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?

Group Work Activities for Training Workshops

Interactive training workshops are more engaging than boring lectures and are more effective than mere presentations done by a trainer. Group work is one of the main kinds of activities that can make a training session highly interactive and engaging and thus enjoyable and of high impact.

Single Presenter

Here is basically how group work works:

  1. Trainer divides participants into groups.
  2. Trainer asks each group to discuss a specific topic and write down their thoughts in points.
  3. Trainer then asks each team to nominate one of its members to come and present the points of his team in front of all participants.

Multiple Presenters

A variation would be to ask each team to send 2 or even 3 of its members to present the points written by the team. This is helpful in team building training where you want participants to practice collaboration and cooperation. In such  cases, you must clearly state that both participants sharing the presentation have to share equally in presenting their team’s points. It is not acceptable that one participant goes ahead reading and explaining all the points while forgetting all about his colleague who is standing next to him and not leaving any points for that colleague to cover. The trainer must clearly state that this is not allowed. The trainer must state this before the teams start their presentations.

Time Stretching

The time it takes each team to present their points is proportional to the number of team members giving the presentation. If you ask each team to send 2 of its team members to give the presentation this would take them more time than if you had asked them to send only one team member to do the presentation. Similarly, 3 members would take a longer time in presenting than 2 members even though they have the same number of points to present. This phenomenon can be used by the trainer to reduce or expand the time of the group work activity in order to manage the training session time.

Sheets

Before the teams start their discussions, you can provide them with flip chart sheets to use for writing their points. You may even ask them to cut the sheets themselves from the flip chart and divide a single sheet into 2 or 3 parts and divide it on the other teams.

Seating

It is of great value that you ask the teams to site in circles. As they start their discussions, if you find one of the teams not arranging their chairs in a proper circle go to them and guide them to do so. The seating positions during this activity have a very high and noticeable effect on the performance of a team. Sitting in a perfect circle makes it possible for everyone to participate and boosts synergy among team members creating what might seem like a sort of resonance.

Getting Creative

I remember once that one of the teams got creative during their presentation and threw in a mini-play instead of a mere reading and explaining of the points they have written. A trainer should praise and encourage such creative initiatives.

Topic

The topic of discussion can be to reflect on a video just viewed by participants or to try and find answers for a question or solutions for a problem or just to list any kind of information the trainer asks them to list.

Conclusion

Group work is an activity that participants usually enjoy greatly and benefit from. Nevertheless, the trainer should take care to alternate between it and other forms of training so that participants do not get over-exhausted. Group work is usually a fundamental part of every interactive training workshop.

What kind of training program do you think group work would not be appropriate to use in?

Engaging Participants with Storytelling

Training of Trainers

I was once delivering a training of trainers course. One of the participants was already an experienced trainer who was herself delivering training of trainers courses yet decided to attend my training to see how I delivered that course. During one of the sessions of the course, I asked participants to provide a brief 10-minute demo of workshops they are preparing. That participant, who is already a trainer, raised her hand to have a go at providing a demo of her workshop. I allowed her other colleagues to take turns first then signaled to her to come present her demo.

Incomplete Story

She came and stood in front of her colleagues with great confidence, briefly introducing herself by mentioning her name then mentioning the title of her workshop. She then proceeded directly to telling a story related to the subject of her workshop. It was an actual story that had taken place long ago and contained powerful lessons within it.

The assigned 10-minutes for the demo came to an end and I signaled to her to stop. She had not completed the story and wanted to continue. I told her that time was already over. Many participants pleaded and begged me to let her continue with the story she had started. They were so eager to listen to the rest of the story to know what happened next. Nevertheless, I refused her extra time so that she would learn how to manage her time better next time despite the many pleadings I got from her colleagues who had been following her story with full attention and deep engagement.

After she went back to her seat, I praised the technique she used during her demo which was storytelling. I pointed out to participants of the training of trainers course the fact that they were fully engaged with the story she was narrating and how they were dying to have her continue it. This experience showed everyone how engaging storytelling can be.

Lasting Effect

Storytelling is a very powerful technique that can be used by the trainer during a training session not only to deeply engage participants but also to achieve a deep lasting effect and induce a strong learning experience. The human mind is designed to handle stories exceptionally well in terms of attention, retention, digestion, reflection, deduction and later practical use of the information in and deductions from such stories.

Types of Stories

The most effective kind of story is one the trainer has experienced himself and was part of. The second best are real stories the trainer had heard or read about. A third type of story, still very effective, is fictional stories that make a point or provide specific lessons.

Conclusion

No matter what the training is about, a competent trainer can make good use of the storytelling technique to achieve deep engagement of participants and a strong and lasting learning experience. A trainer may even allow and encourage participants to use storytelling themselves during their presentations or as part of other training activities during a training session.

Is there a story that has changed your life after you listened to it or read about it? Tell use about it.