Some Training Techniques and Terms
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 training participants can sometimes get caught up in an individual problem at the expense of the group. The trainer's familiarity with the material is also relevant. The more familiar the presenter is with the material and with the curriculum itself, the less disruptive it may feel to be interrupted. Another option to consider is handing out index cards with the participant materials and asking participants to write their questions and turn them in. The presenter can then go through these during breaks and decide when and how it's most appropriate to respond.
Gathering Input from the Group: In any group there will be some participants more willing to contribute than others. If a trainer simply allows the normal dynamic of a group to unfoldwith some participants dominatingother participants may not have the opportunity to make important contributions or ask questions. One technique for "leveling the playing field" in a group training setting is to use a "round robin" technique. This involves going around a group and asking input from each person in order without interruptions. Usually, these are recorded in a way that allows everyone to see and remember what's been said. The process can continue until no one has anything more to add, with individuals passing when they have nothing new to contribute, or it can be limited to a certain number of cycles through the group. For some purposes, just generating a list will be sufficient. For example, if you're using nominal round robin process to evaluate a meeting, the organizer can take the list and process it independently. If the list is going to be used for additional purposes within the training - for example, if you are creating a list which you will then have to prioritize - it is necessary to include time for the group to work with the list, eliminate duplication, order sub-topics under their larger concepts, etc. This process is an excellent way to solicit everyone's participation, make sure everyone feels heard, and to minimize the impact of individuals or factions that tend to dominate.
Recording: Writing on newsprint, a dry erase board, or 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 if the process of writing would detract 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.
Small group activities: We've mentioned above some of the pros and cons of breaking your audience into small groups, as well as some considerations for the composition of the groups. A quick way to create random groups, and to encourage participants to engage with people outside their immediate circle, is to have participants count off to whatever number of groups you want to create.
Introductions/Ice Breakers: You can ask people to give their name, title, and agency, but sometimes a creative introduction process can set the tone for an informal, interactive training session. In a group where everyone knows each other - or where everyone knows at least one person in the room well - ask participants to share something that no one in the room knows about them. (If someone says "I knew that," then they have to come up with another one!) With a group of strangers, invite them to share the cartoon character they most identify with. If the group is relatively small (or if you break it down into small groups), ask people to give two true statements and one false statement about themselves. The others have to guess which one is false. Or, you may take a more traditional route and ask 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 your traininguse your imagination. Although some individuals feel reluctant to introduce such informal or seemingly "non-substantive" elements into a training event, the goal here is an important one. The goal is to create an environment where attendees feel welcome to "participate" by expressing their own reactions, asking questions, providing insights from experience, and voicing challenges to the materials presented. This will make the training experience much more meaningful and will assist participants in "mastering" the material and truly understanding its relevance for their own work.