Knowing how to increase employee participation in security awareness training programs is critical to improving your organization’s security posture over the long term. The problem is that many cyber security leaders have trouble producing engaging learning materials.

After all, in security awareness training, anything below 90% participation is considered unengaging. To engage employees and executives, you need to know who you’re trying to target, what skills/information you need to teach them, and how to deliver that information engagingly.

This article will examine how you can increase employee participation in your security awareness training program to ensure that you get maximum engagement and build a cyber security culture.

Identifying Your Target Audience

If you want your security awareness training to engage employees, it needs to be relevant. Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut to producing relevant training materials; the only way is to take time to identify your target audience and the cyber threats they’re exposed to daily.

For most organizations, you can break down your target audience into several key groups:

Executives – Executives and upper management need to be aware of security risks to understand the importance of supporting and funding security awareness initiatives.

Managers – Managers’ security awareness is critical to ensure they can take responsibility for acting as ambassadors and security role models.

End users – End users are your first line of defense against cyber attacks, so it’s paramount that they adopt the best practices and behaviors needed to stay safe online.

IT Staff – Your IT staff will help guide your information security best practices and manage the network, systems, and application vulnerabilities in your environment.

Suppose your organization has other audiences made up professionals in specialized, unique roles. In that case, you’ll also want to consider what information security guidance they need to manage the particular risks they face or ensure compliance with fundamental regulations, both role-based and otherwise.

Recommended Topics Per audience

The topics your training covers should depend on the security risks that are specific to your environment, but there are some go-to topics you can cover to help you hit the ground running:

1. Executives

Consider covering topics like priority risks facing your organization, secure use of mobile technology, safe handling of sensitive information, common attacks and scams targeting executives, security and awareness compliance obligations.

2. Managers

All executive topics plus an overview of information security and governance, your IT security environment, proposed security awareness program, and IT security controls.

3. End users

Aim to increase knowledge of security threats with topics such as information security and privacy, security essentials like password creation, email use, malware), internet usage essentials (social media, safe browsing, cloud computing), typical phishing and social engineering techniques, and cyber attacks, and data handling.

4. IT Staff

Raising awareness of security best practices related to the networks, systems, and application vulnerabilities in your environment, consider network security overview, application security overview, common network and application attacks, system development life cycle, secure coding, cryptography, and key management.

5. Specialized roles

Design training topics around what threats they’re most likely to encounter, such as social engineering attacks for Help Desk personnel, PCI DSS awareness for finance and retail staff, client services and privacy for Human Resources personnel and managers, and internet security policies for third parties.

Building Effective Awareness Training Materials for Your Audience

Once you know who you’re trying to target, you need a strategy to build engaging training materials. This process starts by creating educational topics relevant to the individual and their day-to-day activities.

For example, if your end users are sales or account representatives who send lots of emails back and forth, incorporating training materials on phishing threats and phishing simulations will provide them with helpful guidance to detect phishing scams.

The most important thing is to focus on building engaging and interactive materials. In practice, that means:

Create bitesize microlearning modules that employees can easily digest

Using plain language the audience can understand

Communicating with your audience in their native language

Incorporate gamification and interactive exercises like phishing simulations.

Know How to Motivate Employees Intrinsically

The level of motivation that employees have to engage with your training will determine the overall participation rate. If your audience isn’t intrinsically motivated to complete training opportunities, they’re not going to engage with your security awareness program.

You can intrinsically motivate employees to participate by explaining how important their role is in protecting your organization’s data assets while giving them a role to play in course creation.

By granting them the opportunity to step up as champions of your security awareness program and enabling them to give their thoughts on how to develop other security awareness activities, you allow them to step up from passively engaging content to helping educate other users.

This approach is much more rewarding and engaging than if you made security awareness training mandatory to force users to participate or extrinsically motivate them.

Don’t Forget to Champion Executive Participation

One of the biggest mistakes an organization can make when building a security awareness training program is to overlook the importance of executive participation in their security awareness training program instead of focusing on less senior employees.

This oversight can be egregious, as not only are executives valuable champions of cyber security investment and cultural change, they also end-users who are the target of cyber threats themselves.

Cyber criminals routinely target C-suite executives with credential harvesting campaigns and other threats designed to trick them into giving up personal information.

If a fraudster tricks the CEO into handing over their login credentials, this can be just as damaging to the organization, if not more so than if they successfully scammed an employee. As a result, it’s essential to ensure that everyone in the organization is involved in the training program in one way or another.


No shortcut will teach you how to increase employee participation in security awareness training programs. While you can research trending security topics, ultimately, it comes down to knowing your audience well.

The only way to build an engaging training strategy is to get to know your audience what cyber threats they face on a daily basis, so you can provide them with relevant learning opportunities they can apply to protect themselves.