Anyone who has attended any type of training has experienced an ice breaker activity. Ice breaker activities are great for getting trainees to feel at ease with their cohorts, and also with you, their trainer. Here are my top five tips, beyond the ice breaker, to help learners feel comfortable, which in turn, will help them stay engaged throughout the training.
Have an agenda
Any time I teach a new course, I need to have a presentation order, and I spend a solid amount of prep time figuring this out. As a trainer, it will be nearly impossible to keep your trainees engaged and motivated to learn if the presentation does not first make sense to you. I am not just referring to understanding the subject matter, either. The flow of material has to be logical, and you need to know how to transition the specific topics you are presenting. I still spend time (albeit brief) prepping for courses I've taught many times before to be sure I still have a clear picture of how I will present the material to those seeing it for the first time.
If you put yourself in the shoes of a trainee, it is easy to tell if a trainer is just 'winging it.' Even if the trainer knows exactly what he or she is talking about, a training session that is not well organized will not impress anyone. This organization pertains to anything done during the training, from the topics you are training on to the activities and exercises you do in class to taking breaks. This is not to say you should keep spontaneity out of the classroom, but as a rule, make sure you have a plan, and stick to it.
Acknowledge your trainees
If you are teaching a large class, the chances someone knows what you are talking about when you present a subject are high. For this reason, I typically avoid straight lecture, and resort to continually polling my trainees—asking them if they've seen the feature I am showing, if they have a use for it, and if they can talk about their experience with it. This gives them ownership of the material and does a couple of things: it allows me to assess what features in the technology are working for the trainee and which ones are not; by doing this, I can focus on the specific features that person is interested in, thus keeping the training relevant and engaging. It also allows others in the training to see the material from different points of view, and gives them additional ideas on how to use the features described. This is a great way to get people engaged and talking in a smaller class. No one wants to go to training and sit through eight hours of someone talking at them. It should be said, however, that some people are shy and may not completely appreciate this method. Use your best judgment.
To reiterate, no one wants to go to training and sit through eight hours of someone talking at them. When planning your agenda, incorporate activities to break up monotony. This could include games, break out discussions, role-playing, etc. It doesn't even necessarily need to be tied to the material. I do a listening quiz once in a while that people love. It gets my trainees relaxed and laughing, and provides a good break after focusing on the training material for a while.
Games provide a great way to unload marketing materials while helping trainees understand the subject matter better in a more casual, fun manner. I often teach my trainees how to build database queries, which isn't always easy for everyone. I like to give them scenarios for which they have to create queries, and we see who can build it first. This is a great way for us to give away some of the hundreds of water bottles we have with our company logo on them!
Give opportunities for success and celebrate success
Throughout the training, ask questions you know you can get the right answers to. People love to be right. Although it is easy to tell someone how to do something, a person will remember something much longer if they worked out the solution themselves. Even if it is something as simple as asking, "where should I click next?" Instead of showing them, it will help people remember better, as well as engage the audience.
This is not to say you shouldn't let your trainees get answers wrong. Most of the time, we learn best by making mistakes. When people learn what they did wrong in an unthreatening environment, they will retain information better.
Use humor and be realistic
You might have the most motivated trainees in the world; however, the material you are working with could be bland, and not as interesting as, say, a motivational speech. This is especially true in technical training. In addition to what we've talked about thus far, try to inject some humor wherever you can. It is even better if it is related to the material. I try to avoid purposefully bad jokes, as most people will roll their eyes at these, and see them as corny, but if you have a good sense of humor, and can lighten the mood, it will pay off in your training room.
There are plenty of other ways to keep your audience actively with you during a training session. I find these to be the more important ones I use. The ultimate goal is to provide a great training experience for your clients. Remember, you are doing this for them. The more you focus on your trainees, and deal with their issues, the more pleased they all will be.
Brett Friell is the director of training for Technology Advisors, Inc.