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5 Training Engagement Strategies

From before your presentation begins to just before you wrap up a training program, here are 5 strategies you can use to get your participants to actively engage with your content (whether they want to or not!).
Brian Washburn using engagement strategies in training

I previously discussed the difference between “engaging training” and “effective training” and I suggested that “effective training” should always be the goal. In this episode, I’m re-visiting the concept of learner engagement, because engagement (with intention) is an essential element to training that ultimately proves effective. In this 10-minute podcast, I share 5 training engagement strategies that can be applied at various points in time during your presentation – from even before your presentation begins to the waning moments of your training program.


Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a podcast about all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, I’m your host. I’m also the co-founder of Endurance Learning. Today’s podcast will focus on 5 different strategies to engage your learners at various points of time during a training presentation.

Before we get into those strategies, I want to talk to you about a tool, which is also the sponsor of today’s podcast, called Soapbox, which is also about finding engagement strategies and engagement activities. Soapbox is an online tool that you can use for 5 to 10 minutes, and you can take care of about 50 or 60% of the work when it comes to developing a live, instructor-led training. So you tell the computer how long your presentation is, how many people are going to attend, whether it’s in-person or virtual, what are your learning objectives, and Soapbox instantly generates a training plan for you with clusters of training activities that are designed to help you accomplish your learning outcomes. If you want more information about this amazing tool, go ahead and visit You can sign up for a free trial for 2 weeks, you can sign up for a demo –

Why are Training Engagement Strategies Important?

All right. So let’s talk about engagement strategies. And first I want to get into this idea of why engagement strategies are even important. And, you know, recently I did a podcast on the idea of engagement, which can be good, but it can also be bad, and effective, which is always good. So I kind of compared and contrasted the idea of engagement and effectiveness. But with this concept of engagement, I want to go back to the idea of dialogue education. And I’ve talked about dialogue education, I’ve done a podcast or a series of 2 podcasts with education pioneer Jane Vella (A Conversation with Dialogue Education Pioneer Jane Vella: Part 1 & Part 2), who came up with this idea of dialogue education. And with this concept of dialogue education, there are 12 principles, and the overall idea of dialogue education is that people learn best through dialogue.

The principles of Dialogue Education make a strong case for the importance of the engagement of the learner. - quote about dialogue education by Brian Washburn

One of those 12 principles is something known as the engagement of the learner. And in Jane Vella’s book, which is called Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach, I really suggest if you want to read something about different ways that you can really be an effective presenter or teacher, it’s a great book. In that book, Jane Vella writes that learning happens best when learners are active participants in learning. When we don’t use some form of dialogue or engagement, but instead we’re asking learners to be passive, they do still learn – they learn how to be passive. They learn that they have no power except to obey. And so Jane Vella makes a really strong case for the importance of the engagement of the learner. And engagement can be a very important and a really effective element of your training program as long as it’s done with intention.

5 Engagement Strategies for Instructor-Led Training

So let’s take a closer look at 5 different engagement strategies, and these are best suited for instructor-led training as opposed to something like self-guided eLearning.

1. Pre-Session Trivia

So the first strategy that I want to talk about is pre-session trivia. So if you’re looking for ways to get your participants thinking about your topic before you even begin a presentation, pre-session trivia may be one way to go. Think about going to a movie theater and you find your seat, you know, 10 minutes before the previews begin. And a lot of theaters have some sort of movie or entertainment trivia and some fun facts scrolling across the screen on a loop. You can replicate this concept by coming up with some trivia questions or fun facts, maybe book suggestions that align with your topic, and then you set up a PowerPoint presentation and put that on a loop. Without even opening your mouth, pre-session trivia and fun facts – those can begin to get your participants thinking about your topic. (Editor’s Note: Here is an example of a pre-session trivia PowerPoint: Crowdsourcing Training Trivia)

2. The Boomerang

The Boomerang technique is good when your learner asks you a question. - quote about dialogue education by Brian Washburn

Let’s take a look at another engagement strategy. This is one of my favorite engagement strategies, and it’s nicknamed the boomerang. You can put this strategy into action the next time you have a participant who asks a question. Instead of giving in to your instinct to immediately give your answer to the question, next time, I want you to open the floor up to other participants. Ask them what they think, and see if other participants might be able to give an answer. This offers two benefits: first, it allows you to hear and observe what other participants think or sometimes how well other people in your session are grasping the information. And second, it gives you some time to collect your own thoughts and offer a more complete answer after other participants have attempted to share their thoughts. (Editor’s Note: Learn more about this technique, Boomerang Questions: Answering Questions with Questions)

