President Of TrainSmart, Inc.
Walking into a training room for the first time always reminds me of a new home or condo before the moving van arrives with my boxes and furniture. There is a simultaneous sense of emptiness and anticipation. Emptiness because there is a coldness to any room that is devoid of furniture, wall art, and personal mementos. I anticipation because I know the coldness will evaporate as soon as I get my hands on those boxes (provided I marked them correctly).
I have the same need to personalize the classroom. When a participant walks through the door I want them to have a full-body sensory experience that this room is different from all the other rooms in the building. Through the room setup and use of props, I want people to feel like they are stepping into an inclusive, safe, and open environment – an environment that encourages learning.
This does not mean you have to become a Martha Stewart devotee to create a warm and welcoming environment. It does mean you may have to do some furniture rearranging. (See blog post on Training Room Set Up)
It also means that you should bring some props including portable speakers for music, toys, candy, and colorful markers. Most importantly, you want to start thinking about the humble flip chart in a way you never have before.
When used artfully, a flip chart can become your blank canvas – a canvas that can change how participants feel about the room. By strategically using the flip chart, participants will stop thinking of it as “the training room” and start thinking of it as “their training room.”
Adding a little pizzazz to a few pre-prepared flip charts signals from the get-go that you have done your homework, and are organized and prepared to teach the course. It also communicates that you care about the course.
One of the pre-prepared flip charts should be The Parking Lot. The Parking Lot is a great tool for capturing important ideas that are off-topic. By putting topics in the parking lot you are acknowledging their value as well as the importance of staying on schedule to meet the learning objectives.
Ideally, you will structure the day to allow some “free” time for these off-topic conversations. The other value of the parking lot is that it customizes the learning. Topics in the Parking Lot are ones that are generally not part of the curriculum but topics that are important to the attendees. By saving some time to discuss the topics they want to talk about you are ensuring that they are getting what they want from the training.
Not all flip charts can or should be pre-prepared. To maximize the readability of the flip chart when writing in real-time, use two different color markets and switch between the two for each bullet. Experts recommend staying away from yellow, pink, or orange markers because they are difficult to see.
During breaks, move flipchart sheets from the easel to the wall. This allows participants to see how much information has been covered throughout the training session it makes it easy to refer back to topics and it helps tie conversations together. This technique is also very useful if you are doing multi-day training because it is a visual reminder of just how much information they learned during the training.
In addition to the Flip Chart, there are other props that can make a significant difference in creating a pro-learning environment including toys, candy, music, and essential oils.
Entering a classroom for the first time can be an uncomfortable experience. – Music can help reduce that awkward feeling. When friendly music is playing, it makes it easier for people to step into the classroom.
If your workshop includes activities where participants need to spend time thinking, reflecting, or writing, playing appropriate music can help them keep their attention longer. Some studies show that people write twice as long when they have music playing during these exercises.
Another great prop to enhance learning is table toys. When people see toys they think of having fun and one of the things you want participants to feel when they walk into your training room is that it looks like the experience will be fun. In addition, toys play (pun intended) a useful role in providing a modicum of activity for people who become restless while listening to a lecture.
I can’t say enough about the importance of having candy in the classroom. I like to scatter it on the table rather than having a bowl. When it’s just on the tabletop people don’t have to be obvious when they are taking a piece. When it’s in a bowl some people become self-conscious because they are indulging in a guilty pleasure.
The benefits of having candy around are psychological. People like candy They associate candy with fun things. So even if people don’t eat the mini snicker bars, jolly rogers or Twizzlers, just seeing that they are available can put people in a great mood. You can also use candy as a learning device.
Think of it as an inside out version of a fortune cookie. Instead of having an interesting saying or fact inside a fortune cookie, take some printable adhesive stickers and attach them to the candy. That way each time someone picks up a piece of candy you are also reinforcing the learning objectives.
You may also want to consider using essential oils in a diffuser to create an olfactory experience to decrease stress, create a sense of calm and to help make people more receptive to learning. Depending on the goal, essential oils can help relax participants or they are great for giving a room an energy boost when they are experiencing mid-afternoon doldrums.
Whether you opt for using all or some of these props, the goal is to make the classroom your own and to do everything you can to create an environment that supports and encourages a great learning experience.