Six Ways to Engage Your Audience During Training

By Alexandra Levit

In my almost 15 years as a workshop speaker and facilitator, I’ve learned a lot. The most valuable lesson of all? Be interactive.

I’ve observed that you can be presenting the most intriguing topic of all time, but it’s only a matter of time before you audience tunes out the sound of you droning on and on. If you want to keep your participants’ attention and prevent them from checking their phones or falling asleep, I recommend sticking to no more than five minutes of instructional content at once, followed immediately by an interactive component that surprises the audience out of any stupors or daydreams.

The good news is, there are more choices for engagement than ever before. The following six techniques are my go-to standards. Depending on how long your next training is, mixing and matching them is likely to liven up the session, and hopefully, increase overall learning and results!

Technique #1: Storytelling

Funny or self-deprecating stories and anecdotes are always a hit, but early in most trainings, I like to share a specific story called The Hero’s Journey. Based on the famous narrative concept, the Hero’s Journey describes all the obstacles I faced while becoming an expert in the topic. Much of the time, the audience isn’t expecting to hear something like this, and participants are fascinated. I increase the engagement by asking for a show of hands if the audience has personally experienced something like what I’m relating (e.g. “Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a boss you thought really hated you”).

Technique #2: Surveying and Polling

The best type of survey takes place in advance, so you can ask participants about their experiences in detail, and customize your content to address what you learned. Given that this isn’t always possible, you might want to familiarize yourself with online polling technology that allows the audience to answer simple questions on their phones in real time – with answers appearing on your presentation screen. Both approaches pique the interest of audience members who are curious what their fellow participants answered.

Technique #3: Video Clips (the funnier, the better)

Regardless of your training subject, it’s easy as pie to do a quick YouTube search and pull a few videos that playfully illustrate a core concept. One possible reason online video has become so popular, and that reason is that people enjoy it. Select the right content and hopefully your audience will be laughing and re-energized, ready to re-focus on the more serious aspects of your session.

Technique #4: Role Plays and Competitions

This one can be tricky depending on the audience, but I’ve had great success inviting participants up to the stage to model a real-world scenario based on training concepts. Usually, my role plays involve a fictional conversation between two people. I might also divide all the participants, or a group of them, into teams and have them brainstorm as many ideas as they can in a short period of time. For instance, when teaching about creativity, I might have my teams compete to fill in a series of blank circles with unique pictures. For this type of activity, I almost always offer participation rewards like a free book or candy bar.

Technique #5: Quizzes and Exercises

After a content segment, I occasionally do a multiple choice or True or False quiz, with participants providing their feedback in the group setting. It’s better if the quiz is thought provoking, and/or could be examined from multiple angles. I also encourage immediate application of my content with exercises that attendees can work on with a partner or a group at a table. These exercises often take the form of an action plan – prompting participants to consider what they will do at work tomorrow to implement the training concept.

Technique #6: Props and Demonstrations

Many people are visual learners, so in addition to using slides with compelling photos (as opposed to a lot of text), I will occasionally bring along a prop or demo. If you’re familiar with TED talks, you’ve probably observed that props are used frequently as an engagement tactic. One famous example is Jill Taylor, a neuroscientist who illustrated a stroke by showcasing an actual human brain on stage. I recently demonstrated the new collaboration technology of telepresence by showing my audience a robot with my live, remote colleague projected onto its face (i.e. a screen).

It will likely take some trial and error to determine which of these engagement techniques work best for your unique combination of style and content. But, I believe that any move toward greater interactivity will be viewed as a win!


About the Author

Alexandra Levit is the chairman of DeVry University’s Career Advisory Board. She is the author of nine published books on careers and the workplace, including the international bestseller They Don’t Teach Corporate in College. A former columnist for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, she has consulted with dozens of organizations around the world about issues facing modern institutions and their employees.