Seating Layout

Too Active

I remember once delivering training to a group of employees and removing all the tables from in front of them. They were seated in a large U-shape all 25 of them. I had also given them plenty of fun ice breakers. The result was that they became extremely active to the extent that they eventually broke out of control.

Inactive

During a different training program I had trainees all sitting behind a large oval table. Their participation was relatively limited, they were not very active nor lively during the training session. Seating layout and how chairs and tables are arranged in a training room have a strong influence on the performance of training.

Perfect Circle

During group work, when trainees are divided into a number of groups, to reflect on a video they have just seen or discuss a topic specified by the trainer, the way each group arrange their seats has a noticeable impact on the performance of that group. If the group is sitting in a perfect circle this group will achieve superior performance. The circle layout allows every member of the group to participate equally and allows for a good deal of synergy to take place among all members of the team. You can almost sense the energy flowing unobstructed when passing next to such group.

If group members are instead arranging their seats in an imperfect circle with one of the members of the group sitting behind another member or more distanced than others then such an arrangement would break the harmonious flow of energy, not give each member of the group an equal opportunity to participate and drastically cut down on synergy among members of the group thus greatly reducing their performance.The lower performance of such group would be quite evident. As a trainer, you should go to such a group and ask them to arrange their seats in a perfect circle. You should do so early on in the activity so that they would have enough time to carry out the group activity with high performance.

Tables Reduce Activity Level

Generally speaking, having tables in front of participants shielding them from the trainer dramatically reduces their level of activity. Having participants face the trainer directly without any obstructions, by removing any tables in front of them, allows them to be way more active. The decision of chair and table layout is for the trainer to make. The trainer can control the amount of activity of trainees through making changes to seating layout. A trainer may start the training for instance with tables placed in front of participants then decide to remove them completely during the second half of the training day or during the second training day. This could provide variation and the right amount of activity from trainees.

U-Shape, Incomplete Circle and Crescents

Participant seats can be arranged in a large U-shape spanning the training room with the backs of the chairs towards the 3 walls of the training room leaving the fourth wall for the trainer to stand against. Another similar arrangement is to have seats arranged in an incomplete circle which provides the highest degree of synchronized and harmonized participant attention. A third variation is to have seats in a crescent shape. This arrangement is similar to that of the incomplete circle and has the advantage of allowing for several ‘waves’ of crescents to be arranged one after the other to allow for more seats to be used in the training room.

Conclusion

A competent trainer must be aware that seating layout in the training room is no trivial thing and that it should be taken seriously for it has a powerful impact on the performance of participants during the training.

What other seating layouts can be used in the training room?

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Lecturing During Training

Can Lectures be Good?

I used to hate lectures. As a response to finding so many trainers using lecturing in all or most of the time of their training sessions, I developed an inclination to jam pack my training with training activities and to avoid using lecturing altogether in all training sessions I was delivering. Despite finding the all-activities training to be highly successful, enjoyable and engaging yet as I gained more experience in delivering training I started to realize that lecturing does indeed have a place within the training session and can even improve the overall effectiveness of a training program if used appropriately.

Activities Saturation

The first insight about the importance of injecting some lecturing in a training program came to me after delivering a training session in which I led participants into repeatedly carrying out a number of group activities in a row. I observed that participants just got fed up from the repeated group activities they were asked to do after having to do them for several times. The final time they were doing the group work they seamed reluctant and went through the activity with low energy.

Lecturing Appreciation

The second incident that helped me change my mind about the all-activities no-lecturing approach I once clung strongly to was when I attended a training program by some senior trainer. He used very few activities during his full-day training sessions and did not provide for a lot of interactivity. On the contrary, he spoke a lot and lectured for long during the sessions. At the end of that two-day training program I was surprised to find most participants giving him the highest score in the training evaluation forms! Many of them came to greet him and thank him heartedly for the training. They even clapped with enthusiasm and appreciation for him as he closed the training program. This experience had me rethink my earlier beliefs and start appreciating the concept of lecturing once again.

Some Like Lectures

I also remember a third incident where one of the trainees spoke up during the first half of the training session I was delivering and said to me: “Now we want to hear you speak.” I attempted to explain to him that the training program was based on activities rather than on lecturing yet I did realize that for many people they have been conditioned to listen to lectures and expect to find one during the training program they are attending.

