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The Saga of Inky the Octopus is a Cautionary Tale for Anyone Leading a Training Session

Sometimes your audience may feel like they're being held captive. Here are 5 ideas to keep them engaged before they bolt - either physically or mentally - from your session.


Last week it was reported that Inky the Octopus crawled out of his tank at a New Zealand aquarium, suction cupped his way across the floor, squeezed through a 6-inch drain in the floor and, like Andy Dufresne from The Shawshank Redemption, wriggled 164 feet through a pipe on his way to freedom.

He was being held captive against his will. He wanted out. By any means necessary.

I get the feeling that a lot of people who are sent to mandatory compliance training or IT system training or a number of other workshops and conference sessions feel much the same way.

Here are five ideas you might want to consider in order to keep your audience engaged and to prevent them from ditching your training session. Keep in mind that even if someone doesn’t walk out of your session, they can still mentally check out. 

Escape Route

Prevention Strategy

Checking their phoneIf you can’t beat the allure of their phones, why not invite them to use their phones to join you in an activity. Technologies like PollEverywhere and Kahoot allow you to engage your audience by asking open-ended or multiple choice poll questions… or even play a trivia game.
DaydreamingWhen a presentation is lecture-heavy, it’s easy for even audience members who are passionate about your topic to lose focus. Inserting activities and opportunities to apply and/or reflect on the content with a partner are effective methods to keep people focused on the topic at hand.
Frequently exiting the training roomWhen you gotta go, you gotta go. But sometimes people pop out of the room a little too frequently. Designing small group activities, where the groups consist of 3-4 people, and asking them to engage in discussion, solve a problem or build something that will then be shared with the rest of the group may help people feel more accountable for remaining present in the room.
Doing other work while in the training roomLike some of the other “escape routes”, if people have time to work on other things while sitting in your session, then you’re probably talking too much. Setting up learning stations around your room where your audience can discover content – either individually or in small groups – is one way to create movement and break up the monotony of sitting at their seats. Another idea is simply to set up flipcharts around the room, asking the audience to jot down their thoughts and discuss the content you’ve presented.
Ongoing side conversationsI’m definitely guilty of this one when I’m attending training workshops as a participant. Face it, people want to talk with other people. Why not give them opportunities to do so? Stopping to allow discussions in pairs or small groups releases the need to have off-topic (and distracting) side conversations. Asking everyone to spend some individual time journaling and reflecting on what they’ve learned means that anyone who dares to have a side conversation would probably be overhead by everyone else in the room. And finally, don’t forget to give your audience a short break if you’re leading a longer session. A break every 90 minutes or so is not just a nice-to-have, it really is a must-have.

Have some ideas to add? Let’s hear about them in the comment section.

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