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April 25, 2005
How to Keep Your Training Sessions Interactive

Your sessions should be as safe as your workplace. Everyone agrees that training sessions are better when the audience participates actively, but it's often difficult to "break the ice" and get people to speak up. That's usually because trainees aren't sure that it's "safe" to do so. They may be afraid that asking questions or voicing opinions will make them look ignorant, or they may believe that you won't really welcome their participation if it disrupts the flow of your presentation. From their point of view, it's much safer to stay silent and avoid the possibility of displeasure or embarrassment. So part of your job as a trainer is to demonstrate that it's just as safe to participate—and a lot more enjoyable and worthwhile.

Don't just say it—show it. According to training consultant Robert Menard, speakers may not realize that the audience itself can be a source of energy. "If recognized and directed within the first 10 minutes, this energy can propel a presentation to success," Menard says. It isn't enough just to tell the group to ask questions and get involved—that won't make them believe that it's really OK. Instead, show them that you mean it by getting them involved from the very beginning. Some basic introductory icebreakers include the following:

  • Ask group members to introduce themselves—or as a twist, have them introduce another group member.
  • Have each person state the most important thing he or she wants to learn from the session.
  • Ask some basic questions about the topic you're presenting—and insist on getting answers from the audience before continuing, rather than answering the questions yourself.
Why It Matters...
  • Interactive sessions keep audience members more attentive and focused on the topic you are presenting.
  • Proving that it's "safe" for the audience to participate, interactive sessions help build their trust in you and your knowledge of the topic.
  • Trainees who are given responsibility for their own learning are likely to take the subject matter more seriously and put into practice what they learn.

Keep up the momentum. Once you have proven that you're serious about getting people to participate, find ways to keep the session interactive all the way through to the end. Or as Menard says, "Keep the activity level high and put the responsibility of learning in the hands of the audience." As you plan your presentation, look for opportunities to keep the audience engaged and involved, using such techniques as these:

  • Asking questions of the group throughout the session, not just at the beginning
  • Having audience members perform demonstrations, rather than doing the demonstrations yourself
  • For longer sessions, breaking into smaller groups to accomplish an objective or solve a problem, then having the small groups report their ideas to the main group as a whole
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