Before you can share information and facilitate
learning, you must first capture and hold your learners attention.
But getting learners focused is no small feat in todays world of
fast-paced action and shortened attention spans. Because many
people are constantly exposed to high-speed technology and
conditioned by an expectation that they can get anything when and
how they want it, your challenge as a trainer, educator, or
facilitator is complex.
Here are some strategies to help you grab your
participants attention and begin the journey of
1. Assess your content engagement
factor. You can trace many instances of lost learner
interest back to your design and delivery format. To ensure that
you do not fall prey to bad content and presentation errors,
consider the following questions:
Have you created a novel way to inform learners of
session objectives and expectations?
Does the program design incorporate the needs of
learners that you discovered through a needs assessment?
Does your design format require active learner
engagement at regular intervals (approximately every 15 to 20
Do the planned activities and support materials
appeal to all three learning modalities (visual, auditory, and
Are learners required to be creative in their
thinking and opinions during the session?
Are interim review points built into the session
to gauge comprehension and learning?
Are support materials and verbal messages
congruent and stimulating?
Is the program content flexible, relevant, and
appealing to learners?
Is the learning environment stimulating to the
Does what you are delivering mirror or tie to
2. Give learners a reason to listen to
what you have to say. Do this by answering a common
learner questionWhat is the added value and results for me? By
sharing what they are going to get from the session and how it can
immediately be used in the real world, you set expectations of
receiving something of value. A helpful part of this is to share
your credentials and help learners understand why they should
listen to you, based on your expertise. You might facilitate this
by sharing a personal experience and lessons you have learned
related to the session topic. You could then ask some of them what
experiences they have had.
3. Make learning fun. Most
participants love an opportunity to have fun when they learn. Look
for ways to incorporate variations of games that children play to
keep the energy level high in your sessions. For example, you can
incorporate scarf juggling as an energizer and to teach one-on-one
coaching, team building, and interpersonal communication skills.
Give each person three brightly colored silk scarves, show them how
to juggle them by having them toss one at a time into the air, and
continue to catch and toss again. It is a fun, highly active
workout that allows people to learn new skills while interacting
with others. It takes no special skills and can be learned and
practiced in minutes. You can get scarves at magic supply stores
and on the Internet.
Follow the lead of
advertisers. People are so used to technology and a fast
rate of information delivery that trainers and educators must
mirror what learners see elsewhere to keep them interested. An
example of this is the rate at which television advertisers show
commercials. In the middle to late part of the 20th century
commercials ran on the half hour. Eventually they came closer
together until now they are seen every 8 to 15 minutes or in some
cases more often. This translates to a psychological expectation
from learners that something will change during a similar period in
the classroom. For that reason, you should plan to change your
delivery format (e.g., from lecture to discussion, activity, or
demonstration) at least every 15 minutes or so. This helps maintain
learner interest and keeps them mentally
5. Use an opinion activity. At
the beginning of your session, create a list of key topics that
will be covered and generate statements based on them. For example,
Most learners will lose attention in a training session after
approximately 15 minutes. In using such statements, you introduce
session content and start the process of memorization early. This
will help because the more times someone experiences information,
the more likely they will gain, retain, recall, and use it. As you
make each statement, have learners write it down on a sheet of
paper and next to it write either agree or disagree. Once you have
read all statements, get a tally of their opinions and write the
total on a flipchart. Explain that, as the session progresses, you
will cover each item and will refer to their responses at those
points. Through a simple activity such as this, you have introduced
key concepts and engaged learners early in the
6. Incorporate sound. If you need
to attract learner attention following a group activity or to start
your session, try using a creative noisemaker, such as a screaming
chicken, traditional teachers classroom bell, bicycle horn, or
other creative tool or music. When learners hear the sounds, they
typically stop what they are doing to see what is going on. You can
then ask them to assemble or prepare to get
7. Use nonverbal cues. Silence
and gestures are great ways to attract attention. If you are
speaking and others are holding side conversations, simply stop
talking and stand in front of the group. Eventually, they will note
the silence and look to the front of the room. You also can regain
attention by informing learners at the beginning of the session
that you will be using various signals when you need their
attention. For example, you might stop talking and raise your hand.
As learners see your gesture, they mirror it until everyone has
focused and raised their hand. You can also clap your hands in a
rhythmic fashion to which learners respond in a like manner. Once
everyone has joined the clapping, stop and proceed with your
8. Have a memorable conclusion.
Restate key concepts that were covered, hit the highlights of a
discussion brought out related to them, provide an opportunity for
final questions, and close with a powerful statement, summarizing
quote, or other memorable message that relates to the session
content. Whatever you do, make it fun and engage learners rather
than just reviewing a list off of slides.
There are literally hundreds of books and
thousands of activities available online and in bookstores that you
can use to help focus learner attention. The key is to be
innovative, use a variety of tools, and not get into a habit of
using the same techniques regularly. If you do, they may become
bored with them and that complacency will show in your
facilitation. The end result will be that your learners do not get
enthused and will drift away mentally. Build a toolbox of ideas,
tools, techniques, and strategies and pull from it on a regular
basis. The result will be a more interactive and challenging
learning experience for your participants.