How to Keep Your Audience Engaged in Training

I’ve been training long enough to remember a world before PowerPoint. Trainers relied on flipcharts, posters, handouts, and videos to present information to their participants. Ah, the good old days, when people actually had attention spans more than a few minutes long.

Then along came PowerPoint, which has become like a “one-stop-shop” for all training presentations. Nearly anyone can now train if they just read from the slides – but these slides are full of so many words that our brains don’t know what to do – read the slide or listen to the presenter? Then, a few slides in, we get the point of what is about to happen to us and we begin to tune out. David Ogilvy famously quipped, “Most people use PowerPoint like a drunk uses a lamppost – for support rather than for illumination.” It should be a part of your presentation, not your entire presentation.

If you’re struggling with breaking from the PowerPoint mold and captivating your audience, check out my three tips on how to keep your participants engaged.

Switch It Up

While this may be more challenging for some trainers, it is important to switch up the media that you are using during your training. Last time, we talked about changing up your presentation style every 7 minutes or so to keep your audience stimulated. Sometimes, an old-fashioned prepared flip chart or poster that you can speak to works just as well as PowerPoint. You can also incorporate other visuals, such as videos, or even visit web or social media sites if appropriate. Keep the audience guessing and they are more likely to stay with you.

And don’t forget about take-aways, also known as handouts. Yes, these can be helpful in keeping participants engaged especially if they are incorporated into activities, and they can also be used for note taking. In some cases, to keep participants focused, don’t distribute handouts with extensive content in advance, but perhaps let them know the materials are coming at the end. Just like a busy PowerPoint slide, they may spend more time reading what’s in front of them rather than focusing on the learning that is taking place around them.

We have been designing “placemats” for many clients, using the front and back for the highlights of the training; graphics, charts, key learning points, lines for note taking, and “brain games” that are used to keep participants enticed if they start to drift off. They are told at the beginning that they will see the answers to the learning points at the end of the training. It’s an easy take-away when folded in half and a good reference tool for later.

Keep Them Participating

We’ve talked about the sharing of anecdotes and stories as a great source of learning. “Look for situations where people can add real value. Audience participation should never be just for the sake of it – people will see right through this and turn off,” says presentation trainer, Olivia Mitchell.

You may want to assign pre-work, such as an article or case study that gives the participants something to discuss and to bring their voices into the training. Getting them thinking in advance of arriving for class can keep them excited to participate and share their viewpoint. A variety of voices being heard can also stimulate a bored participant and entice them to join in the conversation as well. In the training that we have done as of late, we have also incorporated a variety of quotes that are thought-provoking, relevant to the topic, and that help provide credibility to the information that you are presenting.

 Implement Quiet Time

“One of my favorite tips is to incorporate reflection time. Providing silence is a gift that busy professionals rarely get. Have audience members simply think about a concept for a bit, or spend more time with a longer strategy question,” says Kristi Hedges, in her Forbes article, “Six Ways To Avoid Death By PowerPoint.” This can also be a perfect opportunity to have them reflect on the learning and what they may want to incorporate once they return to work. Making some sort of action plan is advantageous because once they leave training, they are hit with the realities of the world that have been waiting for them.

So you’ve got them awake and alert by switching up your media. Now, how do you as the facilitator connect with the audience to get their attention, gain their trust, and convince them to buy into your message? Yes, that’s what we’ll discuss next time.

In the meantime, for more training best practices, check out my other blogs here. If you’re looking for help facilitating your own memorable, motivating, and effective training and learning experiences, give us a call today.

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