Throw Away Your Garbage Activities

Last week we featured a list of 20 training activities. This week I spoke at ATD ICE about how to implement those activities into a training session in the correct way. If you weren’t in San Diego for the conference (or if you were, but for some reason didn’t attend my fabulous session), here is a recap of what we did. Garbage activities – activities incorporated into a training session without strong ties to the objectives of the session – can be perceived by participants as a waste of their time and can damage your training brand. These sorts of activities have a few common characteristics.

A garbage activity does not match the “Phase of Instruction”

There are a few different models for phases of instruction. As I have mentioned before,  I prefer the model anchor, content, application, future use. Let’s look at that in a bit more detail.


The first several minutes of a presentation should be an attempt to connect your content to the learners’ own experiences (“anchoring” your session). My training modules typically run a few hours. If I have a 15-minute anchor activity that relates in no way to the content, I am wasting time and teaching people to show up 15 minutes late for my sessions. Good anchors not only get participants engaged from the beginning, but they are the types of activities that you refer back to throughout the remainder of the lesson. At some point in another phase of training, you should say “during our icebreaker we…” And don’t forget: a good de-brief adds value to the anchor activity.


Once we have anchored our participants, we introduce the content. In the overwhelming majority of training that I’ve attended, I’ve found that most people’s default on this is lecture. This in itself isn’t a bad thing. I have been to some pretty great lectures in my life. There are also other great ways to present content. That is not to say we just throw Jeopardy or a discussion topic at them and expect them to magically know the answer. This is a balancing act.


Application is where they take what they have learned for a spin. During application, you are providing an opportunity to practice new skills in a safe environment. There should be feedback in this phase and room for failure. Failure is a great way to learn! One of my favorite examples of learning from failure is a video game – Angry Birds. If you’ve ever played, did you read how to play it before you began or did you just start chucking birds and pigs? The learning in that game comes exclusively from failure. Having a safe space to play is a great place to learn. Now I am not saying to exclusively use failure, most of us are not training people to play Angry Birds. I am saying it is an effective method, but once again, must be balanced.

Future Use

Finally, what will your participants do differently as a result of your presentation? Is it a call to action? Is it a list of tasks they will go through in a process? Training is really about change, activities at the end of a training segment should focus on future use.

A garbage activity does not match the objective

Now that we have a model and know how to use it, let’s talk about the map that guides our training. Objectives are for you, and not just what you put on the second slide on your slide deck. This may seem like training 101, but objectives are more than just a formality, they are something I go back to over and over in my training design. They are a sanity check and they should be re-read as often as possible as you are creating and every time you modify the training during the review process. This can be difficult to do, especially if you have some super exciting activity in your training or an SME that has input that starts leading your activities down a new path.

A garbage activity does not match the room

Room layout is an afterthought for many designers, perhaps because we don’t have a lot of control over the room layout. Just because you don’t get small round tables doesn’t mean you can’t have small group discussions. You simply need to modify to accommodate what you have. Do your research and find out how your room is laid out as early in the development process as possible.

Now that you know what a garbage activity is, I want to hear from you. What are you doing to rid the world of garbage activities? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.

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