How can a good trainer catch and hold participants’ attention from the start? Elaine Biech identifies ten aspects of getting your training session off to a good start.
Establish a Climate Conducive to Learning
The opening should indicate whether the rest of the session will have participants up and moving about or sitting or a combination of the two. If you desire a participative climate, the opening should put people at ease — including the trainer. Participants may be reluctant to get involved unless the trainer provides structure that includes a purpose. They may be shy or may not want to appear vulnerable in front of their peers or strangers.
Set the tempo and tone of the session. Fast paced? Slow? Jovial? Serious? Interactive? Passive? Creative? Cerebral? Exciting? Calm? All of these describe a potential training climate. Decide what yours will be, and then begin to establish the climate during your opening.
Clarify Participants’ Expectations
The most straightforward way is to simply ask, “What are your expectations for the session?” List them on a flipchart page and post them on the wall. There are other ways to get the same information. Try some of these.
Ask for hopes and fears. Post on two different flipcharts.
Ask for dreams and desires.
Ask “Why are you here?”
Ask “What questions did you bring with you today?”
Ask “What do you need to happen today for this training to be worth your investment of time?”
Ask “How well do your needs match the learning objectives?” and “What else do you need?”
Introduce the Content
Possibly the most important thing you can do for participants is to help them understand “What’s In It For Me”. Participants who understand why they are involved in a training session, how it will help them do their jobs better and faster, and how the content relates to them will get more out of the training session.
You can present the content and then ask participants whether they were anticipating different or additional content. Provide an overview for participants by reviewing the agenda and the objectives for the training session. Participants may want to know whether they will be required to take a test, whether they will receive a grade for the course, or whether the grade will affect their jobs.
Add something unconventional to send a message to participants that this session may not be the same thing they have experienced in the past. For example, you can start with an activity first, rather than addressing the logistics of the session. Doing something just a bit differently or in a different sequence introduces an element of surprise that energizes participants, adds interest and excitement to the session, and communicates that this session will not be boring.
Allow participants to become acquainted with one another. Before selecting how participants will meet each other, determine what you want participants to be able to do as a result. You may just want them to be able to match names and faces, but you may want to consider other results that will help to further the training session.
This is a good time to mention the use of table tents: the cards folded like a tent that have people’s names written on them.
Learn About the Group
Take time to determine how you perceive the group as a whole, observing how they work together. Who seems to be taking the lead? Who is still reluctant to join in? What strong personalities exist in the group? Who seems to be dominating the discussion?
This time gives you a chance to think ahead to the rest of the design and to be aware of potential difficulties where you may consider changing the process.
Establish Ground Rules
Establishing ground rules as a part of your opening shapes the parameters of behavior the participants expect of each other and from the trainer for the session.
Post the ground rules in a location where everyone can see them, usually near the front of the training room. This facilitates your ability to reference them if you need to use them to manage disruptions or as a reference point to facilitate group dynamics.
Confront Any Issues
If you know issues exist around the training session, confront them during the opening and plan time to address them. In fact, your icebreaker may incorporate the concerns. If you do not address it immediately, participants will not be able to focus on the content you’re presenting. And besides, you will most likely address it later anyway.
Establish Your Credibility and Style
Begin to share something about yourself during the opening. If you ask participants to divulge something about themselves during an ice- breaker, you should divulge the same information. If you ask them to draw a picture that depicts something about them, you should draw a picture, too.
Just as you want to know about participants, the participants will be trying to learn something about you, your expectations, your style, and your credibility.
Just to recap, a training session can open with PUNCH if the trainer accomplishes these five things:
Promotes interest and enthusiasm for the training-session content.
Understands participants’ needs.
Notes the ground rules and administrative needs.
Helps everyone get to know each other.
Adapted by Elaine Biech, The HR Handbook, HRD Press