All of us have facilitated meetings, conducted training events or held conversations with people whom we could tell were half-heartedly listening or completely zoned out. Distractions occur, and sometimes, the individuals to whom you are speaking may have reasons for not paying attention. Distractions in the classroom are often the result of the psychological need – and implied mandate by many employers – to always be connected.
Being fully present under the best of conditions requires intention and effort. As our society has become increasingly reliant on technology, attention spans have shorted and the fear of missing out (FOMO) has become part of our daily experience, the work of trainers and facilitators has become increasingly challenging. Lack of presence and how it relates to connecting with an audience forces us to think about the actions facilitators can take to form connections and instill a sense of mutual respect and empathy between the presenter and the audience. Here are some tips.
Remove the Distractions.
Cell phones are great tools to use during training, provided they are limited to the clock/timer function. If facilitators are looking at their cell phones for social media updates or to send text messages, even during times when the class is completing paperwork or activities, they demonstrate a belief that the role of facilitator is secondary.
Leave your cell phone, iPad or other electronic device out of the conversation. Use a wrist watch or analog clock to keep track of time. If you must use your cell phone to keep track of time, explain to your audience why you will be periodically looking at your cell phone. Setting expectations up front and practicing good business etiquette help to prevent your audience from assuming they are less important than what is happening outside the classroom.
Don’t Respond to Emails and Phone Calls.
Inform people that your time will be limited or that you will be unavailable during training times. Responding to emails or phone calls during a training session, even because of a perceived emergency, is discourteous and dismissive of your audience. Training spaces are sacred, because the facilitator is helping to set the stage for the employee’s future success. Your relationship with your audience must be honored.
Common courtesy dictates that trainees should be treated as if they were guests in your home. Most people would not turn the television on or talk on the phone if they had a visitor; they would want to connect with the person and create a meaningful experience. If you are facilitating a training session, set expectations with your business partners about when you will return emails and voice mails, and define business “emergencies” so that if a situation arises, you and the business partner have a reasonable expectation of response time.
Say, “Thank You.”
In business, we seem to only say “thank you” on rare occasions or in a perfunctory manner. Before beginning any kind of training session, thank the audience for making themselves available and for taking the time to attend training. Unless you are facilitating a new hire class, participants are foregoing job responsibilities to participate in training. Extending a “thank you” at the beginning of a training session sets a tone of mutual respect and provides a foundation for you to forge a strong connection with team members.
Stop Using Your Learning Management System or Email to Convey Messages.
Using a learning management system or email as a primary feedback mechanism does little to connect learners to the training experience. By its very nature, training provides facilitators with an opportunity to provide immediate feedback. Connecting with audience members by providing objective, immediate feedback and sharing personal stories about similar situations helps create an environment of openness and vulnerability. When audience members understand that facilitators have made mistakes, it allows them to see you as relatable.
Make an Effort to Connect.
If you are looking for meaningful connections, take the time to cultivate relationships. Set an intention to learn the name and one interesting fact about each learner. Remembering one or two important facts about people creates a sense of connection and conveys empathy. Think about how special you felt when a teacher, manager or co-worker made an effort to remember a funny story or interesting fact about you. Forming a connection this way can serve as the basis for a strong and meaningful relationship.
None of these suggestions is revolutionary, but at the end of the day, relationships are built on the premise of connection. I love technology as much as the next person, but I do not believe that technology can or should replace the connection between the facilitator and the learner. The only way to establish a bond is to be present during your interactions with others; technology provides a basis for instruction but not meaningful connection. The practice of connection takes intention, but you can realize powerful results when you give total intention and attention to people who matter.