How do you ensure that participants engage in training?

Written by Lucy Seham on 18 September 2014

Hi everyone,

Just hoping to pick your brains for a minute and gain some helpful pointers.

As trainers/facilitators, i'd imagine that most want to tailor their workshops/courses to ensure that it's fun and experiential. Do you have any specific methods that you could share which delegates have warmed to?

Any help is appreciated.



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Submitted on 19 September, 2014 - 11:09

Hi Lucy.

I believe it's all about involvement, but of course getting learners engaged in their learning is a much bigger organisational cultural issue involving a top-down effort to develop a 'learning culture' and engaging managers in the process, given that learning doesn't stop or start with a training/learning event.

That aside, in terms of the event, I would suggest relevant and fun icebreakers; short snappy sessions of no more thn 30 mins, with breaks; relevant learning that is contextualised and is relevant to the learners workplace (there's nothing more disengaging than non-relevant material!); use of music (ask delegates to bring their favourite CD for breaks and lunches), relevant engaging posters, quality flip work and appropriate powerpoint usage and even smelly 'things' to engage all senses; lots of syndicate and group work and ofcourse there's the trainer's skills. The most important issue that cannot be under-estimated is the trainer's questioning technique and behaviour in the training room, as to whether both encourage engagement. Feel free to see more on this at - training delivery skills and learner engagement programme (trainer of choice).

Hope this helps.

Kind regards,



Submitted on 19 September, 2014 - 11:52


It starts with the manager of the participants. (Never have a deligate on a learning event they must be participants.' The manager of each person must tell the particpants why they are on the learning event, how it will help them and help the department/unit/objectives, etc.

Never tell when you can ask. Most people I have had on learning events already know and have views about everything you want them to be able to do. Note - able to do - thats what training is about. So they need practice not presentations and they give feedback to each other. Feedback - that is asking what the person/people think they have done, telling them what was observed, asking them what they might do differently next time and never telling them what they should have done. Then more practice then practice in the workplace. (That is the hard bit and is called coaching.) Basic rule. People learn from success. They learn what not to do from failure. See proof of the pudding, TJ Feb 2008.
Barry Johnson
Learning Partners Ltd.


Submitted on 19 September, 2014 - 13:11

Hello Lucy. 

You can find some (10, to be more precise) valuable tips here:




Submitted on 22 September, 2014 - 17:11

Hi Lucy,

Have a conversation - Talk with your learners not to them or at them. A training session should be a back-and-forth exchange. To borrow from Harold Stolovitch’s book title; telling people something for four hours is not training them.

Speak their language - If you are training sales people, use selling lingo. If you are training operations managers, acknowledge their challenges and/or office jokes. If you listen carefully during a training session, you can pick up these things quite easily. You can also find out more about the work environment of your learners ahead of time by doing research before training begins.

Let a little bit of you out - You are a person. Be one. At breaks, play one of your playlists. Have a desktop picture of you on a vacation. Make jokes about how you struggled to learn what you are facilitating now. People will engage more with a real person than they will with a trainer.

Let the conversations linger - Do not be too quick to cut off discussions or conversations in class. You certainly do not want to allow people to babble on and on for too long when one of your jobs as a trainer/facilitator is to keep the class on track … but if you cut conversations off too soon, you will lose your audience. They will think to themselves, “Who does this guy think he is?” If you are not sure, let the conversation go a little longer, most of the time the discussion will end naturally.


Ask the participants - If a learner asks a question and you know the answer…don’t just answer it. Put your ego aside and say, “Good question. Does anyone know the answer?” This is a great way to increase engagement and participation in class. This is the best part, if a learner asks a question and you do not know the answer say, “Good question. Does anyone know the answer?” Most of the time someone will have answer and it will spark other answers and some of them might just be the right answer.

Practice - Have people perform the tasks in class, lead discussions, or enter cases into the system. If this is not possible in class, redesign the class or create pre-work, activities, or simulations that can be performed before or after class. If you can, have people return to their desks during class to perform activities. Then, bring them back to class after 20 minutes to debrief.

Hope that helps.



Submitted on 25 September, 2014 - 09:05

This is a great discussion thread - I'm particularly enjoying the way Geoff has written his response. Finding a way to bring the real you to work is something that fascinates me, that and the art of conversation. I don't really have anything to add - just the acknowledgment of my appreciation. Cheers folks - Doug.


Submitted on 23 September, 2014 - 09:57

Some things that have always worked for me are:

  • always start with something interactive but related to the topic you are training so that is fun but has a learning angle
  • get the delegates to set the timings of the breaks and lunch at the beginning of the day
  • When doing role plays get the delegates to write the case study in the training and so they practice on something as real as possible
  • Get the delegates to work on a specific issue throughout the workshop so they are setting their actions against a plan they are then going to implement


Submitted on 9 October, 2014 - 09:09

Thank you everyone for your messages - the responses have been really helpful and will aid me going forward.

Best wishes,



Submitted on 9 October, 2014 - 18:10

Lucy, is it too late to add a word or two?

I wondered about your view that most trainers and facilitators want to tailor their workshops/courses to ensure that it's fun and experiential.  What's behind that?

I thought about whether or not people are motivated to actually attend.  Barry addresses this when he highlights the role of the line manager.  I don't make it my role to motivate someone to be there who isn't already motivated and that relieves a lot of potential pressure.  There's nothing harder than getting someone on board who doesn't know why they're there.  I do, though, gently engage with people's assumptions from time to time - I know people can infer that they're on a course because they've done something wrong, especially at junior levels.  I'm very clear in my own mind that if people are there, it's by choice, even when they don't want to be there but are choosing to please the boss or similar.

Then, there's the quite separate issue of how to support people who want to be there in their learning.  I'm not sure I set out to make a programme fun for people though often people do have a lot of fun on a programme that's well designed and well run.  I do try to include experiences.  I've had leaders lead groups in various tasks, for example, as a way of generating real information about how they lead in practice - which is often different from the style they espouse.

I think there's something else here, for me.  The more confident I am that I know what objectives I have for the programme and have shared them fully with participants, the more I focus on fulfilling those objectives in ways which are really helpful for participants - and which may also test them.  Recently, I ran a day on facilitation and there were divergent responses in the group with two members who really didn't warm to the approach I was sharing.  When it came to the feedback forms at the end of the day, the part of me that wants to be liked and approved of wobbled considerably at their feedback.  But another part of me was very clear - this was a programme inviting people to an adult to adult approach and this triggers a lot of resistance in some people as it did for these two people on the day.

Does this add anything to the discussion for you, Lucy?