Mixing Lecturing and Activities

After such revelation I had I started injecting mini lectures or lecturettes in between activities during training sessions I delivered. I noticed that providing such mini-lectures made participants very eager to carry out activities when the time for activities comes. I also noticed that giving several activities to trainees makes them very attentive to the trainer when the time comes for him to speak and give a mini-lecture or short presentation. Alternation between training activities and short lectures seemed to provide the best effect in a training program. Nevertheless, I still believe that time provided for activities should still be more than that given to lecturing perhaps its double.

Lively Lecturing

In order to make lecturettes interesting and effective it is best to fill them up with storytelling and perhaps accompany them with drawing or charting on the flip chart. This would help make them the more engaging and impactful.

Conclusion

So whenever designing for a training program remember to include a combination of many activities and a few mini-lectures in order to get the best of both worlds and achieve the highest impact.

When do you think is it not appropriate at all to use even mini-lectures during a training program?

The 3 Core Objectives of Training

The 3 Objectives

Whenever I deliver a training program I have 3 main goals that I focus on and seek to achieve. The first goal is making participants happy during the training sessions and having them enjoy the training sessions to the max. The second is to make participants benefit greatly from the training as it comes to an end and make them aware that they have greatly benefited from the training. The third goal is to have participants keep growing and developing further even after the training program is over.

Awareness

Although the three goals are tied to one another yet still some training programs may fail to achieve all 3 at the same time thus reducing the effectiveness and impact of the training. Let’s say that after the completion of a training program participants have benefited a lot from it but are just unaware that they have actually benefited. In such a case they will probably provide poor feedback about the training when filling in the evaluation forms. They might discover later on that they have actually benefited immensely from the training after seeing a great positive shift in themselves but that could be long after the training program comes to an end.

Also being aware that one has benefited from the training increases that persons’s motivation and happiness thus impacting the other two factors of success of a training program which are happiness/enjoyment and long term improvement. It is therefore essential that a trainer not only focus on making participants benefit from the training program but also make sure they are aware of the value of the training they have just received and the extent to which they have benefited.

Enjoyment

As for enjoying the training sessions themselves this has a direct impact as well on the other two factors. A participant who is enjoying the training would benefit from it most both instantly and on the long run. Of course it is not enough to make the training enjoyable for people who can have a great deal of fun without this having any real positive impact on them if the activities they are carrying out during the training had not been designed specifically with particular training goals in mind. Enjoyable training is more effective and it also makes the trainer himself feel good about the training as he sees participants active and happy.

Long Term

As for the third and final goal I seek to achieve in training programs I deliver it is the long term impact of the training. Although this cannot be measured during the training and would require months to pass by in order to measure it yet an experienced trainer can sense it during the training itself. By planting the seeds of positive change in the hearts and minds of participants a trainer may be able to ‘see’ with his mind’s eye how they will grow and flourish on their own in the future even long after the training program is over.

Conclusion

A highly successful training program should make sure participants are happy and enjoying the training, are benefiting from it and are aware of that and have the seeds of positive change planted in them so that they can keep growing and flourishing in the future. Failing to achieve any of these three goals leads to a training program of poor quality.

What other equally important general goals should a competent trainer keep in mind when designing and delivering a training program?

The Training Evaluation Form

Function

At the end of the final training session in a training program it is essential to distribute evaluation forms on trainees and ask them to fill the forms out. Although such training evaluation forms might not ultimately provide an accurate measurement of the effectiveness and value of the training program yet they do indeed provide an indicator of how participants feel about the training. The feedback provided by participants in the training evaluation form can also be a rich source of information for the trainer providing him with insights about how to improve the training program next time he delivers it and clues on how to improve his training practice as a whole.

Sections

There are so many different ways to design a training evaluation form. Generally speaking, the training evaluation form is divided into several sections. One of the sections asks about the trainer and his competence. Another section asks about the training room, facilities and equipment. Further questions ask about the content of the training and materials provided. There can also be a question asking about the overall evaluation of the training as a whole. A further section can ask about the usefulness and practicality of the training and to how extent it can benefit the participant in his work.

