7 Ways for trainers to increase participant engagement

Every good trainer or facilitator wants to know that participants are fully engaged and getting the highest possible benefit from any session delivered. The best trainers are always looking for ways to increase participant engagement. There a lots of reasons why this often doesn’t happen ~ and some of them will be beyond your control.   Let’s look at some effective ways that you can do everything possible to ensure engagement regardless of outside circumstances.

1:  Check that objectives are right for the session (length, desired outcomes)

One of my pet peeves is stakeholders who ask for the moon – and expect it to be delivered in a 1-hour session!  “Can you please teach people to be more resilient and more accepting in times of change?”  I’ll give you 1 hour to accomplish that task! 

While we can absolutely design some really fantastic ways to help people become more resilient, and more accepting of change, we must face the reality that they did not get the way they are now in 1 hour!   Have conversations with the stakeholders and help them to understand that behavioural and mindset change will take time and continued reinforcement and refreshers!  Do everything in your power to get clear about the expectations for the session you are delivering – and make sure the outcomes match the time available.  I suggest that there be a very slim focus in a 1 hour session if the outcomes have anything to do with behavioural change in any way!

2: Engage with Stakeholders – and get them involved if possible.

One of the main reasons that training sessions are often filled with dis-engaged participants is that the stakeholders have simply demanded that people attend, but there has been no introduction or “marketing” done to help people understand why this training has been created and implemented. 

That’s step 1 – work with stakeholders and help them to create a plan that will lead participants up to the training session.  It is important that people know why they are being asked to attend a session, and what is expected of them as a result.

Step 2 is to get the stakeholders (management, executives, team leaders etc) to attend the training session as participants themselves.  You can also ask for a stakeholder to quickly introduce the session on the day.  This lends credibility and it sends a strong message that this training is important!  If the leaders are here – then I know they are taking it seriously.  Even a video made by a stakeholder to introduce the program is a great way to start if someone cannot be there to do the introduction each time a session is run.   If neither of these approaches can be accomplished, then ask the stakeholders to allow you to deliver a message on their behalf. 

3: Drop the Ego – and remember who you are there for.

A great trainer / facilitator will always begin a session by remembering why he/she is really there.  You may find it useful to say to yourself:  Today I am not here for me.  I am here for the participants.  I am here to act as a conduit for them to get value, to learn, to develop and to take on the information and skills as easily and quickly as possible.  I am not here to be “right”.  I am not here to “show how good I am”.   I will be flexible in my approach and will focus on having each participant come toward the objectives in his/her own best way.  I will use as many different methods of helping as are needed.  I will use their language and their frames of reference as much as possible. I will acknowledge that each person will be bringing his/her own background and experience and is completely capable.  I will be real, authentic, vulnerable and human.

4: Know your objectives – and test the outcomes along the way

It’s easy to get side-tracked and stuck on topics if participants want to derail an outcome.  Keep your objectives firmly in mind and with each conversation ask yourself:  “How is this leading toward the accomplishment of each objective for each participant?”   Managing the balance between participant exploration and searching around a topic, and getting truly derailed is a great skill.

Make sure that conversations are brought back on topic – and that you are continually testing people to check that the learning process is moving forward.  This can all be done while keeping the environment “light” and “entertaining”.  Use questions that bring conversations back on topic, and ask participants to make links to the objectives for themselves – and to speak them out to the group.

5: Set the stage right away – get participant “buy in” – and deflate negative attitudes toward the training.

One of the best ways to ensure participant engagement quickly and continuously is to ask participants two questions as part of the introduction process.

Why are you here today?  This will give you an instant understanding of whether or not participants have been informed about the training and it’s content and purpose, or if they have just been commanded to attend.  You will also come to understand whether they are happy about this or not.   If you know this information right up front, you can create an opportunity to clear the air, and create space for participants to “unload” their unhappiness and invite them to make the very best out of the situation.

If you could get something really useful from our time together knowing that the topic is about XXX, what would that be?  This will get the participants thinking about themselves and feeling that they are being honoured by being included in the content – instead of just being passive observers.  Then you can set about weaving that into your delivery.

6: Use Accelerated Learning Principles

The more exciting and playful the environment, the more likely participants are to choose to have fun and be engaged.  Even if participants make comments about being “juvenile” or “school like” most of these remarks are deflections – and an expression of something else.

Accelerated Learning Principles (for anyone who has not encountered this before) are all about engaging all of the 5 senses to the extent that this is possible and appropriate.  You may consider the following ideas:

  • Take a short break every 50 – 55 minutes.
  • Use coloured textas
  • Use games
  • Use music
  • Use gentle fragrances (unless you know of someone with allergies or other sensitivities – this can be checked with a quick questions before the training is run).
  • Use visual, auditory and kinaesthetic activities
  • Offer snacks and beverages that are appropriate (perhaps a mix of healthy choices and lollies).
  • Use repetition – and explain why you are doing this

7:  Be as dynamic as you can be – This is Edutainment!

In this day and age, people are expecting to be entertained while learning!  This is, in fact, the very best way to create engagement!  If we can help people to forget that they are learning, because they are having so much fun – then learning occurs effortlessly and at a deep level.  It’s the same with exercise, if you are having fun playing an active game or sport – then you forget that you are exercising!

  • Use Humour!  Make ‘em Laugh, make ‘em laugh, make ‘em laugh!

  • If you are going to use powerpoint presentations – inject some humour and add some funny slides!
  • Tell stories that capture the heart, the mind and engage the imagination!
  • Keep your energy high, use movement and use the whole room as your facilitation space.
  • Create dynamics with highs and lows – and engage the emotions in a positive way.
  • Invite curiosity!
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The Alive and kicking team,

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