Monday, April 25, 2011

Tip #372: How to Facilitate Large Group

Every crowd has a silver lining. “ P. T. Barnum

Large groups can present a number of challenges for a trainer. Informed choices will need to be made about seating arrangements, learning activities, and amplification.

1. What is the best way to seat them, assuming there is some flexibility in table or chair arrangements?

Whenever possible it is better to avoid a classroom style arrangement with parallel rows of chairs facing the front of the room. There are two reasons for this: it is too reminiscent of elementary school and it means that people are facing the backs of other participants’ heads.

Ideally, it is best to use a large room that can accommodate tables and chairs so that the participants can face forward and also face their tablemates for small group activities.

2. What adjustments need to be made to planned interactive learning activities?

Most interactive learning activities can be adapted to work with a large group. For example, small group activities can still occur as planned if the participants are seated at small tables. If the participants are seated in an auditorium and the seats can be moved, they can rearrange themselves into small groups comparable to the table groups. If the seats cannot be moved, the participants can form small groups with the people seated next to them and either directly in front or in back of them.

The groups will need to be debriefed in a slightly different way than would occur with a smaller group. Rather than having each small group report out, the trainer will need to have just a few of the groups report out and have the rest indicate their agreement or disagreement with the group reports by a show of hands.

Some learning activities depend upon the easy mobility of the participants. If they are seated at small tables or in rows with wide aisles, the participants should be able to move around as needed to create new groups, pop up at their chairs, or gather in small groups around a flip chart to brainstorm. However, if the participants are seated in an auditorium with little space between the rows of chairs, the trainer will need to consider alternative activities that do not depend upon the participants’ mobility.

The adjustment to these activities may be as simple as having the participants continue to work with the group seated next to them, having participants volunteer answers by raising their hands instead of standing up, and having the trainer write down the participant answers during a large group discussion.

3. How can the trainer ensure that everyone can hear what the trainer or other participants say?

With a very large group, either the trainer has to be able to project a clear strong voice or use a microphone. If a microphone will be needed, it is always better if it is a battery-powered lavaliere that can be attached to a lapel rather than a battery-powered microphone that has to be held. It will free up the trainer’s hands. This will also enable the trainer to move around the room listening to the small group work and interacting with the participants.

The larger issue is how to ensure that the entire group can hear participant comments and questions. One option is to have a second battery-powered hand held microphone that can be passed to the person who wants to speak. Another option is to have stationary microphones set up in various places throughout the room so that participants can access them. The third option is to simply have the trainer repeat what the participant has said and then respond to the statement or question.

The fourth option is to have the trainer stand as far away as possible from the person who is speaking, so that the participant has to project and speak loud enough so the trainer (and the rest of the group) can hear what is being said.

Although large groups may present some definite challenges for room arrangement, participation and amplification, they are not insurmountable. They just require that the trainer plan ahead and make the necessary arrangements to accommodate the larger group.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Tip #371: How to Get Participants Back From Breaks on Time

“One good thing about punctuality is that it's a sure way to help you enjoy a few minutes of privacy. Orlando A. Battista

Many trainers are concerned about giving breaks, because they fear that it will be difficult to get the participants back on time. However, there are many effective ways to increase the probability that all participants will be back in the classroom when the break time is over.

1. Whenever possible, hold the training off-site. Otherwise, participants will go back to their desks to check their messages and get roped into responding or handling business issues that arise.

2. Create group expectations that specifically identify the importance of coming back from breaks on time and what the consequences for tardiness or the rewards for punctuality will be.

3. Always start on time. Regardless of how many participants are back in their seats, start immediately after the break. Otherwise, the participants will see no value in coming back on time.

4. Use signals. Use a bell or buzzer, or increase the volume on music played during the break, or play a specific tune (one trainer uses the theme from the Lone Ranger with great results).

5. Project a countdown timer onto the screen. This provides a clear visual cue and avoids the confusion of clocks with different times throughout the building.

6. Put someone with a watch in charge of getting everyone back to the room. Just make sure this person takes this responsibility seriously and pays good attention to the time.

7. Have consequences for being late. Make tardy participants sing a short song, dance a short dance, do pushups, get hit with Koosh balls, or pay a dollar. Make the consequences just unpleasant enough that the participants will want to avoid them.

8. Have rewards for table groups that are always on time. This is a positive approach that increases the probability of success because the table members will make sure that their tablemates are back on time.

9. Keep the training interesting and engaging, so participants will not want to miss what happens next. Incorporating highly interactive and creative learning activities that have immediate practical value will provide great incentive for coming back from break. The participants may even come back earlier because they are excited to continue the training!

10. Give participants specific assignments that they will present immediately after the break. That will raise their anxiety just enough so that they are much more likely to pay attention to the time. They may even want to return early to be prepared for their presentation.

11. Give participants a one-minute warning that the break is about to end. This works well if the participants congregate in places that are easily located and accessible.

12. Close the door when the break is over. While closing the door, take that opportunity to tell the participants who are still in the hall that the break has ended.

13. Alert the participants that important content will be covered immediately after each break. The participants will not want to miss it.

14. Offer refreshments that are only available immediately after the break. Never underestimate the power of free food and beverages, especially if the selections are tasty and appealing.

15. Have participants buddy up and be responsible for getting their partners back into the room on time after each break. Peer pressure can be very helpful.

16. Give longer (and possibly less) breaks if restroom facilities are located at a distance from the training room. There is absolutely no point in setting up the participants to be unavoidably late. Avoid guaranteed frustration for the participants and the trainer.

