Engage 3 Types Of Training Participants

Think about the three types of participants you may encounter in training sessions—Voluntolds, Vacationers, and Eager Learners—and strive to make the subject matter relevant and beneficial for all.

I conduct business communications workshops for corporate and public-sector clients on writing skills, oral presentations, and e-mail efficiency. Over many years as a trainer, I’ve identified three primary types of participants who attend:

  • Voluntold: They have to be there, but they would rather be somewhere—anywhere— else. Contributing little to and getting little from the workshop, they may have a chip on their shoulder and can be disruptive. It’s best to coax—not confront—this type.
  • Vacationer: They’re happy just to be away from the job. Typically indifferent about being there, they often get as much as they give. This type can be a challenge, but often responds favorably when asked, for example, to work in a team setting.
  • Eager Learner: They’re positive about attending and participate interactively. And they usually speak up and contribute to enhancing the experience for all. This type often can be an inspiration to the other participants.


While you may have identified other types of attendees at your sessions, too, as trainers, we all tend to experience a mix of these three regularly, and frequently in the same session. And, yes, we’d all like nothing better than to conduct training only for Eager Learners. But no matter who’s sitting before you, here are some strategies for accommodating all (and alienating none):

  • Let all participants know they are welcome at the training. You may not know at first which of the three types is attending, but it generally becomes apparent fairly quickly. Cues to be alert to include: eye contact, attentiveness, and a smiling countenance…or lack thereof. A side note: Don’t be shy about alerting attendees that they stand to gain by proactively participating.
  • Display a description of the three types of participants on a PowerPoint or Keynote slide, using the custom animation feature to show them one at a time. This lets attendees know that you know who they are and can help in breaking down resistance from Voluntolds and Vacationers.
  • If the size of the group can accommodate it, have each participant pick a partner to interview and then introduce before the training begins. With this exercise, I have each attendee find out three things about his or her partner: name and job duties, workshop expectations, and a little-known fun fact. Doing this requires all attendees to talk, which gives you a better sense of which type they are.
  • Use the information gleaned from the interview and introduction exercise advantageously. For example, a participant may have revealed an interesting little-known fun fact you can reference later during the training.
  • When dealing with a Voluntold, do so “offline,” so to speak. For instance, at a break, take the individual aside and ask, sincerely, what more you can do to make the training value-added for him or her.
  • Check the tendency to train only to the Eager Learners, ignoring the other two types. Be inclusive. And be on guard not to let an Eager Learner dominate or monopolize the session’s progress.
  • Establish a “two-way” communication stream. Keep in mind that anyone’s favorite topic is typically him or herself. To illustrate, I recently asked a participant who had been an Air Force officer how that background helped her demonstrate communication skills in her current job. She was happy to open up.

The next time you conduct a training session, think about the three types of participants you may have sitting before you, and strive to make the subject matter relevant and beneficial for all while maintaining courteous control of the session.

Tom Stapleton is a trainer and freelance writer in Glendale, CA. He can be reached at http://www.stapcomm.com.