Here’s a joke I’ve used for years – I train for free, but I get paid to move furniture.
Pretty much every time I show up for a workshop, the tables and chairs are arranged badly. So I push them around, trying to create a better learning space.
It’s not unusual for me to break a sweat even before the class begins. This is known as trainer-obics (another old joke).
Good and Bad Set-ups: Picture the Difference
Take a look at these two photos. The first looks grim. Straight rows, bright lights, an imposing white board. Whoever stands at the front of this room assumes a position of power, and everyone else is subservient. Feels like punishment, right?
When a colleague included this photo in a slide deck about training, I had a strong, swift reaction – take it out!
The second picture looks like a lot more fun. People are talking, engaging, gesturing, smiling. As teachers and facilitators, that’s the energy we want to create.
How you arrange your training space has a big impact. So please join me and let’s move some furniture!
Tips for Creating a Great Training Room
- If possible, position the chairs so people can talk to each other, rather than classroom style or in a large U with people far apart. Some people believe the U is egalitarian, but that arrangement makes it hard for small group conversations, which are the heart of any good training experience.
- I suggest using round tables or pairs of rectangular tables pushed together into “pods,” with chairs around three sides. Again, your goal is to facilitate conversations and exercises in smaller groups of 3-6 people each.
- People like to see what’s happening, so choose a room with good light, preferably natural light. If you’re stuck in one of those windowless hotel conference rooms, try this.
- Create good sight lines so people can see what you’re writing on the flip chart. Never have the audience facing large windows during the daytime. You and your easel will be backlit and difficult to see.
- Improve your flip chart skills. Use big markers that don’t smell. (Some markers are pretty toxic, and your participants may have chemical sensitivities.) Write large enough so everyone can see clearly. Stick with dark colors, except for accents. For a discussion of why and how flip charts trump PowerPoint slides, click here. (Note: If you’re serious about improving your flip chart artistry, consider Learn to Scribe, an online training course for graphic facilitators.)
- Go outside! If the weather’s good and the facility is appropriate, encourage people to go outdoors for pair exercises and small group work. Yes, it takes a little more effort and time herd everyone, but the Vitamin D and fresh air will energize your group.
Create a Comfortable Space
For years, I was guest trainer for the Center for Progressive Leadership. At every session, the staff brought brightly covered tablecloths, like the one you see in the photo above. This added a homey, personal touch to the often drab rooms we used for our workshops.
A comfortable room increases the energy and impact of your training. Do everything you can to make your space informal, welcoming, and encouraging of lively conversations.