Tips and techniques for creating a positive training

Creating a learning environment

This section will cover how you prepare the room, your role as a facilitator, how to deal with more challenging situations and ends with tips for trainers and a recap of the whole guide. Click each heading below to jump straight to it:

Setting up the training room

There are a number of things you can check before the training begins which will help ensure the day starts off well. Think about:

Are tables necessary?

  1. Room layout - what sort of set up do you want? Research shows that rows reduce participation so a semi-circle or U shape set up is always a good idea. If that's not possible - perhaps the chairs are fixed or you're in a lecture hall - think about how you will encourage participants to sit together and on the front row rather than at the back.
  2. Tables or desks - are they needed or do they provide an extra barrier or layer of formality that isn't needed? 
  3. Room size - is the room large enough for the group? Is there space available, either in the same room or nearby, where you can have break-out sessions or group work?
  4. Facilities - is a flip chart available? If you intend to give a presentation, is a projector and screen set up? Is there working internet/wi-fi and do you know the password? If you have interpreters, do they have the space and facilities they need?
  5. Information - make sure everyone knows where they need to be and at what time. It's often better to give a start time half an hour earlier than planned, so that you can ensure everyone arrives on time.

When you arrive at the training, there are further things to consider:

  1. Is the room the right temperature? Do you know how to adjust the temperature if necessary?
  2. Are there materials available for everybody, such as pens and paper to write on? If applicable, are copies of the programme ready and set out for people to collect?
  3. Name badges - these are useful for you as a trainer and also for everyone else if they don't know each other. Either let us know that you want these prepared in advance or you can get everyone to write out their own name on a sticker or name card at the start of the activity. Not only is the latter quicker, it also avoids mistakes or missing name tags.
  4. Breaks - does the venue know when you are due to break for coffee and for lunch? This is important otherwise you may stop and there is nothing to drink!

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The facilitator's role

Your role as a facilitator means you are there to help the group work together and achieve the activity's aims and objectives. It is your task to empower everyone in the group to be involved and to make the process easy for all involved.

Facilitation is... Facilitation is not...
  • Taking responsibility for the process
  • Having all the answers to all the questions
  • Setting the scene and being clear about the objectives
  • Leading or monopolising the discussion
  • Encouraging everyone to participate
  • Allowing the group to do as they please
  • Actively listening and skilful questioning
  • Giving away control of the process
  • Managing time

Throughout your training, you should use  a mixture of verbal and non-verbal techniques to encourage participation as well as pictures, colour, music and objects to stimulate people's senses. This creates a more varied and interesting event and also means you're more likely to target all four different types of learners in the group.

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Challenging situations

Facilitation is a complex and unpredictable art that can sometimes be difficult and challenging. Difficulties can emerge due to the behaviour of the facilitator or the participants. Facilitator initiated difficulties include: taking control; time management; and handling difficult questions. Challenges initiated by participant behaviour includes: managing conflict; handling dominant people; working with shy people.

Taking control

There is sometimes a temptation to take control of the discussion or to change the process, usually to try and help the group move forward. Instead, the clarification of ground rules at the start of the training are a much better method to remind both participants and you as the facilitator of everyone's rights and responsibilities during the training.

Managing time

One of the major challenges for a facilitator is managing time. Group discussions or tasks may go beyond the allotted time either due to the level of interest from the participants or because the facilitator hadn't allowed enough time. The dilemma is then whether to cut the exercise short or run over time. One solution is to negotiate with the group: identify the issue and ask for options from the participants. Once you have consensus all then have ownership over the decision taken.

Difficult questions

Facilitators often feel that they need all of the answers. You should always be well prepared and should anticipate potential questions but you should not be expected to have all the answers. When a participant asks a question that you are unsure of, there are a number of ways that you can respond: encourage them to answer it (what do you think?); redirect the question to the wider group or a specific member of the group; or say you do not know and recommend a resource where they can find the answer.

Handling challenging behaviour

Participants can sometimes be over dominant, cause conflict or not contribute at all. There are usually solutions to all of these problems. Remember, as adults we all feel we have something to contribute so never shut down or contradict anyone's opinion or view. Instead, encourage more dialogue with the rest of the group or limit the opportunities they have to cause further disruption.

