Recently a co-worker and I were discussing facilitation techniques which led to her asking what strategies I use to engage and excite the students, specifically at the beginning of a program. To answer this I started by quoting the Italian poet and author Cesare Pavese, who said some 60 years ago, …” We do not remember days…. we remember moments.”
Think about that for a moment. Think about the memories you have, the most vivid, the ones we recall the most often…. Chances are these are not day or week long events but instead a collection of brief snippets that provide not just the foundation but the structure of a memory as well, be that fond or otherwise. While I am sure there are arguments to the contrary the point I was trying to make was this…if you want to excite and engage an audience, give them a memorable moment. Now to be clear I have never opened a class by summersaulting through a ring of fire or belting out a few show tunes, but regardless I like to think I have provided my students with a few moments that while not life threatening or embarrassment inducing, were memorable none the less.
Before discussing my specific tips on engaging a class first let me state the obvious, which is having a class full of engaged students who are excited to be there is far, far better than talking to a room full of students who have no interest at all in participating. I going to assume that point does not need to be explained further so let’s move on to a few tips on how to engage and excite your class right from the start of training.
Open with positive energy. In general, most students will feed off of the facilitator’s energy which in turn will set the tone for the rest of the class, so if you start the day with a 20-minute discussion on why it is bad to use a phone in class, don’t be surprised if your students are less than enthusiastic to participate in group activities or discussions. Opening with positive energy does not mean you need to do your best Tony Robbins impression, but instead could be something as simple as telling a funny story, engaging the students in a brief “get to you” exercise or walking in with coffee and donuts for everyone and asking who has seen a good movie recently.
Get the class involved right away. The first activity of the day should be a group activity, and something that involves a small reward. Having the class form teams is a good way to get a room energized and talking, especially if you tell them there will be numerous activities throughout the day that involve awarding points with a prize at the end to the winning team. You do not need to break the bank on the prize as I often offer small items such as a bag of small chocolate bars which invariably end up being shared with the whole class anyway.
Perk their curiosity. This can be done in numerous ways but my preferred method is to find something about the organization that the students are working for that may not be widely known. For example, I recently facilitated a customer excellence course for a luxury auto manufacturer, so when I opened the program I started with asking the students what they knew about their company and offered a few items I had researched that involved innovation, how they became a luxury brand and a few more interesting “trivia” type facts. The outcome was I got several students talking right away, learned a few things myself which is always great and most importantly accomplished my goal of getting the class energized by providing a few moments they will remember.
With the above points discussed I should also mention this…in some instances a class does not need any type of motivation to become energized and engaged. Case in point, a few years back I led several courses for a class of young salespeople who ranged in ages from 22 – 28 years old These folks were ready and willing to participate from the start and maintained that energy for the entire program, to the point I jokingly told them I was going to forbid the consumption of caffeine for the second half of the day. Also, in some instances you may be presented with the opposite class type. That is a group that, despite your best efforts, incudes some students that are completely unwilling to participate in training. There could be many reasons that motivate that behavior but regardless, the outcome is the same. What I recommend in those cases is as long as you have done your best to involve the student(s) that seem unwilling to participate and you ensure they are understanding the material to the best you can…then in those instances I would focus my time and efforts on those that did want to be an active participant.
I have no doubt that there are dozens more options for energizing and engaging a class right from the start of training that other professional facilitators have had success with, but as long as we make these opportunities meaningful, fun and or thought provoking…your students will remember.