Disney Employee Training Secrets

My first job out of college was working for Walt Disney World.  I started out in Character Entertainment and, within two years, I was a trainer within the department.  I also got selected to facilitate Walt Disney World Traditions (Disney\’s new employee orientation) and thus, a career was born.

Other training opportunities soon followed – co-facilitating Disney\’s Approach to Orientation and other classes at Disney University;  Becoming a trainer within my department at Disney Vacation Club Member Services;  Co-facilitating a customized version of Traditions for the opening teams of Disney\’s Vero Beach and Hilton Head Island resorts.

That was many, many years ago but the lessons I learned about how to train employees the right way have stuck with me throughout my career.  In this article, I\’ll share these lessons and how you can apply them to your training.

Orient them

If you want your employees to buy into your company and it\’s culture, a well planned and executed new employee orientation can really help to get the ball rolling.

I\’ve worked for companies who did it brilliantly and I\’ve worked for some that didn\’t really do it at all.  I can tell you that I was much more tuned in and on board with the companies who cared enough to welcome me with a great new employee experience.

Of course, one of the best was Disney World.  I attended Walt Disney World Traditions as part of the College Program the summer after my Sophomore year.  I was already excited to be working at the happiest place on earth but going through Traditions made me even more so.

The trainers were enthusiastic and seemed genuinely glad to be there.  They made me feel welcome.

When I was was the one teaching Traditions a few years later, I made sure to come across that way to my classes.  (To be honest, that wasn\’t too hard since this was Disney World after all!)

Sometimes companies fill their orientations with a lot of boring policies and safety procedures.  Not Disney. That\’s not to say there wasn\’t ANY safety or policy information.  But it wasn\’t the main focus all the way through.  Instead, the focus was on company history, values and culture.  All these years later, I still remember the four elements that were taught – Safety, Courtesy, Show and Efficiency.

Another memorable moment was when we left the classroom and actually got to go into the Magic Kingdom.  Not only that, we got to go on one of the rides!  That may seem like \”fluff\” but it actually reinforced a lot of what was being trained in the classroom.

For example, in the classroom, we heard about Walt\’s attention to detail.  Then, when we were in the park, our trainers would point things out that demonstrated it like the detail in the tiles used to decorate the interior of CInderella\’s castle.

When you think about your own company\’s new employee orientation and how you train it, how will your employees remember it?  Will it be something they look back on fondly?  Or is it instantly forgettable?  Or, even worse, does it make employees wonder if they made the wrong decision?

If you are looking for more ideas to spice up your own orientation and how you train it, check out How to Make New Employee Orientation Fun.

Reinforce The Culture

New employee orientation is a great place to introduce company culture and, as I mentioned, it was a large part of Walt Disney World Traditions.

That is just the first step, though.  In order to make employees feel like they really belong, that culture needs to be reinforced throughout their journey.

All too often, companies throw a lot of effort into the employee\’s first couple of days and get them excited but then, when they get to their actual job, it all disappears.

At Disney World, that wasn\’t the case.  When I reported to work at my very first job as an Attractions Host at The Great Movie Ride, the seeds that had been planted in Traditions continued to grow.

All throughout my on the job training, the Four Elements (Safety, Courtesy, Show, Efficiency) that had been introduced were mentioned and demonstrated.

The attention to detail that Walt was known for was also reinforced as I got to learn about the Hidden Mickey\’s and other Easter Eggs throughout the attraction.

Similarly. when I trained new Cast Members in my department, I made sure to do what I could to refer to and reinforce what they had learned in Traditions.

For example, the concept of \”exceeding expectations\” was a big part of Traditions and the Disney culture.  When training new Characters, we\’d give examples of how, even without being able to speak, there are lots of things you can do to exceed a guest\’s expectations.  One simple, popular way is simply to write a child\’s name in their autograph book. (How do you know the child\’s name?  That\’s just Disney magic!  Or….from reading their name stenciled on the Mickey hat they are wearing….)

In Disney Vacation Club Member Services, I encouraged my trainees to learn as much as they could about the different properties, activities and dining options.  That way, when they made a reservation for someone they could also exceed expectations by giving an insider tip or make a suggestion to make the trip even more memorable.

Those are just a couple of examples.  Culture was constantly being reinforced both on the job and as part of other training that would occur.

When you think about your own company and the training you provide, are you keeping the company culture alive?  Or does it die after the initial \”rah rah\” of new employee orientation?  Or, as I\’ve witnessed in some places I\’ve worked, is it dead on arrival?

Challenge yourself and your team to look for ways you can weave the culture into your training.

\”But we don\’t train on fun stuff like that!  My training is all systems training and it doesn\’t make sense to have culture in there!\”

It doesn\’t matter what the topic is.  You can always connect back to the company culture in some way.  It doesn\’t have to take over the whole training class but you can at least help your learners see the connection.

In the case of systems training, I\’d talk about WHY we use this system and HOW it helps the company keep it\’s promises to the customer or stakeholder.  Whatever would fit for the culture area you want to address.

Put On A Good Show

I tend to be a bit disorganized. Walk into any workspace that I occupy and this becomes very apparent.

Walk into a classroom where I am conducting training, though, and it\’s a different story.

As a facilitator for Walt Disney World Traditions, I learned early on about the importance of putting on a good show for your audience.  And that starts with your training room.

We were taught to get there early and make sure everything was in place before our learners arrived.  We had welcome signs, coffee, light breakfast, tables set just right, videos and music queued – everything in place to make them feel welcome.