17. Promise that the training will end on time (or even earlier) as long as the participants return promptly from breaks. This is usually a terrific incentive. Just make sure to keep this promise if the participants hold up their end of the bargain.

18. Require participants to stay in the room for the break. A lot can be said for the benefits of a change of scenery at break times, so this is not an ideal option. However, participants frequently do choose to stay in the room for a number of reasons: because it is a comfortable place to chat, there is sufficient space to move around, refreshments are available, the table space gives them a surface on which to do other work, they want to read ahead in the participant workbook or review their notes, etc.

There is no guarantee that 100% of the participants always will come back from break on time. Some events and interruptions can occur that are beyond the control of either the participants or the trainer. Nonetheless, these options, either individually or in combination, can be very effective.

May your learning be sweet.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Tip #370: Why Frequent Breaks are Important for Learning

Lucid intervals and happy pauses.” Francis Bacon

It may seem counterintuitive, but participants will learn more during a training program if there is less training time and more frequent break times. Ideally, ten-minute breaks should be given approximately every fifty minutes.

There are a number of reasons for giving frequent brief breaks during a training program:

1. Resting the Brain. Brain studies have found that the brain becomes saturated with information after about fifty minutes. It needs time to absorb and process the new learning in order to make room for new learning. To state this in more colloquial terms, “the mind can absorb only what the rear can endure.”

When people sit for long periods of time, their breathing tends to slow down, which decreases their intake of oxygen. That is why participants start to get drowsy, and when they are drowsy, it is difficult for them to learn.

2. Increasing Oxygen in the Brain. The more oxygen in the brain, the easier it is for the brain to function. When participants stand up and move, they start to breathe more deeply. As a result, more oxygen enters their blood stream and is pumped to the brain.

That is why energizers are so effective, because they typically involve physical activities that get the participants’ blood flowing. This brings more oxygen to the brain and builds their energy.

3. Creating More Fertile Learning Opportunities. The greatest amount of learning occurs at the very beginning and the very end of each training segment. (A “training segment” is whatever time is necessary for the participants to learn what is being taught). Each break in the training creates a natural ending and also creates a new beginning. The greater the number of breaks, the greater the number of endings and beginnings that offer ripe opportunities for learning.

4. Providing Time to Address Personal Needs. When participants know that they will have breaks every fifty minutes or so, they can relax. They won’t have to worry about when they will be able to get to the rest room, grab something to drink, have a cigarette, or make a quick phone call to check in at home or at the office. No longer distracted by these concerns, they can pay better attention in the classroom.

5. Meeting Learning Style Needs. There are some (kinesthetic) learners who have great difficulty sitting for any period of time. For ideal learning, these kinesthetic learners need to be physically engaged. Since many training programs do not incorporate physical movement into the learning activities, the breaks may be the only time that these learners get a chance to stand up and move around.

6. Accommodating Physical Needs. Other participants may have difficulty sitting for long periods of time for a number of reasons, such as the chairs are uncomfortable or their joints tend to stiffen up. In these cases, more frequent breaks are a courteous gesture that offers welcome relief.

Frequent breaks during a training program increase the participants’ likelihood of successful learning because they are more alert, more focused, and more comfortable. Frequent breaks also create more beginnings and endings, increasing training time when learning is most likely to occur.

May your learning be sweet.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Tip #369: Why Audience Size Should Not Affect Training Methods

"First, have a definite, clear practical ideal; a goal, an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends; wisdom, money, materials, and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end." Aristotle

There is a misperception that lecture is the only practical training method for training a large audience- particularly when the audience is seated in an auditorium or lecture hall. In fact, size has very little to do with the choice of a training method. The only impact that audience size should have is on the manner in which the selected training method is facilitated.

The selection of a training method should be based on the desired level of learning, not the number of people in the audience. It makes no difference whether there are 30 or 500 audience members. If comprehension is the desired level of learning, the trainer must use a training method that will give the audience an opportunity to demonstrate their comprehension.

However, the size of the audience will definitely affect how the trainer facilitates the selected training method.

For example, suppose that the trainer wants to use a questionnaire to assess the participants’ level of comprehension. In an auditorium or lecture hall setting, the trainer has at least three different facilitation options:

1. Directed large group discussion: After the trainer reads a statement, the participants can signal their answers (thumbs up if they agree or down if they disagree).

2. Small group discussion: The participants can create a small group with the people seated around them to discuss their responses to the questionnaire. Spokespersons for the small groups can subsequently report their responses.

3. Participant pairs: The participants can pair up with someone seated near them to discuss their responses to the questionnaire. The pairs can then volunteer their answers during a large group debriefing.

It is generally understood that a role-play is ill-suited to a large group. However, if a role-play is the best method for the audience members to demonstrate their ability to apply their new learning, possible facilitation options include:

1. Front of the room: Various volunteers can alternate participating in different role-plays in front of the group.

2. Triads: The participants can create triads with two other participants seated near them and then take turns role-playing and observing. If space permits, the triads can even leave the auditorium to practice someplace else. At the conclusion of the role-play practice, the triads can reconvene in the auditorium and discuss their experiences during a large group guided discussion.

Hopefully, it is clear that almost any participatory training method can be adapted to work effectively with a large audience. It just requires a clear focus on the learning objective and a willingness to experiment with different facilitation approaches. It also helps if the trainer has strong facilitation, time management and classroom management skills.

Given the planning and preparation required to use participatory training methods with large audiences, presenting a lecture may seem an easier option for many trainers. However, if real learning is to occur, the relative comfort of the trainer should have no bearing on the choice of the training method, and neither should the size of the audience.

May your learning be sweet.