Training Techniques and Strategies

Responding to Questions from the Audience

Some trainers are comfortable with participants posing questions throughout their presentations. Others prefer that participants hold their questions until the end of a session or a specified period. When considering how to respond most effectively to participants’ questions, faculty members should be cognizant of the time available (as lengthy question and answer sessions may not be possible) and be careful not to get “caught up” in a specific case or problem (that is introduced by one participants) that may not be relevant or helpful to the larger audience.

The trainer's familiarity with the curriculum material is also very relevant. The more familiar the presenter is with the material that he or she is presenting, the less disruptive frequent questions from the audience may be.

One strategy to manage questions is to distribute index cards to the audience at the beginning of the training and ask participants to record their questions on them. The cards can be submitted during breaks, when the presenter will have time to review them and decide how to respond most appropriately.

Facilitating Broad Audience Participation

In any audience, there will be some individuals who are more willing to contribute and ask questions than others. If a trainer allows the typical dynamics of a group to play out—with some participants being much more active than others—there may be some audience members who do not have an opportunity to participate. One technique for “leveling the playing field” in a group setting is the use of a “round robin” approach, where input is requested from every person present. Sometimes, the individual responses are recorded on a flipchart so that everyone can see and remember what has been said. This process—which is usually only possible in smaller groups—is an excellent way to solicit broad participation, make sure everyone present feels heard, and minimize the impact of individuals or factions that tend to dominate discussions.

Making Discussion Group Assignments

The importance of providing opportunities for training participants to process the information that is provided during any training event has been emphasized already. A quick strategy to create random discussion groups, and to encourage participants to engage with individuals with whom they may not be familiar, is to ask them to count off into whatever number of groups the trainer wants to create.

Introductions/Ice Breakers

Often, participants are asked to provide their names, titles, and agency affiliations at the beginning of training events. However, the use of a slightly more creative introduction process (or ice breaker) can help to establish an informal tone that can promote the asking of questions and frequent interactions among the participants and the faculty members during the event. For example, in a group where everyone knows each other—or where everyone knows at least one person in the room well—participants can be asked to share something that no one in the room knows about them. (If someone says “I knew that,” then the participant must come up with another fact.) In a group of strangers, every person can be asked to share something unique or noteworthy regarding their name. In smaller groups, trainers can request that participants provide two true statements and one false statement about themselves; the others are asked to guess which statement is false. Or, a more traditional approach can be used by asking each participant to say a few words about their expectations for the training.

There are many other ways to “break the ice” at the beginning of an event—trainers are encouraged to use their imagination. Although some users may feel reluctant to introduce informal or “non–substantive” elements into a training event, the goal of introductions/ice breakers is an important one—to create an environment in which attendees feel comfortable and welcome to participate actively by asking questions and reflecting on their experiences. This will ultimately make the training experience much more meaningful and will assist participants in mastering the material and understanding more fully its relevance in their own and their agencies’ work.

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