Training Techniques for the Community Setting
Question and Answer. Some presenters are comfortable having participants interrupt with questions. Others prefer to have participants hold questions until the end of a section or other specified period. In part this is a matter of preference, but it also can be a matter of time, since interruptions can throw off a schedule and the smooth delivery of information.
In the context of a sex offender community notification meeting (where the content of the material presented may evoke particularly strong reactions from those in the audience), it may be prudent to ask participants to hold all questions until the end of the meeting, or ask them to write questions on note cards and turn them in at the end of the meeting. This helps manage the dialogue and assures the timely delivery of information. It may also be wise to explain that you have a lot of material to go over and that by the end of the meeting you will have answered most of the participants' questionsif not, you will stay until all of their questions are answered.
Use of Smaller Groups. Many community education meetings take place in groups of 30 or more individuals. Since this size group does not lend itself to discussion, you may be limited to questions and answers as the primary way of involving attendees. If you are interested in soliciting comments, questions, and input from attendees, you may want to consider breaking into smaller groups for purposes of discussion and learning activities (such as the question and answer test provided). If you do break into small groups, there are a number of techniques that can assist in stimulating and managing a discussion.
There are pros and cons to dividing an audience into smaller groups. One important pro is that a more personal exchange of ideas can take place and it is easier for more people to be heard and feel involved. On the other hand, this technique requires more space, more discussion leaders, and may run the risk of participants hearing different information in different groups. Meeting organizers should consider carefully the pros and cons of using a large group or breaking into smaller groups for discussion. If you do elect to break into smaller groups, the following suggestions may help manage these discussions.
- Gathering Input from the Group. In any group there will be participants more willing to contribute or ask questions than others. If a meeting leader allows the normal dynamic of a group to unfoldwith some participants dominatingother participants may not have the opportunity to ask questions or provide comments. One technique for leveling the playing field in a group setting is to use a "round robin" technique. This involves going around a group and asking for input or questions from each person, in order, without interruption. Usually, these are recorded in a way that gives everyone viewing accesson a blackboard or a flip chart. In this way, you can assemble a list of questions, avoiding duplication and gauging the primary interests of the group, before beginning a discussion or responding to questions. The process can continue until no one has anything new to contribute, or it can be limited to a certain number of cycles through the group. Be sure to allow enough time to respond to the questions/comments once a list has been generated. A round robin process is an excellent way to elicit everyone's participation, make sure everyone feels heard, and to minimize the impact of dominating individuals.
- Recording. Writing on a flip chart, a dry erase board, or an overhead is a very simple but sometimes overlooked technique for reinforcing learning. For visual learners, it is essential. Trainers can invite a participant to serve as a recorder for a particular activity, as the process of writing sometimes detracts from effective facilitation. Asking small groups to name a recorder to capture the main points of their discussion can help to keep the small groups focused on their task. Capturing comments and questions on paper or other media also tends to focus energyand sometimes emotionon the written word, rather than on the discussion leader.
Introductions/Ice Breakers. In a small group, it is often helpful to ask people to introduce themselves the first time they ask a question or give a comment. This sets the tone for a much more relaxed and personal discussion. If time allows, each person can be asked to include some particular information about themselves or respond to a specific (non-threatening) question that can "break the ice" and create a more friendly atmosphere.