paired together, a group desperately wills and encourages their members to completion.
When someone feels like giving up, they don't feel as much allegiance to the teacher as they feel to the group. A group that is built to work together and trusts each other is such a wonderful tool, that only a fool of a trainer would believe that it's all about them.
And it's this bonding that creates a massive safety cordon
It's only when people are safe do they start to relax. When they relax, they learn faster and better. If you've done your job well, they won't just be working on the assignments. Instead, they'll be talking about ice-cream, their family, the movies and a whole bunch of other stuff. The more they interact and let their hair down, the greater the chances of them getting to a result, and getting the skill.
Offline, in a workshop or seminar setting, you still have the clients in a room. In a weird sort of way they're hostages because they've travelled a long distance, booked hotels, etc. It's online, however, where you really can test the mettle of a trainer, because despite being in different countries, from different cultures and professions, the trainer has to keep the group going right to the very end.
It's easy to blame the clients.
It's a lazy move. It's the way bad trainers shirk their responsibility. Instead a trainer needs to pay close attention to these three points.
– To design a course where clients never want to leave
– The core understanding: no one really wants your course or product.
– The importance of groups and the safe zone
And there's a big payback for all of this hard work
If you've been part of Psychotactics for a while, you'll find that courses fill up in 24 hours, sometimes even 24 minutes. It seems ridiculous that a course can fill up almost as though people are buying tickets for a rock concert. And yet, it's not very hard to see why the course fills up so quickly. Very few new clients get in.
Instead, over 50-70% are repeat clients. Some clients have been to every course we've ever had on their content; done every course we've ever hosted online. With this level of due diligence you don't have to resort to advertising or a ton of hoopla. Clients come back on their own accord, just as musicians go back home and reunite for another concert tour.
It takes time to get your act together when designing courses and workshops. Don't be in a hurry yet. But bear in mind that you're just the conductor. The real force are the performers. They're the ones that make the music.
Pot of clay.