Most audiences are comprised of extroverts and introverts, and lots of people who consider themselves a bit of both. In Susan Cain’s insightful book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking (2012), the author describes the “rubber band theory” of personality, in which we can be elastic and stretch ourselves, but only so far. The introverts in your audience may need to stretch slowly to become comfortable with group work. The extroverts in your audience may need to have some structures that encourage them to listen and reflect.
High-octane professional learning in groups requires participants to engage with one another. Yet, when we ask people to turn and talk or meet someone new, there is often a silent groan. Sometimes even an audible one! Many of us dread having to engage with strangers. “Can’t I just sit and get the information?” we silently lament. It is tempting for facilitators to avoid interactive experiences so that they don’t have to deal with The Groan. However, if we want rich, robust learning, we have to be prepared to push through the groan and get people interacting.
1. To kick-start this engagement, arrange for each person to introduce themselves to a neighbor right near the beginning of the session. The sooner you can decrease the discomfort of sitting among strangers, the quicker your learners will be ready to learn and share. I usually do this within the first five minutes of any session.
2. Make the initial discussion activity novel or fun (but related to your content.) Instead of “Share your name and where you’re from,” try one of these:
3. Throughout the day, expand comfort zones by asking participants to talk with people who are not seated next to them. If I have a full day with a group, I usually have everyone talk with neighbors in the first morning block, stand and find someone at another table during the second morning block, and then I may purposefully reseat everyone for an activity in the afternoon. By slowly expanding the networking circle, I facilitate opportunities for new perspectives and fresh ideas – key to a successful learning experience!
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Anne Beninghof is passionate about teaching and learning.
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