Keep it Short and Simple

It is essential however to try and keep the training evaluation form short and as simple as possible in order not to overburden trainees at the end of the training program. A lengthy evaluation form could lead to participants just going through the question points one after the other checking each them rapidly without reading them carefully or taking the time to think and provide accurate answers for each question.

Open Ended Questions

In addition to the graded questions there can also be open ended questions that should be filled out with words written by participants. Examples of such questions can be: “State 3 main learning points you have gained during the training.” “What will you do differently at work after attending this training?” “What did you like most about this training program?” and “How can this training program be improved?”

5 Grades

As for the other graded questions it is best to provide 5 grades for each question. Providing more than that, let’s say 10 grades, could be detrimental and confusing to participants. Examples of graded questions within the previously mentioned section are: “The trainer was well prepared,” “The trainer answered participant questions,” “The depth of knowledge of the trainer,” “The trainer explained activities clearly,” “Quality of the visuals,” “Quality of the materials provided,” “The training room,” and “Time allotted for the training program.”

Analyze the Forms

The trainer should have a look at the evaluation forms and study them carefully to better understand how participants see and value the various elements of the training program. This would help the trainer improve his training every time he delivers training.

Conclusion

Although feedback forms or evaluation forms provided to trainees at the end of a training program are not considered on their own to be an accurate measure of the effectiveness of the training yet they do provide a good indicator of the quality of the training and can help the trainer improve his craft.

What are other examples of questions that are useful to include in training evaluation forms?

Deciding When to Take Questions

One of the features that distinguishes training courses from other sources of learning, such as reading books and trial and error, is the opportunity for trainees to ask questions to the trainer. A competent trainer not only knows how to handle trainee questions well but also knows when to allow for questions to be asked in the first place and when to answer them.

At End of Session

There are several ways in which to select the time for answering trainee questions. One approach is to inform trainees from the very beginning of the training session, perhaps during the part where you are setting ground rules, that you will be providing time for questions, let’s say half an hour or so, at the very end of the training session and that they are not allowed to ask any questions during the session itself. You can ask trainees to write down any questions that may come to their minds during the session in order not to forget them by the end of the session when the time for questions comes. You may even supply participants with paper in order for them to use it for that purpose.

The beauty of this method is that the training session goes on smoothly without interruptions or getting sidetracked to other unrelated topics. This allows the rest of the trainees to keep their focus and be happy. However, one drawback of postponing all trainee questions to the very end of the training session is that some trainees would just skip writing down some of the questions they may have and thus such questions would probably go unanswered. Moreover, the energy, mood and state of mind for wanting to ask the question and being fully receptive to receive its answer might change or vanish completely as the time for questions at the end of the training session comes.

All the Time

On the other extreme side lies an opposite way for specifying the time for answering questions where the trainer allows trainees to ask whatever question they might have at whatever time they like during the training session even if this means repeatedly interrupting the trainer in mid speech. The biggest drawback of this approach clearly is disturbing the flow of the session and making the rest of the trainees unable to follow, unfocused and unhappy. The advantage of this approach is that it allows trainees to ask all questions they might have and do so when the state of their mind is best suited for receiving and absorbing an answer. After answering the question, the trainer must have the ability to instantly continue from where he had been stopped right before the question was asked.

At End of Each Part

The third and final approach is the one I like most and have found to be the most productive. The third approach takes the best of the two worlds to strike a balance between the previously mentioned two methods. The trainer simply states that he would be taking questions after finishing each part of the training session. After fully explaining something, the trainer then asks trainees if they have any questions about what he has just finished explaining. This approach provides trainees ample opportunity for asking questions when such questions are still fresh in their minds while guarding against any interruptions on the middle of explanations by the trainer.

Conclusion

Although the third approach is usually the best one overall yet for short presentations, in contrast to a long training day, the first approach of keeping questions to the very end of the session should be more suitable. In some occasions as well the second approach of allowing questions at any time might be tolerated if it dose not bother the rest of the participants.

Which of the three methods for setting training time do you prefer? Is there a fourth method you have experienced?

Giving Breaks During Training

Breaks play an important role during a training session particularly in the case of long training sessions. If you are delivering a full day training session, let’s say an 8-hour training day, then you should give at least 2 breaks during the training day. The first break could be a coffee break in the morning while the second can be a lunch break in the afternoon.

