Engaging participants

Motivate-Your-TeamHas it ever happened to you that you are ready to start your session during a training course, you hear the participants coming in and see them take their seats… You start your session and quite soon you realise you could do with some more motivation/engagement from their side, they could be more active.. they could do more… You get a feeling that some of them are not really listening and you see on their faces that they are thinking about other things…

Have you ever had participants (or entire groups) that seemed disconnected or demotivated? What would happen if I told you that there are concrete and specific things that you can do as a trainer in order to consistently have connected, engaged and motivated participants in your training courses? Would that be of value to you? If yes, then… read on to learn more…

One useful belief I have about learning situations is that there’s no such thing as demotivated participants. We can only have participants that have not yet found their own motivation (reasons) for being in that specific learning situation.

This can have several explanations, spanning from participants not having personally made the choice to be there (they were either sent by somebody or your course is part of their mandatory curriculum) to participants who do not identify themselves either with the outcomes of the training course (they are not aware of or do not understand the outcomes of the training course or simply do not find it useful for themselves) or with the learning experience itself (the setting, the approach to leaning etc).

Many learning facilitators (or trainers) actually create the ‘demotivation situation’ themselves, firstly in their minds (‘I know some of my participants will be demotivated’) and then in the training room, through their behavior (which is, of course, set to achieve the trainers’ beliefs about how learning experiences should happen).

So what would be some useful things (that) a trainer could do to increase the motivation and the engagement of his/her participants?

1. Remember that motivation comes from the inside

When it comes to motivation, one of the most important elements to remember is that motivation comes from within – the ‘carrot and stick’ approach rarely works in learning situations.

Ask yourself: What are all the possible ways in which I could identify what is important for my participants when it comes to learning and how can I make sure that the course is aligned with those values?

2. What will we achieve by the end of the training course?

I made a habit of presenting the overall training outcomes at the very beginning of the training course as to set the framework for learning. Although that usually happens, it is less common for trainers to, on one hand, clearly explain to the participants what they actually mean and why they were chosen – one of the differences in between adults and children when it comes to learning is that adults need to also understand why they are learning not only what they are learning. On the other hand, some trainers rarely test the understanding of the outcomes from the side of the participants.

3. Not expectations but goals! Personal Goals!

Many training colleagues love to start their training courses with a session that maps the expectations of the participants as a way to find out what they expect (not necessarily what they want or need – nor what is important to them for that matter). This might give the participants a good feeling because they were asked what their expectations are but what I find even more useful is to go one step further and ask the participants to set their own goals for the training course. Their personal learning goals!

4. A personal WHY

The personal goals approach (re)connects the participants with their own purpose for being there, while it focuses their attention on their learning goals, which significantly increases the level of the engagement as it creates what we call a ‘personal WHY’ (‘If you don’t have a reason to be here, you would probably be somewhere else, wouldn’t you?’).

At this moment, it is important to make sure you explicitly link and connect the training outcomes with the ones of the participants. An alignment exercise might be needed.

5. Who’s responsibility is it?

Make sure that once the learning goals are set, you have an agreement with the group and ask them to take full responsibility for achieving their goals. In some cases, this is called a psychological contract. This upfront agreement clarifies that the trainers have full responsibility for the process whereas the participants need to take full responsibility for their results.

6. The learning diary

Once the participants have set their own learning outcomes, make sure that you do develop a framework that allows them to track, evaluate their learning goals throughout the learning journey. Also, offer them the possibility to update their goals and add new ones, if they believe they are needed.

7. What do I want to have in my training room?

Do you expect a high level of engagement and interaction? You might need to give explicit permission for the participants to actually participate at the level you expect them to – or even to ask cultures. Working most of the time in multicultural settings, I have very early found out that in some countries, because either of the educational systems or other cultural norms, I need to explicitly give participants the permission to ask questions.

Now… what other ways come to your mind now that could increase the engagement and the motivation of your participants?

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