What do your participants TEXT home about your training?

During a break, I had my phone in my hands and texted my partner about my thoughts on the training I was attending that day. I was positive, and my partner was relieved because I had been quite critical going into it.

And suddenly, a thought crossed my mind: Why don't I know what participants in my training sessions say about me?

So, I embarked on the quest of answering the question, "What do participants text home about the training?" The answer surprised me, astonished me, and taught me a great deal. It even resulted in a top 10 list.


This is one of Brain Bakery's values, and I decided to delve deeper into understanding the participants. The No More Boring Learning podcasts often focus on topics like designing learning activities or the research phase, or teaching methods, but I felt that the participants' experience was somewhat overlooked.


Of course, many trainers distribute physical or online evaluation forms, but almost every training session gets a solid 8 on those. Check Podcast 1: How do you measure the impact and return on investment of training, to understand why.

In short, these evaluations are of little use.

Furthermore, I learned from Steven Van Belleghem (follow him!) that if 26 people have a complaint about your company (or training), only 1 will bother to make it known. So, we hardly ever hear complaints or criticism, and when we do, we should multiply it by 26.

At Harvard, we discussed a case study on Lego, where Lego had sent out 15,000 packages to customers, and in each package, some crucial pieces were missing. How many complaints do you think Lego received? Less than 5% of people reported the issue.

So, how much are we missing, and how valuable is what we miss? 


I decided that I wanted to bring to the surface what participants text home. That is something tangible and cannot be covered with a veneer of social desirability.


At the end of last year, during several keynotes, I asked the groups to send me text messages (or SMS) they had sent to their loved ones at home during a training. It didn't have to be about my keynote; it could be about any training they had attended recently.

I promised to anonymize the messages and see what I could learn from them. What can we, as L&D professionals, do better, or differently? And what should we stop doing? 

For completeness, I asked in the Netherlands, England, Poland, and Spain. If I didn't speak the language, I requested a translation or used a translation machine.


The response was overwhelming. We received more than 300 screenshots. There were learnings and compliments that we could extract from them. My team and I organized them and looked for trends.

With the critical messages, we identified personal characteristics that trainers could do little or nothing about (shrill voice, body odor) and technical issues (Wi-Fi), route problems, train strikes, traffic jams, and parking issues were excluded. We focused on our performance as trainers or educators, which had the most impact.

A top 10 list of criticisms and a top 8 list of compliments emerged, from which trainers and L&D professionals can learn a great deal. We anonymized them and removed identifiable contexts. 


It's clear to me that at the end of a workshop, I should ask, "What did you text home about?" instead of "What did you think of it?"

And if you have text messages about training sessions you've attended, please send them to hello@brainbakery.com, and I will incorporate them into the results.


The 10th item sparked significant discussions within Team Brain Bakery. It was about those 'fun' and often 'cheerful drawings' on the flip chart.

As someone who always puts in a lot of effort (and has to) to create clear and readable flipcharts, I'm often jealous when I see trainers turning their flipcharts into works of art. I also know many trainers who sign up for business drawing training and really enjoy it.

As trainers and L&D professionals, our goal is to effectively convey information and skills to our participants and help them learn and retain this information or these skills.

It turns out that some participants (14 screenshots) were annoyed by drawings on the flipcharts. They called them 'not serious' and even unprofessional or childish.

Some messages mentioned that the trainer was trying too hard to be friendly or create a relaxed atmosphere. The drawings seemed to distract from the seriousness of the subject matter.

One person was even irritated because the trainer had drawn a nice banana at 3:00 pm break, and then there was no banana to be found during the break.

It's important to understand that not all participants have the same opinion. But as a trainer, it's essential to be aware of potential perceptions and use visual aids in a way that suits the audience and the topic you're presenting.

In conclusion, while using funny drawings can be well-intentioned and refreshing, it can also be negatively judged by some (adult) participants. They may feel patronized and not taken seriously.

I think creating clear flipcharts is more important than how funny or cute they are. Keep in mind that participants might find it inappropriate for serious topics sometimes.

Do you agree? I'm curious to hear your opinion!


The 9th category of complaints was about trainers selling nonsense or making mistakes and not correcting them because they are unaware. Or claiming that something is based on research without mentioning the research.

The messages themselves referred to various types of errors, from minor mistakes like typos on a slide (which I don't consider a big issue, but participants did mention it) to more significant errors like presenting research that doesn't exist, myths that have long been debunked (learning styles), outdated theories that have lost their relevance (VUCA), and so on.

Of course, it's good to know about these errors, but I immediately wondered when looking at these messages with our team: How many of these mistakes reached the trainer's ears? We guessed not many.

This raised the following question: Why do participants text these issues home quite widely but don't mention them (often enough) to their trainer?

