I had the trainer’s nightmare last night; I dreamt I was starting one of our most popular workshops except the tables and materials were not where they should have been, there was confusion as to seating, I skipped the brainteaser, and the icebreaker was massively muddled. A real nightmare, because if a course doesn’t start well, chances are the rest of it won’t go well either.
Some great instructional techniques used for building rapport with your target audience before your class even starts is to have a well organized classroom and to get to know your participants as they enter.
Here’s what I do:
- Set up the night before. Especially in a new classroom, doing an unhurried set-up well before the training starts allows me to make the space mine. Many of the courses I conduct are in hotel space venues. The banquet staff does a great job of set-up, but I almost always do a little tweaking. I may move the flipchart stands, change the AV table, or make minor changes to the locations of tables or chairs. These are little things, but they make the room just the way I want it to be.
- Instructor’s table. I like having a table where I can have my handouts organized, place my references, keep my class list, or have my give-aways available. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily look as well organized as I would like it to as the day wears on. So, I’ll often position some of the flipchart stands in front of it. I can see the instructor’s table, but my participants probably can’t.
- Materials. My set-up includes one set of materials for each participant, placed on the tables where I want them to sit (i.e. in a room where multiple tables are available). This is a subtle way of positioning the participants just where I want them without being overtly directive. Our hotel sites are typically set for the number of participants registered, but this works especially well in a fixed training facility. If there is a classroom that will hold 30 people and I only have 11 learners, I place 11 sets of materials on the tables or work stations at the front of the room. I also place the materials in a very organized and uniform manner which sends the message to the participants that the class will be well organized which in turn enhances participation and control.
- Supplies. I like to have a clear plastic envelop with extra highlighters, pencils, an eraser, colored dots, and post-its on each table. Again, the message should be that everything the learners need to be successful is available to them. There are no road blocks because a participant lacks their favorite learning tool.
- Greetings. As the participants begin to arrive, I’ll either be at the door or move to the door to greet them if I’m doing last-minute classroom tweaking. I’ll welcome them and introduce myself. We usually have snacks and coffee available. I don’t use assigned seating, so I’ll encourage them to help themselves to the food and drink and take any open seat. I also make sure they know where the washrooms are as some of them have been on the road for awhile to get to our training site. If I have the opportunity, I’ll have a brief, social conversation with the newly arrived participant to put them at ease. Greeting the participants as I’ve described makes them feel like a welcomed visitor in a home. It’s a very nice way to start a class. It puts them at ease and puts me in the position when the class starts of not speaking to a room full of total strangers.
I have occasionally experienced challenges from participants during the first morning of a class. When I reflect on why the challenge occurred, I realize that, in some cases, the challenger was a participant who arrived late. I believe that, in many of these instances, having missed the climate setting just described may be why they were in a less receptive mood.
Just like in many sports, if the ball starts rolling well, it keeps rolling well. What other instructional techniques have you used to “get the ball rolling” well in your training programs?
For more tips on building rapport and establishing a positive climate for learning, check out our Advanced Instructional Techniques workshop. And for some great tips on how to “wow your learners and start big” check out Marsha’s blog.