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A trainer’s biggest fear is an unresponsive classroom, but it doesn’t have to be. Whether you are about to take on your first training class, or you’ve been through the process a hundred times, understanding the difference between an unengaged audience and an engaged audience can make all the difference in your teaching and learning experience. If you are having trouble engaging your students, or if you are afraid that you might have trouble keeping things moving, here are five ways to engage students - even shy participants - to make the most of your training sessions.

Confront the Silence and Allow it to Be

If you are an experienced trainer, you know the value of silence in the classroom. It doesn’t always mean that people are zoned out or daydreaming about something other than what you are teaching. It can mean that participants are taking it all in, thinking about your lessons, and considering how those lessons can impact their lives, work, and knowledge. So before you try to fill every second of every training session with words, words, and more words, understand that silence is an essential part of your training and learning process. Confront the silence in a way that reminds your participants to engage with the content. For example, when you finish talking about a topic, wait a few seconds and then tell your participants to “consider the implications” of what they have just learned, or ask them to write down how they feel about what they just learned. Use the silence to your advantage to remind students to get involved with the content.

Ask the Right Kind of Questions

One way to keep participants engaged in your training, and probably the most popular way, is to ask questions. But the kind of questions you ask is critical to the success of your training and the engagement of your students. For example, if you always ask yes/no questions, you’ll always get a yes/no answer. That doesn’t leave much room for discussion and further opportunities to learn something in the process. Instead, ask questions that prompt the student to continue to talk or their own accord.

Ask for Opinions

Ask participants for their opinions if you want to get them engaged in the learning process. When you ask for opinions, you remove the fear that they will feel less experienced than their counterparts in the classroom. Not everyone will have the same experience, but everyone has got an opinion. If you want to get your students talking, ask them to provide an opinion on a teaching point. For example, if you are teaching the group about communication skills. Ask them to provide opinions on your communication skills. And just so the conversation isn’t one-sided, get them to critique each other’s communication skills, and even their own.

Use Stories to Draw Participants Out of their Shell

Everyone loves a good story, so when you are having trouble getting your participants to engage with you, ask them to tell stories, either through written word or verbally. Some people have a hard time expressing themselves out loud, so it’s a good idea to offer them an option of writing their thoughts down before they speak. Ask for stories about good examples and bad examples. Again, everyone has an opinion about these things, but sometimes they don’t see the relevance of their own experience. Having them tell a story can help shape the relevance of their opinion and bring a new learning opportunity to the group.

Use a Variety of Teaching Tools

Not only can you engage students with a variety of teaching tools, but you can have them engage either other with the same tools. Use flip charts to illustrate points and write notes for the class to see. Show videos and ask for summaries from students; have them compare and contrast notes with each other about the videos. Ask questions and then ask them to reframe the questions in a way that gets them talking to each other. Get them to write stories, poems, and draw pictures about things that happened to them at work and in life that might be relevant to the training.

There are lots of ways to get students out of their head and into your classroom. It can take time to develop these skills as you first start out, but with time, you’ll be able to command the attention of any group and make sure they get the most out of the learning experience.

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