3. Pair Share

Hearing no response is probably something that's happened to just about every presenter who's ever presented and asked a question to a large group.  - quote about dialogue education by Brian Washburn

A third strategy – this one sometimes addresses a really uncomfortable element to training programs. Sometimes we ask our learners a question, and we hear nothing but crickets in response. It is probably something that’s happened to just about every presenter who’s ever presented and asked a question to a large group. It can happen for any number of reasons. Maybe your participants need some time to process your question, maybe there just aren’t a lot of people who want to speak up in front of the entire group, maybe people were just half paying attention or they didn’t think that you actually wanted someone to answer aloud. Whatever the reason, there is a pretty simple fix to this. Different people call it different things. I call it a pair share. I’ve also heard it called a turn and talk.

Basically, when you determine that you’re not going to get a response from anyone, you can quickly change up your tactics by saying, “All right. I’m going to give you all a moment to think about that question that I just asked. And then what I’d like for you to do is to turn to the person next to you and just share your thoughts.” This allows your participants time to process. It gives them a safe opportunity to try their answers out loud, but without taking the risk of sharing their thought in front of the entire group. It also allows you to hear the buzz of a room full of people who are thoughtfully engaging with and actively addressing your question. Then after a few minutes, you can call attention back to the front of the room. You can ask for a volunteer to share what they discussed with their partner, and hopefully, this allows them to be a little bit more comfortable. They’ll have some time to have processed their thoughts. They can even actually volunteer their partner’s thought instead of their own if they really don’t have a lot of confidence in their own thoughts.

4. Brainstorming with Sticky Notes

Brainstorming with sticky notes gives learners a little extra element of safety when they're sharing their thoughts with their large group. - quote about dialogue education by Brian Washburn

A fourth strategy– and this is sometimes when you’re in a pinch for time, but you still want everyone in your group to engage in some sort of brainstorming activity – this is where sticky notes can be a true friend. So when you ask everyone in your group to take some time and write a thought on a sticky note, you’re encouraging active engagement with your content, and you’re discouraging people from thinking they don’t need to think very hard about your content or answer questions you might ask because someone else will probably come up with an answer. And instead of taking the time for each person to share their thought out loud, you can have your participants post their sticky notes on a piece of paper or on the whiteboard at the front of the room. And then you can allow your participants to take a look at what everyone else is posting so they can see everyone else’s thoughts. This can save a ton of time because when you have everyone report out their thoughts, it can actually take a while. And it also allows some anonymity because you’re not putting your name on your sticky note, so participants are offered a little extra element of safety when they’re sharing their thoughts with their large group. (Editor’s Note: Read more in The case for sticky notes in every training presentation, or explore this idea even further in Using Color-coded Sticky Notes to Create Interactive Visual Aids)

5. Journaling

All right. A final engagement strategy is to give your participants some time at the end of a segment or at the end of your entire training program and have them write their thoughts and reflections for how they might use your topic in some form of journaling activity. Beyond engaging in active participation, this idea of adding an element of reflection to action is known by the term “praxis”, which is another of the 12 principles of dialogue education.

Training Engagement Strategies: Your Secret Weapon

So, in sum, engagement with intention can help keep your participants actively learning. While there are tons of engagement activities out there, today’s podcast offers 5 different strategies for engagement that can be brought into your training program from even before your presentation begins to when your participants ask you questions to have closure with reflection.

So thank you for listening today. If you know someone who might find today’s topic on engagement strategies under various circumstances to be important, go ahead and pass along a link to this podcast. If you want to make sure that you are notified of a new podcast when it’s hot off the press, go ahead and subscribe at Apple or Spotify, wherever you listen to your podcasts. Better yet would be if you’re able to give us a review. It’ll take you just a minute, it would mean a ton for me – it’s how people find out about the podcast. If you’re interested in learning more about a broad range of learning and development strategies, you can pick up a copy of my book – What’s Your Formula? Combined Learning Elements for Impactful Training at And until next time, happy training everyone.

This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox. Sign up today for a free demo below.

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