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To Make Hotel Training Work, Make It Fun!


by Doug Kennedy 
July 30, 2009

As hotel industry trainers we all know just how excited our frontline associates typically get when notified of an upcoming training workshop or seminar, which is of course not very!  Certainly, many participants are excited about new-hire orientation and their initial departmental training. 

Yet as experts in adult learning theory will tell you, it’s much more challenging to train adults in a workplace setting then it is even students in a University.  Perhaps the problem lies not with the participants becoming close-minded after graduating from high school or college and moving into the workplace; but rather with trainers who don’t understand how to engage and involve adult participants in an active learning experience. 

I have to admit learning this all too well the hard way, back when I was first starting out as a hotel industry trainer twenty years ago this month.  I recall all too well about halfway through my first training class, which happened to be on the subject of reservations selling skills at The Westbury in Manhattan, that almost every participant was starting to nod-off or had already fallen completely asleep.  This wasn’t out of a lack of respect, as they had all been polite and seemed to be embarrassed when I looked their way. Thankfully my mentor back then and still today, Howard Feiertag, had suggested an activity for me.  He said to assign participants to place phone calls to other area hotels so we could talk about how the training techniques could have been used. From that moment on and for the rest of the class I had their attention. 

Still it took me many years to fully comprehend just how important it is to make training interactive, engaging, and most importantly fun, especially if you want it training to stick.  In the past I have to admit being overly-ambitious regarding how many strategies, tips or techniques I could cover in one program.  Certainly, my workshops covered every workbook page and overhead slide, and the evaluations where always very positive.   Yet in looking back I have to wonder how much of my training actually transferred to the workplace.  Certainly, there are always self-motivated superstars who will memorize and use the content of every workbook page; but to affect a larger-scale change of behavior in the workplace I have learned that training must be more than informative – it must also be engaging. 

Perhaps for the defining moment for this realization came also early on in my career after I had just conducted a hospitality and guest service excellence workshop for a hotel in Charleston, SC.  Now if you’ve ever been to any of my programs or read my articles on this subject, you’ll know that the one point I reiterate constantly is that no guest should ever be greeted simply with “Checkin’ in?” as so many front desk agents still don’t seem to realize even today.  I’m sure this point was referenced at least 4 times during my talk and was on just as many overhead transparency slides, (since we didn’t use PowerPoint yet!) 

So there I was waiting in the lobby for my taxi, right after the workshop.  Can you imagine how I felt as a trainer when right in front of me one of my freshly-trained participants greeted a guest with those very dreaded words “Checkin’ in?” which we had talked about all day? 

 It was then that my paradigm shifted.  It is not to say that my workshops weren’t more interactive at the time, but I obviously wasn’t getting through to everyone just yet.  At that time I made a commitment to making my future training workshops even more interactive, enjoyable and fun.  I believe it was my very next workshop when we started videotaping roll-play reenactments of the skills learned during training.  This of course allowed participants to practice these simple procedures, such as properly welcoming a guest upon arrival by saying “Good evening! Welcome to our hotel (name)….” Followed by “May I have your last name please?” (if the guest walks in with luggage in their hand) 

It seems simple, and one has to wonder why we can’t just tell the participants what they need to say and do.  Yet by having them demonstrate the expected standard for behavior, it not only ensures everyone knows how to do it (the easy part) but more importantly they have accountability to actually use the skills they have been trained on.  If you pick the right options, activities that have participants demonstrate their newly-learned skills also make training more interactive and fun.  Here are some ideas for engaging participants during in-house training workshops and seminars: 

