Have you ever been afraid to raise your hand and speak up? Perhaps you weren’t afraid exactly, but you wondered if you might look foolish or ask a dumb question. If you’re like me, anxieties like that can keep you from speaking out.
A great trainer works in many ways to encourage everyone to participate – both the naturally talkative people and those who tend to hold back.
Trainer Tricks Get Everyone Talking
Here are three trainer tricks to lift up the quieter voices.
1. Introduce Your Neighbor
At the start of a workshop, ask people to pair up and briefly share their backgrounds. Then ask each person to introduce their partner to the group…again, briefly.
Early participation breaks the ice. If you can get everyone talking early in your training, they’re more likely to talk throughout the session.
2. Small Groups
For most exercises, consider breaking the large group into smaller subgroups of three to five people each. Give the groups an assignment and have them report back.
While some people are uncomfortable speaking in the large group, they are likely to participate in a more intimate, informal setting.
Starting at one side of the room, ask every person to talk about something specific. Use this format to ask for quick feedback on something specific. Before starting, model the kind of response you’re looking for so people know how much information to share.
Bad Trainer Behavior: One Guaranteed Way to Shut People Up
Recently, I had a powerful experience that reminded of what NOT to do as a trainer.
I was a participant in a session lead by someone else. The trainer lectured far more than I like, but periodically she would ask for questions.
In the beginning, lots of people raised their hands. She would call on someone, listen to what he or she said and then, in one way or another, tell them why they were wrong.
At one point, I raised my hand. True to form, she rejected my idea. It felt like a slap in the face. I found myself in the untenable position of either challenging her knowledge or not responding.
My comment had merit, but arguing the point in front of the group would have been unproductive.
Having been discredited, I found that I had a harder time absorbing her information. I was just too irritated. I suspect I wasn’t alone. As the day went on, the group got quieter and quieter as people nursed their wounds and felt less and less safe.
How to Handle Misguided Comments from Well-Meaning Students
If you want the people in your workshops to participate fully and freely, never make them feel as though what they say is unworthy.
From time to time, you will have a student who will offer a less-than-useful idea or a nugget of misinformation. Don’t shame that person in public. Simply say thank you and move on.
If you think there’s something of value hiding in the comment – and there often is – ask the student to say more. Ask questions that extract the best aspects of the idea and then highlight those, crediting the student.
As an alternative, you might ask the group to chime in. People learn through discussion and debate. By broadening the discussion, you can use incomplete or incorrect ideas to kick off a robust discussion.
Turn the tables by using misinformation as a teaching tool. For example, here’s a great icebreaker question: What’s one thing you know or believe about fundraising that’s probably wrong?
Given the opportunity to reflect – and a safe space to do so – most people will acknowledge the gaps in their wisdom.
People Remember What They Say, Not What You Say
Here’s a paradox – the trainer has information to share, but participants remember more of what they say and do than what the trainer says and does.
Getting people to talk and explore ideas with each other is far more important than telling them what you want them to know.
Use the simple techniques listed above to get people talking. And no matter what happens, never make any student feel dumb or disrespected.