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Personas: how to characterize your trainees and make your training the best they’ve ever had!

The better you can characterize your trainees – your target audience – the better your training will be. In your thinking about the environmental issue you want to address, you will already have done a lot of good work: you will have seen exactly who does the things you don’t want done and who doesn’t do the things you do want done. You’ll already have a great idea about who or what empowers or disempowers the skilful actions you want them to carry out. So what else do you need to consider?

A useful trick to really understand your target audience is to use personas. (Having done Latin at high school I would prefer to say ‘personae’ – but the term has been anglicized, so let’s go with the current professional usage.)

A persona is someone you invent to represent the real people who make up the target audience for your training. A good way to generate a persona is to base it on a real live human being that you know. Can you clearly bring this person to mind? Can you see them? Can you hear their voice? 

Working with your persona, you can ask yourself questions about their workplace, attitudes and actions, their goals, desires and fears, their likes and dislikes, limitations and constraints. What are their physical, educational, personal and social characteristics? What is their experience? How willing are they to learn? What sort of learning situation would best suit them?

Personas can also be synthesized from data collected from 1:1 or panel interviews, to help you more accurately represent your real group or groups of target audiences. Capture the information you need in a narrative about your persona: this can be anything from a couple of paragraphs to a 2-page description. Add a few fictional personal details and maybe even a name (keep it respectful, as this will set the tone for your training!) to make your personas become more realistic characters. 

You may need to create more than one persona within each target audience, but one is best. This will help you pin down his or her training needs more tightly.


Their strengths may be very different from yours, so if you feel awkward and unsure about trying to come up with a kinesthetic method rather than a visual/auditory method, this is a good thing: it’s a sign you’re stretching your comfort zone. Be aware that as you develop your personas and they take on their own life, you may start to feel uncomfortable as you realize how much you need to change your own preferred way of delivering training in order to meet their particular learning styles. Not all of us have had happy learning experiences in classrooms!

Conversely, if you are cruising along with a comfortable formula, ask yourself if you are really tailoring the training delivery to meet your trainees’ likely learning preferences. Some people will learn the same way that suits you best; others won’t. Mix and vary the methods, seek feedback and stretch and grow as a trainer!

If you do this thoroughly, you will end up with training that is truly user-centered. What a wonderful training experience it will be! 

This blog is the second in my series of Top Five Tips for people starting to think about setting up or expanding an environmental training program. My last blog on ‘Partnerships’ was the first – and there are three more to come!
The information comes from part of Chapter 7.1 of my book ‘Seven Steps to Successful Environmental Training’. Some of the information about personas is drawn from Wikipedia at http://bit.ly/o3PEw4. I am indebted to my friend and colleague Christine Heremaia of Good Causes Ltd for this reference, and to some of my colleagues in the National Speakers Association of New Zealand who also use and recommend this excellent method of understanding your target audience. Thanks also as always to Ann Andrews for encouraging me to disseminate this material more widely.