  • Use an alternative location for the training.  For larger hotels, use a meeting room versus the standard hotel staff training room which is usually in the basement with no windows.   Let your staff experience a meeting as your conference guests would. 
  • For smaller hotels with no meeting space, consider a fun off-site location such as a restaurant or other off-site meeting room. This demonstrates the importance of your training event and probably gives more space to spread out for activities and games. 
  • Set-up your training room in advance so that when the first participant arrives you can greet them and interact to build rapport. 
  • Start your training with a fun energizer that is adapted to your topic. There are many handbooks on this subject including the classic “Games Trainers Play” series. 
  • Organize your training content into “sound bites” of a maximum of 20 minutes of lecture format.  Go beyond this and you’ll watch the eyelids get heavy.
  • Use an interactive lecture style.  Instead of saying “Here are three reasons why this topic is important,” ask “Who can think of a reason why this topic is important for us today?” 
  • When participants hesitate to interact, such as the start of a program, first ask a question that is easy to agree to such as “Do you think the subject of hotel hospitality training is important?” When they all say “yes,” you can then ask “Why?” to draw-out their input.  They ones who responded “yes” are committed to participating! 
  • Following each 20 minute “training sound bite,” make sure you use a training game, activity, or exercise.  Ideally, have participants work in pairs or larger teams to create interaction. 
  • For most topics, if multiple departments are involved, be sure to assign the teams so as to break-up the participants from each department so they team-up with others, vs. having teams made only of one department.   (There are a few topics where having participants team-up with only their departmental co-works might work best.) 
  • Use a variety of training games, exercises, and activities.  One easy example is to simply video-tape and play back role-play reenactments of the learned behaviors as mentioned above.  A fun twist is to first have the participants demonstrate the wrong behavior or “way to do it” first, which helps break the ice and also reminds everyone there is a wrong way to avoid.  You can then have each participant then demonstrate the correct behavior or standard. 
  • Another technique is to use a short reading from a book or article which is moving. If you need an example, check out pages 30-31 of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People for what  I call the “Subway Story.” 
  • You can also show short online video clips from website such as YouTube and others that you can relate back to your topics.  Although useful, make sure video segments don’t exceed 5 minutes; ideally, it is best to show video segments just prior to an activity or break as watching training is in the end a passive experience.  Here are some suggestions:
By making training interactive, engaging and fun, you’ll maximize the transfer of training concepts from the workshop to the daily workplace.
Doug Kennedy, President of the Kennedy Training Network, has been a fixture on the hospitality and tourism industry conference circuit since 1989, having presented over 1,000 conference keynote sessions, educational break-out seminars, or customized, on-premise training workshops for diverse audiences representing every segment of the lodging industry. Ee-mail Doug at:

Doug Kennedy, President 
Kennedy Training Network
Phone: (954)981.7689

Also See: Front Desk Hotel Training Can Generate Future Business / Doug Kennedy / July 2009
Front Desk Training Is The Key To Capturing More Walk-In Business / June 2009
To Get More Bookings - Work With – Not Against Your Central Reservations Providers / Doug Kennedy / May 2009
Generate More Revenue By Making Training Everyone’s Job / Doug Kennedy / April 2009
Hotel Reservations Sales Training Tips - Circa 2009 / Doug Kennedy / March 2009
Is That the Best Rate You Have? - How to Train Your Voice Reservations Agents To Handle Today's Deal-Seekers / Doug Kennedy / February 2009
First Step In New Sales: Believe It Is Possible! / Doug Kennedy / January 2009
Good News Formula For RevPar in 2009 / Doug Kennedy / January 2009
Alluring Descriptions Are Key To Converting Hotel Reservation Callers / Doug Kennedy / November 2008
Bringing Out The Best from Our Most Negative Hotel Guests - Brings Out The Best In Ourselves / Doug Kennedy / October 2008
Profit Optimization Is Everyone's Job / Doug Kennedy / August 2008
Hotel Lessons Learned Growing Up In Kennedy Craft Shop / Doug Kennedy / July 2008
Personalized Hospitality Excellence Still A Deliverable! / Doug Kennedy / June 2008
Real Conversations vs Rigid Scripting Increases Reservations Productivity / Doug Kennedy / May 2008
Hotel Lessons Learned From A Five-Star School Principal / Doug Kennedy / April 2008
Road Warrior Shares Tips On How Hotel Guests Can Minimize Environmental Impact / Doug Kennedy / March 2008
Right-Sized Staffing Ensures Front Desk Sales & Service Success / Doug Kennedy / December 2007



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