We delved into this and the results were shocking to me. I knew that as trainers, we have a lot of 'power' in front of a group, but I was still taken aback by these answers.

1. I didn't want to embarrass the trainer in front of the group and wanted to maintain a good atmosphere. I didn't want to be mean.
2. I didn't want to provoke the annoyance of other participants who were fine with everything.
3. I didn't think it was worth it: if the trainer thinks they can get away with it so easily, why should I make a serious effort to gather more information?
4. I was afraid that the trainer would treat me differently and make me do something embarrassing in front of the group.

I believe the takeaway for all of us should be that we should actively seek out mistakes or opposition. Are we asking for it enough? Do we state at the beginning of a learning activity that there is more wisdom in the group than just in us? I'm certainly working on this!

I made areally silly mistake recently. I can only tell you about it because a participant was kind enough to point it out to me.

During my keynote, I made a calculation about the number of brain cells the average human head possesses and the number of potential connections. It came to a figure in the trillions.

The participant approached me during lunch and said that this was incorrect. It should have been billion. I was shocked because I use this brain fact quite often. Had I been wrong all those times?! I turned red and pretended it wasn't a big deal, which only made it worse.

Then I suddenly realized that in English, billion means something different... and we looked it up together:
Miljoen is Million
Miljard is Billion
Biljoen is Trillion

I had been training a lot in English the week before this keynote, and in English, my calculation was correct. But I had translated it incorrectly. Shameful! (And fortunately, the damage was minimal.) 

Once I had recovered, I thanked the participant and created a mnemonic for large numbers!

The fact that only one participant out of the 100 in the room that day approached me probably illustrates that many people didn't notice my mistake. But how many of them texted home that I couldn't do math!?

Do you recognize this, dear trainers and L&D professionals?


In the top 10, the 8th item was about complaints related to flipcharts. Apparently, flipcharts are quite important, as the 10th place mentioned 'childish' drawings on flips, and I haven't even mentioned the slides and PowerPoints that ranked even higher in the top 10.

Many people mentioned finding flipcharts valuable because they could see the flipchart's structure during the training. They preferred this to a PowerPoint slide that is complete from the start and requires more cognitive effort to understand the relationship between, for example, the X and Y axes. 

The 8th item in the top 10 was about the scribbles and unreadability of flipcharts. Many of the screenshots we received included photos with illegible text and arrows and a model that had become unrecognizable. Alongside these images were comments like, "Well, this was my day. How was yours?" Clearly, this was not meant in a positive way.

Participants mentioned four main reasons for their irritation with unclear flipcharts, with the third reason being the least common but the most thought-provoking:
1. It feels open and exposed and uncomfortable. ("It reminded me of those unpleasant circle talks from school.")
2. How can I write now, and where do I place my pen and paper in between? ("Where doI put my stuff?") "Do I have to write on my lap again? How inconvenient."
3. Where doI put my drink? This led to funny photos and tragic spills of coffee and soda on the floor: pictures of knocked-over cups and bottles.
4. Some people mentioned that they could still follow the scribbles on the flipchart, even if they were illegible. However, they were annoyed that the photo they took at the end of the training was worthless because everything was unreadable.

The issue with the last reason is that these people genuinely enjoyed the content and wanted to remember it, but they weren't helped by our flipcharts.

Some trainers solve the problem of unreadable flipcharts by writing all the text on cards in advance and sticking them on the board. We only came across this approach twice, and both times, the comments were mixed. Some participants found it easy to follow, but it felt too structured and "scripted" for others. 

Let's not think that it's never good! (I admit I thought that for a moment - but let's realize how important our flipcharts are!

Because our visual aids occupy our participants more than I had realized. It's just the 7th out of more than 300 text messages that participants have submitted. 

It's time for us as trainers and L&D professionals to critically examine ourselves and figure out how to create better flipcharts! 

NUMBER 7: The Chairs in the Circle

In the 7th position among the topics that participants texted home about, it was about the arrangement of chairs in the training room. Specifically, it was about having chairs arranged in a circle without tables. Many participants seemed to be sensitive to this arrangement, as there were quite a few screenshots related to it.

Some participants even sent photos of a circle of chairs with flowers in the middle. One of them commented to the trainer, "It's strange that the flowers are in the middle." The trainer responded, "Let's pretend it's a fireplace, then we can have deep conversations."

While this arrangement can be useful for certain types of training, such as those involving movement or team-building, it can also have drawbacks. Participants expressed several concerns:
1. Feeling Exposed: Some participants found the circle arrangement to be open and uncomfortable, reminiscent of uncomfortable circle discussions from their school days.
2. Difficulty in Note-Taking: Participants struggled with where to place their pens and notebooks during the training, as there were no tables. They had to write on their laps, which was inconvenient.
3. Lack of Space for Drinks: Participants also faced challenges with finding a place to put their drinks, leading to spilled beverages and photos of overturned cups.