Lunch Break

It is essential that the lunch be a light meal so that participants can come back to the training still vitalized. Having fish for lunch might not be a good idea as it would probably make participants feel sleepy. The trainer may provide some physical activities, such as a game that involves movement, to participants right after the lunch break in order to make them regain their vitality. Alternatively, the trainer may keep participants seated right after the lunch break providing them with a video or a brief activity that does not require movement then follow that with a physical activity. This would allow participants to get a brief rest first after the lunch before they go ahead with the physical activity. The transitional step helps reduce trainee resistance for carrying out the physical activity the trainer asks them to do after the lunch break.

For shorter training sessions, let’s say of 3 hours of length, a trainer may proceed with one break only. The break can be timed at around the middle of the training session.

Break Length

As for the duration of the break, as a rule of thumb, the trainer should include 10 minutes of rest in each hour of training. For instance, for a 3-hour training session, the trainer may give a 30 minutes break, which amounts to 10 minutes of rest in every hour of training.

For a training day that is 8 hours long, the trainer may provide a total of 80 minutes in breaks. If he is giving 2 breaks then one of them can be for 20 minutes (coffee break) and the other for 1 hour (lunch break) which together amount for a total of 80 minutes. Alternatively, the 80 minutes may be divided on 30 and 50 minutes respectively. A trainer may even decide to divide the 80 minutes on 3 breaks instead. For instance, the 3 breaks can be set to 20, 40 and 20 minutes respectively, with the longest break being reserved for lunch.

Benefits of Breaks

Breaks help trainees revitalize. They help them digest information and experiences they had during the part of the training session before the break and makes them ready for acquiring more.

It is a very good idea that the trainer summarizes what took place during the session right before providing a break and once again right after trainees come back from the break. Such times are the peak memory times and help boost retention. They act as a container that helps retain in the mind what has been experienced during the training session.

Flexibility

Finally, the time interval of breaks does not have to be set in stone. A trainer may decide on more or less than 10 minutes of break time for each hour of training depending on circumstances. A trainer should be very clear about the exact time the break would end and write that down on the flip chart or white board so that trainees would come back in time.

What other benefits do you think breaks can have?

The Just-in-Time Trainer

Detailed Lesson Plan

One of the qualities of a good teacher or instructor has traditionally been to have an extensive lesson plan prepared before entering the classroom. I remember even once as I was being evaluated as an instructor for English language the first thing the evaluator asked me about was my lesson plan!

On the Fly

In contrast to that, the just-in-time trainer can adapt and customize the content of the training on the fly during the training session itself to suit the needs and desires of participants and depending on the situations that arise.

An extreme form of this flexible approach would be to decide only on a title for the training session and have participants decide on the actual content by eliciting questions and points they would like to learn about at the beginning of the training session. I have seen this approach used by Mohamed Essa in one of his training sessions about pranic healing. Only a highly competent and knowledgeable trainer would be able to use such an extremely flexible approach for deciding on the content of a training session. This approach goes hand in hand with open space technology, which is a highly flexible method for running conferences (or unconferences) in which attendees of the conference create the agenda of the conference themselves at the beginning of the conference.

Spectrum

Between those two extremes of preparing for an extensive and detailed lesson plan and going to a training session with only a broad title and eliciting the outline of the session from participants, between those two extremes lies a wide spectrum of methods with varying degrees of flexibility and rigidity.

Hybrid Approach

Usually an experienced and competent trainer would have some outline prepared for the whole training program and for the training session and have content ready for them yet would still have the flexibility of adding, removing, modifying or adapting content of a training session on the fly according to the needs of participants and according to situations that arise. This reminds us of the 3-part training session time management technique.

The Just-in-Time Trainer

A trainer who masters his craft well can jump instantly into a room full of participants and start delivering a successful training session at very short notice even if he had just been asked to do so only a few minutes before the start of the training session. A rigid instructor would never be able to handle such a situation and would ask for several days to prepare first.

A just-in-time trainer is one who is able to navigate easily between the two extremes of detailed preparation and planning for a training session and managing a successful training session with only a title for it in hand.

On which part of this spectrum do you see yourself as a trainer?