The realization might have crept up on you slowly over the past several months or, more likely, several years: It is becoming harder and harder to command the attention of your audience. Regardless of the type of training, it seems as if more and more learners have difficulty paying attention.
This phenomenon is not necessarily related to anything that you’re doing during the training session. More likely, what you’ve been observing is an unfolding, long-term, sociocultural phenomenon.
Noise Has Consequences
As reported in the August 2018 issue of Scientific American, as many as 24% of U.S. adults are experiencing some level of hearing loss primarily due to their exposure to noise. What’s more, 20% of teenagers have hearing issues, although it is unclear whether it’s due to overuse of earbuds or to loud sounds in their environment.
This level of hearing loss is staggering. In schools and universities, many teens and young adults are challenged to keep up in class, because they can’t hear everything their teachers and classmates are saying. You may be seeing the same hurdles in your training sessions.
A Calamity Without Precedent
Our modern society is less able to protect ourselves from surrounding noise — a cultural tragedy, to be sure. An environment of soft sounds, occasional silence or a dearth of noise is more conducive to concentration, clear thinking, peace of mind and a bevy of other positive outcomes.
The ways that noise intrudes in our everyday lives often are subtle, despite the otherwise booming stimuli. We become acclimated to the urban jackhammers and the monotonous drone of airports news stations. We do not actively notice sounds from machines, car engines, leaf blowers, snow blowers and other tools and technologies.
Helping Audiences on the Fly
Against this backdrop, what can you do for your next training session? How can you help the people in the seats?
Prior to your session, safeguard the room to the degree that you can. Visit adjoining rooms beforehand to determine what activities, if any, might audibly invade your space — and what you can do to diminish them.
In the training room, it can be helpful to close blinds and curtains, as they help to cut out some of the noise from outside. Clearly, carpeting can help decrease noise better than a tile or wooden floor. Such factors are not in your control, but some might be, and it’s worth exploring. A good microphone and sound system, even with a small group, is also essential.
One tactic that you probably already have in place is to ask everyone to mute or put away his or her cell phones. Tell learners, “We want to respect everybody’s ability to follow along, and so we want to cut down on extraneous noise.”
Another tactic is to offer participants some reflective time — perhaps through a minute of silence — at the start of the session, throughout the session and at the end of the session.
Tips to Consider for Yourself
Social noise will likely always be a constant companion. What can you do to experience a more quiet day, or at least quieter stretches of time?
Do not add to the noise. You don’t have to wake to a blaring alarm, jarring music or other radio news. Take advantage of new technology to start your day with gentle lights, chimes and nature sounds.
During your commute, play soothing music rather than something loud or arousing. You could catch up on the news, sports and weather, but might you be better served by listening to more something more tranquil during what could otherwise be a stressful commute?
In the office, respect the privacy of your co-workers and their need for concentration. Reduce extraneous phone calls, texts and other communications. Yes, emails generally arrive in silence, as do text messages, but as they pile up, they add to the perception of social noise. When you’re more judicious with communication, you and your co-workers will have a quieter day.
Acknowledge that at work, at home, and out and about, you’re likely to encounter noise more often than your counterparts of one generation ago. Take the calmer, quieter streets. At home, rather than switching on the television for background noise, explore what 20 or 30 minutes of quiet can do for you.
No Way to Live
Noise is likely to become louder and more constant. It is important to acknowledge that reality and to take basic steps to ensure that you’ll experience your preferred type of day — if not every day, then at least more frequently.
You can temporarily diminish the social noise experienced by your learners, and you can diminish the long-term social noise level in your own life. In doing so, you will perform better as a trainer and likely have a more enjoyable life away from work.