As you design your active training program, take the time to consider carefully what initial objectives you wish to accomplish in the opening moments of your session. Your goals might include any combination of group-building, assessment, or involvement exercises. In addition, you should be aware of other considerations as they relate to the parti-cular group you will be training.
1. Level of Threat. Is the group that you will be training open to new ideas and activities, or do you anticipate hesitation and reservation from the participants as you begin your session? Opening with an exercise that exposes participants' lack of knowledge or skill can be risky; group members may not yet be ready to reveal their limitations. Alternatively, an activity that asks participants to comment on something familiar eases them into the course content.
2. Appropriateness to Group Norms. A group of executive managers may initially be less open to playing games than would a group of students. Health care professionals and therapists might feel more comfortable sharing their feelings in a "Trio Exchange" exercise than would a group of research scientists. You are setting the stage for the entire course as you plan an opening activity; consider your audience and design appropriately.
3. Relevance to Training Content. Unless you are interested in only a simple exchange of names, an initial design offers an excellent opportunity for participants to begin learning course material. Adapt one of the icebreakers suggested here to reflect the material that you are planning to teach in your course. The closer your exercise ties in to the course content, the easier the transition to your next design.
The design considerations mentioned above have relevance for every aspect of your training program, but are especially important in the opening stages. A successful opening exercise sets the course toward a successful program; conversely, one that seems threatening, silly, or unrelated to the rest of your course can create an awkward atmosphere that will be difficult for you to overcome.
Ten Ways to Obtain Participation
No matter how creatively you design your opening exercises, they may still fall flat if the training group is reluctant to participate. A wide range of methods can be used to obtain active participation in the opening phase of a training program. Here are ten possibilities, one or many of which likely will suit the opening exercise you have in mind. You can also use these methods when designing activities for other portions of an active training program.
1. Open sharing: Ask a question and open it up to the entire group without any further structuring.
* Use open sharing when you are certain that several group members want to participate--its straightforward quality is appealing. If you are worried that the discussion might be too lengthy, say beforehand: "I'd like to ask four or five participants to share..."
2. Anonymous cards: Pass out index cards and request anonymous answers to your questions. Have the completed cards passed around the group or otherwise distributed.
* Use anonymous cards to save time or to provide anonymity for personally threatening self-disclosures. The concise expression necessitated by the use of cards is another advantage of this method.
3. Questionnaires: Design a short questionnaire to be filled out and tallied on the spot.
* Use questionnaires to obtain data quickly and in quantifiable form. Feeding back the results immediately can be appealing to participants. You can verbally poll the group instead of using written questions.
4. Subgroup discussion: Break participants into subgroups to share
(and record) information.
* Use subgroup discussion when you have sufficient time to process questions and issues. This is the best method for obtaining everyone's participation.
5. Seat partners: Have participants work on tasks or discuss key questions with a participant seated next to them.
* Use seat partners when you want to involve everybody, but don't have enough time for small group discussion. A dyad is a good configuration for developing a supportive relationship and/or working on complex activities that would not lend themselves to large group configurations.
6. Whips: Go around the group and obtain short responses to key questions.
* Use whips when you want to obtain something quickly from each participant. Sentence stems (e.g., "one thing that makes a manager effective is...") are useful in conducting whips. Invite participants to pass when they wish. Avoid repetition, if you want, by asking each participant for a new contribution to the process.
7. Panels: Invite a small number of participants to present their views to the entire group.
* Use panels, when time permits, to gain a focused, serious response to your questions. Rotate panelists to increase participation.
8. Fishbowl: Ask a portion of the group to form a discussion circle and have the remaining participants form a listening circle around them. Bring new groups into the inner circle to continue the discussion.
* Use fishbowls to help bring focus to large group discussions.Although time-consuming, this is the best method for combining the virtues of large and small group discussion. As a variation, you can have everyone remain seated and invite different participants to be the discussants as the other listen.
9. Games: Use quiz game formats and the like to elicit participants' ideas or knowledge.
* Use games to pick up energy and involvement. Games are also helpful to make dramatic points that participants will seldom forget.
10. Calling on the next speaker: Ask participants to raise their hands when they want to share their views and request that the present speaker call on the next speaker (rather than performing this role yourself).
* Use calling on the next speaker when you are sure that there is a lot of interest in the discussion/activity and you wish to promote participant interaction. When you are ready to resume your role as moderator, inform the group that you are changing back to the regular format.
This resource is (c) 1995 by Pfeiffer & Company, and is excerpted from
"20 Active Training Progams" by Mel Silberman, published by
Pfeiffer & Company, San Diego, CA.
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