The main takeaway is that trainers and L&D professionals should carefully consider the room arrangement they use. While some participants appreciate the open and collaborative atmosphere of a circle, others may find it uncomfortable and impractical.

NUMBER 6: Time keeping

In the 6th position in the top 10, participants shared complaints related to time management during training sessions. This included trainers not ending on time, delaying breaks, or providing insufficient break durations.

The author shared their own experience from studying at Harvard, where there was a half-hour break between each case study session. They described how every minute of this break was essential for various activities such as using the restroom, contacting family, getting a drink, discussing with fellow students, finalizing notes, and preparing for the next case study.

However, the professors consistently extended the sessions by five minutes, causing frustration among participants. This had real-life consequences, such as participants being unable to pick up their children on time, missing opportunities to run errands, and keeping others waiting at restaurants.

The key insight from the participants' text messages was that they felt the trainers prioritized their content and agenda over the participants' schedules and lives. They felt manipulated and hesitant to voice their desire to leave on time, as it might disrupt the group.

The author called for a collective agreement that the scheduled end time should be respected and not extended, even for distributing evaluation forms. This would help avoid conflicts and frustrations related to time management during training sessions.

NUMBER 5: Handling Participant Questions

The fifth topic that generated a significant number of messages was how trainers handle questions from participants during training sessions. When a participant asks a substantive question, it usually indicates several things:
- They are engaged and awake.
- They want to understand or clarify something.
- Their neurons are firing, indicating a cognitive gap where they need and desire information. This is the ideal state for participants to be in, as trainers.

However, according to the messages received, trainers often respond in ways that leave participants dissatisfied. Here are three common behaviors identified in the messages:
1. Delaying the Answer: Trainers sometimes tell participants that the answer will be covered later in the presentation, implying that the trainer's agenda is more important than the participant's question.
2. Parking the Question: Another common response is to note down the question (sometimes on a flip chart) and never revisit it during the training.
3. Providing an Incomplete Answer: Trainers may give a partial answer that does not fully satisfy the participant's curiosity. They often don't check if the participant is content with the response and quickly move on.

The effects of these behaviors mentioned in the screenshots include:
- Loss of Concentration: Participants may lose focus if their pressing questions are not addressed promptly.
- Impatience: Participants may become impatient, wanting an immediate answer to their queries.
- Decline in Interest: Some participants may decide to stop paying attention until the trainer addresses their specific point.
- Frustration: Participants may feel frustrated if they perceive that the trainer prioritizes their own agenda over the participants' needs.

The author acknowledges that they, too, have faced moments where they delayed answering a question to maintain the flow of their presentation. However, they emphasize the importance of understanding that asking a question can be a significant step for a participant, requiring courage and effort. Hence, it's essential to handle questions more carefully to create a positive learning environment.

NUMBER 4: Death by PowerPoint

The term "Death by PowerPoint" has been around for 22 years and is still relevant. It refers to the phenomenon where presentations, often created using Microsoft PowerPoint, are filled with too many slides or excessive content, leading to boredom and disengagement among the audience.

Despite our knowledge of this issue, it remains prevalent in presentations. People still endure lengthy, text-heavy slides that overwhelm them. The author suggests that this persistence is due to a lack of understanding of how our brains work and what aids in information retention.

The human brain struggles to process excessive information on slides, leading to decreased attention and retention. However, many presenters continue with this counterproductive method of knowledge transfer.

The author calls for a rebellion against this outdated practice and encourages the industry to take responsibility. They argue that we need to explore more visually appealing and interactive ways of delivering information to maintain audience engagement and aid in learning and memory retention.

In conclusion, "Death by PowerPoint" remains a detrimental practice, and it's time for a change. Presenters should adopt more creative and effective methods of knowledge transfer that respect the cognitive limitations of their audience.

NUMBER 3: Learning Objectives

The third most common complaint from participants in training programs revolves around the formulation of learning objectives. Many participants expressed frustration, especially when they are "forced" to attend training sessions. The most common complaint is that they feel compelled to create a learning objective even when they may not have a clear reason for attending the training.

