Training & Development For Dummies
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Preparing your participants for training is tricky. What you think will work to get them involved in the session probably won’t. And what you think may be minimal preparation is perhaps the best thing you can do. Imagine that! As you peruse some of these ideas, remember you’re working with adult learners.

Preparing participants: What works?

How do you help prepare your participants before the session begins? I have found all of these to work:

  • Connect with them before the session. An email will do; a letter is better. Let them know what’s in it for them (Bob Pike calls this radio station WII-FM) by relating it to their job. Will the session make their job easier? Will it enhance relationships? Will it show them how to manage time better? Tell them about it.

  • Send a welcome email stating the objectives of the class. Provide an email address or phone number and welcome them to contact you if they have any questions.

  • Send the agenda.

  • Send a handwritten note introducing yourself and stating why you’re looking forward to working with this group.

  • Send a puzzle or brain teaser that arouses their curiosity about the content.

  • Send a provocative statement or question that makes them wonder what you’re up to.

  • Send a cartoon that is pertinent to the session.

  • Send the welcome letter in a unique way. One example to send it in a paper bag. Then use the paper bag as a theme throughout the session; for example, participants were encouraged to write an issue on an index card and place the card in a provided paper bag, thus “bagging” their issue until later.

  • Send participants a roster of who will attend the session.

  • Send them specific logistic information. Where is the training site? What room? Where can they eat lunch? What time will lunch be held? Will they be able to check their emails? Where can they park their cars? What’s the closest metro station?

  • Get them involved early by sending them a questionnaire and using their responses to tweak the agenda and incorporate their needs.

  • Provide participants’ supervisors with a discussion sheet to review. Ask the supervisors to discuss what they hope the participants learn and apply in the workplace.

Unique virtual participant preparation

Connect with your virtual participants several times prior to your session. You can use any of the suggestions in the previous section. In addition, you will want to ensure that they know how to set up their computer, test their connection, and ensure appropriate software is downloaded. Provide them with suggestions about how to create an appropriate learning environment and minimize distractions.

Encourage participants to join ten minutes early. That will give you an opportunity to greet each person by name. If you want, you could turn on your webcam even if you won’t use it throughout the session. Invite them to do the same. Can you grab their attention during these ten minutes?

  • Post a set of rolling quotes pertinent to the content.

  • Post a rolling set of slides that display the session logistics.

  • Play music.

  • Invite participants to connect via chat; the social element is especially useful for ongoing sessions with the same participants.

  • Show a series of interesting and surprising facts about the session content, such as “Did you know that 9 out of 10 people fear speaking in front of a group more than they fear death?”

In typical face-to-face classes, trainers spend the first session allowing participants to learn about each other. This practice is just as important in an online setting as well. As a first assignment, have participants submit a post to the group outlining their interests as related to the course and outside the course. You could ask that they do this in written or video format.

Preparing participants: What doesn’t work?

Some things just do not work. Don’t bother with these!

  • Don’t send lengthy preread material. It will only be read by two people and they will complain.

  • Don’t send short preread material. It will be read by 30 percent, ignored by 30 percent, and lost by 40 percent.

  • Don’t ask them to write more than a half a page. Virtual classroom participants recognize that they must complete prework assignments and are more likely to so than those in a traditional classroom.

  • Be sure you have management support. If participants sense that management is not behind the training, you will expend a great deal of energy on the issue during the session. Participants may be discouraged when they walk into the session,

  • Don’t send more than one email. If you must send an email, be sure that you have included everything and that everything is correct, so that you don’t need to send a second email to correct the first!

  • Don’t do nothing. That’s right. Nothing doesn’t work, either. Make at least one contact with participants prior to the session.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Elaine Biech is president and managing principal of ebb associates inc, an organizational and leadership development firm that helps organizations work through large-scale change. Her 30 years in the training and consulting field include support to private industry, government, and non-profit organizations.

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