Did you know that deep content knowledge is not the only ingredient in the secret sauce of teaching? Of course you do — because you’ve sat through professional learning opportunities full of monotonous technical speakers who overserved PowerPoint lectures and underdelivered human emotion. Most corporate trainers and presenters don’t understand that buy-in is the key to audience engagement and, ultimately, learning.
To provide the ultimate learning experience, trainers must be able to quickly read the room, connect with their audience and respond to their needs regularly. Below are six specific tips to help you engage your audience and promote learner buy-in, based on over 18 years of classroom experience crafting a culture of learning with research-based tactics, feedback reflection and teacher observations.
1. Be Adaptable
You may have entered a classroom to discover the WiFi down. Maybe there was an unannounced fire drill, a medical emergency or a broken projector bulb — all derailing your meticulously planned lesson. But the show must go on!
The first order of business is to keep learners engaged. Waiting around for the problem to resolve will only frustrate your audience. It doesn’t matter who is at fault; you will quickly lose engagement if you don’t keep things moving.
Since you can’t prepare for all classroom mishaps, you must learn how to adapt. For example, if learners have working laptops and the only problem is a projector (or your laptop), you can still start the lesson. Walk around the room teaching the concepts you’d planned to teach from the front. Ask learners questions, and have them come up with solutions.
No matter the situation, ask yourself, “What is the goal of this course?” When encountering a technology hiccup teaching a tech-driven course, add some low-tech activities to keep the audience engaged and focused on the learning objectives. It’s a good idea to brainstorm these activities ahead of time, just in case.
Your confidence is crucial when you stand in front of an audience. Keeping the class moving despite setbacks puts learners at ease and ensures that they aren’t wasting their time.
2. Don’t Fake It
It’s OK to admit it when you don’t know the answer to a question. Saying, “I’ll find out and get back to you” is not a weakness. What’s not OK is making up an answer. “Fake it ‘til you make it” should not be a mantra of teaching, especially when you have access to a search engine. You can show vulnerability while staying confident. Learners will be able to relate to you, lending you credibility.
To err is human, and there is plenty of research that suggests that an honest teacher is a trustworthy teacher. Learners also like instructors who are honest, especially when it comes to their own flaws.
3. Use People’s Names
Names are powerful. When someone takes the time to learn and use your name, it probably makes you feel important. Using a person’s name in conversation is the quickest way to connect with that person on a personal level — and using learners’ names in the classroom promotes positive engagement.
At the beginning of the course, after you introduce yourself, give participants the opportunity to say a few words about themselves. Write down their names and repeat them(“Hi Anna!”). Creating a blank seating chart ahead of time is always helpful; you can jot down the name and an interesting fact while each person speaks and then refer back to the chart later in the course.
When calling on or talking to audience members, use their first name, and be careful not to just point to them (this is where the seating chart comes in handy). When talking to them one on one, use their name — the name they gave you, not their registration name.
4. Move Around the Room
Engaging teachers rarely sit down. Moving around the room enables you to interact with each learner one on one and check for understanding. This proximity also encourages reluctant participants to ask questions without the entire class hearing them. Moving around the room also keeps you in control.
If you know any primary or secondary teachers, you may have heard them say that they never sit down. K-12 teachers use physical proximity to manage their classrooms. Being interested in each person’s learning promotes positive behaviors and keeps everyone on task. In the same way, when you walk around your classroom, you’ll keep your adult learners more active in the learning process. They are more likely to stay out of their inbox and keep the discussion moving forward when they know the instructor is nearby.
5. Be Genuinely Enthusiastic About Your Content
All great presenters believe in what they are presenting. They are excited to share what they know on the subject, because the subject excites them. Enthusiasm is contagious, and when you are genuinely enthusiastic about a topic, people listen.
Teaching and presenting can require dramatic delivery. You don’t know if the audience members signed up for your course or if they were “voluntold” to attend. To achieve participant buy-in, show your passion for the content. An anecdote here, a connection to real life there … throw in some silly jokes and lower their guard. Over the course of the class, learners will become more relaxed and engaged — and more willing to learn — because you are excited about the subject.
Adults, like children, don’t want to hear content delivered in a tone that tells them the teacher has better places to be. With limited time and short attention spans, the corporate learner needs to tap into your energy to engage and, ultimately, learn.
6. Make the Content Relevant
Your learners are busy. They want to maximize their time, and they’re only interested in training if there’s something in it for them. From the first moment of a course, grab learners’ attentions and shine a light on how the training will improve their lives.
Connecting the learner to the content is the instructor’s job, not the learner’s. It is on you to help them make those connections. It’s much easier to engage your audience when they can relate to the topics you’re presenting.
Go and Engage!
When people buy into you, they buy into your content. From there, they become engaged. When learners are engaged, learning happens. (Isn’t that the point?)