Even when participants choose to attend a training voluntarily, beginning with a round of setting learning objectives can come across as awkward. Participants provided several reasons for their dissatisfaction:
- Firstly, participants often have a reason for attending the training, whether it's personal development or a requirement for their job. Asking them to articulate their learning objective may suggest that they haven't prepared adequately or lack a clear understanding of why they are attending, which can be perceived as condescending.
- Secondly, requiring participants to set a learning objective can make them feel uncertain. Many people may not be aware of their specific learning goals, and asking them to formulate one can lead to reduced engagement and a less effective learning experience. It sets them up for potential failure from the very beginning.
- The third reason highlighted in the messages is that some participants question the need for setting explicit learning objectives. They wonder why they can't simply be interested in the topic without the pressure of formulating a formal objective. For them, this requirement can feel like an unnecessary constraint imposed by the trainer.
- Lastly, setting learning objectives can lead trainers to tailor the training exclusively to those objectives, potentially neglecting other valuable topics. This could result in a less effective learning experience, and participants might feel that the training has been "hijacked" by the dominant participant's objective.

The author suggests that trainers should carefully consider the purpose of a learning objective round and that it's not always necessary. Instead, they propose that trainers should find alternative ways to create a safe and engaging learning environment.

NUMBER 2: The Introduction Round

The introduction round, often referred to as the "obligatory get-to-know-eachother," didn't receive favorable reviews from participants. It generated a significant amount of complaints, and many participants found it boring. Some participants used yawning or sleeping emojis when expressing their dissatisfaction.

People generally dislike long introduction rounds, especially when participants are colleagues who already know each other well, and the trainer is the only unfamiliar person. It can be perceived as disruptive and unproductive.

Some participants also expressed annoyance when colleagues used the introduction round as an opportunity to boast about their achievements and share their entire CV in a pompous manner. This behavior was met with eye-rolls and disapproval from other participants.

Two screenshots even mentioned that participants were relieved when the introduction round was lengthy because it left less time for the actual training. However, these comments were more about the desire for a shorter training rather than a positive view of the lengthy introductions.

The author emphasizes the need for trainers to recognize that the purpose of a training activity is to facilitate learning and development. Long introduction rounds that focus on individual background information may not align with this goal and can be seen as a waste of time.

Trainers are encouraged to reconsider the use of extensive introduction rounds and explore alternative ways to foster a positive learning environment without consuming valuable training time.

NUMBER 1: The Trainer Doesn't Understand Our Work

The most common and heart-wrenching complaint among participants, as expressed in over three hundred screenshots, is that the trainer does not understand their work. This is a significant issue, as it reflects a lack of effort on the part of trainers to familiarize themselves with the participants' roles and challenges.

Participants rightfully find it unacceptable when a trainer has not taken the time to delve into the intricacies of their work. This behavior often stems from laziness or a belief that they will receive a high rating or have never received complaints.

When trainers fail to comprehend the participants' work, they are unable to empathize with the problems and challenges that the participants face. This lack of understanding can hinder effective guidance and the imparting of essential skills.

Moreover, if trainers are unfamiliar with the participants' work, they cannot provide reliable feedback. Their advice and suggestions may lack context, leaving participants without a clear understanding of their progress and future goals.

In essence, trainers who fail to understand their participants' work commit a disservice to the field of Learning & Development. It means they are incapable of effectively guiding participants, create frustration, and fail to inspire motivation for growth and development.

Trainers who genuinely value their participants should take the time to delve into their work, thus enabling effective guidance and support towards success.

So where does this leave us?

In conclusion, we've embarked on a rollercoaster ride through the top ten training program frustrations as shared by participants themselves. We've laughed, sighed, and even shed a tear or two as we uncovered the highs and lows of the learning journey. But fear not, for every frustration comes with an opportunity for improvement and innovation!

From the dreaded and obligatory introdcutions to the perplexing pursuit of learning objectives, we've seen that training programs often fall into well-intentioned pitfalls. Yet, armed with this newfound wisdom, trainers and Learning & Development professionals can navigate these challenges with finesse.

Remember, learning is not a one-size-fits-all adventure. Participants seek engaging, relevant, and empathetic training experiences that cater to their unique needs and expectations. So, let's bid adieu to outdated practices and embark on a journey of continuous improvement.

And oh, Death by PowerPoint! It's time we rebelled against the mind-numbing slides and discovered new, exciting ways to convey knowledge. Our brains deserve better!

But the heartbreaker of them all—the trainer who doesn't understand the participants' work—is a call to action. It's time for trainers to dive deep into the intricacies of their learners' worlds, bridging the gap between theory and practice with empathy and insight.

So, trainers and participants, unite! Let's make learning an exhilarating, enlightening, and, dare we say, entertaining experience. Together, we can transform training programs into epic adventures of growth and discovery.

As we wrap up this top ten blog, let's raise a virtual toast to the future of learning. May it be filled with dynamic, engaging, and empathetic training experiences that leave us all saying, "Learning has never been this fun!"

Stay curious, stay inspired, and let the learning journey continue. Until next time, happy learning! 🚀🎓✨




What do your participants TEXT home about your training?

36 min