Q: I conduct corporate training with anywhere from 15 to 50 people in a class. Lately I've noticed more and more distraction among the trainees — laptops and smartphones are ever more visible. My evaluations from attendees are fine, but I'd like to keep people more engaged even though the content can be dry (compliance, etc.). What do you suggest?
A: You can be more compelling than the electronic competition — focus on the structure and style of your training sessions to turn it around.
The inner game
What do you want the experience to be for your trainees? Take some time to envision your ultimate goal, not just in terms of what they learn, but also as a more complete experience. Close your eyes and try to bring your vision to life in your imagination.
Now think about your recent sessions. How did you use the time? What was the energy in the room like? Did you feel engaged, or were you going through the motions? It's essential that you give yourself a realistic critique so that you can figure out the best steps to take.
You mentioned that your evaluations are fine, but what does that mean? If you're not getting top ratings, consider whether participants are just being polite in their scoring. Also, assess whether the evaluation form does a good job of measuring the factors you care about, and revise it if it doesn't.
Learn from others' examples, thinking about effective sessions you've attended. Notice how those meetings were organized and the tactics the trainers used to engage the group.
Finally, get additional feedback, asking a colleague to review your materials and observe your session so that you can gain more insight.
The outer game
There are practical steps you can take to increase your attendees' focus.
• Include active participation in your sessions. If people just need to be in their seats listening (or not), the temptation to multitask will be very strong. But if you build in group discussions and report outs, they will learn more and have fewer opportunities to send e-mail.
• If it's a long session, acknowledge the need to be connected during the workday with enough breaks, so attendees can take care of a few things.
• Amp up your delivery a bit, if needed. Your personal engagement with the attendees will make it less comfortable for them to be focused on their electronic device.
Don't overlook the benefits of setting ground rules at the beginning. Ask people to avoid multi-tasking and request their active engagement.
After you try these steps, assess the results, looking at evaluations, noticing the incidence of multi-tasking, and even getting your same observer to provide feedback again.
The last word
You can entice greater engagement, and the payoff will be more enjoyable sessions for both you and your attendees.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.