When people did start arriving we were not off fiddling with speaker notes or gabbing with another trainer.  We were right there at the door welcoming people as they came in.  Then we would also walk around the room and engage in a bit of small talk with the trainees.

All that, before the class had even started.  Of course, once we started, we were \”onstage\” all day.  Even at lunch, we were expected to continue to take care of our \”guests\”.

It was a lot of work and I was pretty much wiped out every time I taught it.  But, it was well worth it for what it did for the learners.  It not only made them feel welcome and excited but also helped to keep them engaged throughout the day.

What does your \”show\” look like?  Are your learners feeling welcomed and engaged throughout?

Since working for Disney I have taught on a variety of unexciting topics in various boring classrooms or computer labs.  It doesn\’t matter, I still did whatever I could to give the learners a good show.  I had the rooms set and ready to go, I welcomed them enthusiastically and kept them engaged.

You can do the same with your classes.  Think about how you can make your training more welcoming.  What can you add or do?  Is there music you could play?  Signs you could make? An icebreaker you could start with?

It doesn\’t have to be elaborate.  Just think about your learners as guests and treat them accordingly.


Walt Disney was a storyteller. Everything he did from movies to television shows to theme parks told a story. Training at Disney is no different.

Stories were a core part of any training program at Disney World.  In Traditions class, we had stories ready for just about every section.  These were mostly our own stories from working in the parks, though, we did also borrow stories from other places and from each other.

Why stories?  Because they connect.  They help your learners understand and relate to the material.

I could tell a class \”It\’s important to be courteous in your job.\” Or, I could relate a story about how I overheard a parent mention their kid\’s birthday and had cookies sent to their hotel room from Mickey Mouse.  What resonates more?

When you are teaching a class, try to think of how you can incorporate stories to illustrate the concepts and help people understand better.

You might think your topic is too boring but if you do a little digging, you can probably find a story somewhere even if it\’s not your own personal one.

For example, when I had to teach an EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) class, I found several court cases and used those to illustrate.  These \”stories\” made it much more interesting for both the participants and for me.

show more than you tell

One place a majority of training fails is the way many trainers/presenters feel like they need to talk most of the time.  This leads to more of a lecture and is usually not a valuable experience for the learner.

At Disney World, it was more about showing and allowing trainees to do/participate.

Whether I was training characters or call center employees, most of the training was hands on.   There was a lot of observation of the trainee followed by feedback from the trainer.

This was true in the large classroom classes as well.  As I mentioned, in Traditions, we would take the class out of the classroom.  We took a tour of some of the backstage areas and even went into the park.  This wasn\’t just for fun (though it was very fun). It also helped to show and demonstrate many of the concepts that had been mentioned in the classroom.

When you think about the training you are a part of, is it a lot of telling with little showing?  If so, what can you start doing differently to shift that?  What activities or hands on experiences could you add?

Train your trainers

I remember how excited I was when I first found out that I had been selected to be a trainer within the Character Entertainment department.  At the same time, I was pretty nervous since I\’d never trained anyone before.  Luckily, Walt Disney World had an excellent Train the Trainer program that all trainers were required to go through.

In this class, we learned fundamentals of adult learning along with some of the other more \”formal\” training skills.  Along with that was the reinforcement of culture that I mentioned earlier.  It was woven into everything so that when we would begin training, we\’d do the same.

Sadly, this is not the case at most companies (at least that I\’ve seen).  When someone is good at their job or a subject matter expert, they get tagged as a trainer and are essentially thrown to the wolves.

I have nothing but respect for people who are knowledgeable and really good at what they do.  It doesn\’t mean that they are automatically a great presenter or trainer, though.  And yet, time and time again, that is the expectation.  These experts are asked to present or train something and, through no fault of their own, that \”training\” is basically a big info dump with little or no engagement from the learners.

I think using subject matter experts is awesome – that\’s what I was when I first started training.  But, let\’s set them up for success.

How do you help your subject matter experts become effective trainers/presenters?  Is there an opportunity for a separate class or one on one training to get them up to speed?  It takes extra effort, true, but the long term effect and results are so worth it.

Final Thoughts

Comparing your company and training to Walt Disney World might seem a little daunting.  How can I compete with that???!  Don\’t worry, you don\’t have to.

Since leaving Disney, I\’ve worked for many companies from small non-profits to large mega corporations.  No matter where I\’ve worked and conducted training, I was able to practice these principles to make my training better.

You can too.  You may not be able to implement everything on this list but you can start taking a closer look at your training programs and making improvements over time.  Before you know it, you\’ll be creating training \”magic\” of your own!


2 thoughts on “Disney Employee Training Secrets”

  1. Kelly Englese

    How did you get the training/Traditions job? My daughter wants to work there. She’s full time at MK, went through DCP, was a trainer while in HS outdoor food and beverage, and trained ODV cast members in the Genie+ app. among other things. How does she find out about openings at Traditions?

    1. Hi Kelly!

      I did it in the early 90’s so I’m sure it’s probably a whole different process now. When I was there, hourly employees were chosen to do it each year. There was a big audition and interview process and you only did it for a year. I was part of what they called the “Encore Program” and got to do it for another year along with some other Disney University classes.

      I’m sure they must have something where they post internal positions and/or provide internal communication. I don’t know what or how anymore but I’d start there. I’d also have her check with her manager/supervisor to see if they know what the process is now.

      Sorry I don’t have more info. Good luck to your daughter!

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