  • Tips for managing conflict - acknowledge the conflict; establish the cause; encourage mutual respect, reminding people of the ground rules; if there is a personal conflict unrelated to the subject matter, ask those concerned to draw a line under it and to resolve it outside of the group setting; if all else fails - take a break.
  • Tips for handling dominant people - give them responsibility within the group; when working in groups place them together in a smaller group; limit the number of times each person can speak.
  • Tips for working with shy participants - encourage them individually within and outside the group; establish reasons for their shyness, remove the barrier if possible (e.g. more group work away from dominant or more senior members); give notice of the topic beforehand so that they have time to prepare; give them responsibility for note taking or feedback; place them in a supportive group.

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Tips for trainers
  • The power of suggestion - always ensure that you do not 'suggest' to participants that time is too short or the next bit will be boring as they will feed this back to you (or us) through the evaluation forms. Always mention what you are about to do that day or in that session but don't add a caveat about 'if there is enough time'.
  • Leave silences - silences always seem longer than they really are but they give the space and opportunity for a participant to come up with a suggestion or answer. Don't fill silences; let the participants do it for you.
  • Include 'hooks' or 'bangs' - think of ways to start sessions that will catch the interest of the participants and help them relate to the material. You may want to start with a personal anecdote (real or imagined!) or use a prop or scenario to illustrate what you are going to talk about. Always give the context of the session you are about to give in relation to the overall programme.
  • Whatever you include in the programme, ensure you give clear instructions. More time can be wasted on getting groups to form and complete a task than anything else. Give written instructions where possible, either as a hand out or on a flip chart. Do not give instructions whilst groups are moving about or forming as you will end up repeating the same instructions over and over again. It is also worthwhile to visit each group once they have started a task to check that they understand it and are on the right track.
  • Be creative and don't be afraid to try out new formats or techniques. Video is often underused but can sometimes get a point across much quicker and more succinctly than talking and provide a bit of variety to the training.
  • Always ensure that you are comfortable with the material you are delivering. Any level of discomfort will quickly be revealed and will discredit the rest of your training. Always adapt whatever material or subject you have been given and remove anything you're not comfortable with. 
  • Always plan for more time than you need. More often than not a particular session will run-over, even if an earlier session finishes early. Even if you do finish early, participants' are unlikely to complain about an earlier or longer coffee or lunch break, whereas the opposite is less true! 
  • Repeat, repeat and repeat - always recognise that participants need to hear main messages repeated in many ways. This may mean that you present some information, back it up with a practical exercise and then recap the main points at the end.
  • Be prepared to throw the plan out of the window! It is more important that you satisfy the participants rather than deliver your planned material; no matter how detailed and prepared you are. This means you need to be flexible, listen to feedback and respond/adapt accordingly. 

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10 things to remember when preparing for your activity:

  1. Consider the cultural context and adapt your training accordingly. Don't assume participants' will understand the subject matter and read about the political situation in the country you're visiting.
  2. Find out if you're working with an interpreter and factor in additional time to account for this. Find out if and when you can meet with the interpreters to discuss your material.
  3. Make sure you are clear of the activity's aims and objectives and understand what it is the participants want. If you need to know anything about the participants to help you prepare, write up a list of questions and pass them on to the organisers.
  4. Design your training so that it takes account of the four different types of learners. Include a variety of methods and approaches to demonstrate a skill and remember that adults learn from experience.
  5. Prepare an ice-breaker and some energisers should the participants' need encouragement or waking up.
  6. Think about the materials you need, including a learning log for participants to complete. This will help the participants track their progress and help you in the evaluation at the end.
  7. Spend some time to think about your role as a facilitator and consider the verbal and non-verbal techniques you will use to encourage participation from everyone.
  8. Send any printed material or presentations in advance, especially if they need translation.
  9. Plan the activity so that you have more time than needed; and don't forget to include an evaluation at the end.
  10. Let us know of anything you need in advance, or any information we can provide to help.

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