Many years ago I attended some excellent training in facilitation skills. Perhaps the most important thing I learned from this training was the importance of the first five minutes in a training session. If you want to create an inclusive and open learning environment, it is crucial to get the participants talking within the first five minutes. This may be as simple as a quick group introduction around the room or involve a more interactive icebreaker. It establishes the type of behaviour you would like in the session, immediately breaks down any barriers and gets people exercising their vocal chords. They become active, not passive, participants. Now every time I prepare and deliver training I make a mental note to check that my participants have the opportunity to speak within the first five minutes.
You may have noticed things have been fairly quiet in these parts. I have been completing a Certificate IV in Graphic Design and it’s been a huge commitment in addition to parenting and work. However it has been wonderful learning new skills and being around other creative like-minded people. I love being in a place where we can have in depth discussions about the finer points of printing on gloss v semi gloss paper!
I wanted to do formal graphic design training because I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated by the limits of PowerPoint. After completing 6-months intensive training in Adobe Creative Suite, typography and graphic design elements and principles, I feel much more equipped to create dynamic presentations. Perhaps the most exciting skill I’ve learned is the ability to make my own vector graphics. I’m no longer limited by the options available in stock libraries or the auto shapes in PowerPoint…the sky’s the limit.
One of the most influential features of a presentation or a training session is the way the seating is arranged in the room…yet it’s remarkable how many people leave the issue of seating arrangements to chance. A well-arranged room creates the foundation for training and can remove distractions and powerfully influence the effectiveness of the training.
I’m a little pedantic about preparing a room in advance. I like my participants to feel a sense of anticipation when they enter the room and it also helps me to feel calm and prepared. I usually use one of three seating options: Café Style, U-Shape or Lecture.
1) Café Style Seating
A café style seating arrangement is where participants are seated around small tables with the trainer located at the front of the room. It’s great for small group work that requires a lot of interaction and discussion.
In a nutshell
- A café style seating arrangement is more informal and generates discussion.
- Participants can work in small groups and then return to the whole group.
- The trainer moves between groups during lectures and activities.
- The trainer can circulate easily and focus on smaller groups as well as the group as a whole.
- There may be visibility issues for some people in the room.
- This style of seating can encourage side conversations and perhaps lack of attention.
2) U-shape Seating
As the name suggest, the U-shape seating arrangement features a number or rectangular tables set up in the shape of a ‘U’ with participants seated around the outside. This set up is ideal for small to medium groups and puts the trainer at the front of the room (in the middle of the U) or at one end of the U.
In a nutshell
- The U-shape seating arrangement encourages whole group participation.
- It is good seating for trainer/participant contact.
- There is good visibility for participants, although participants may feel a little exposed.
- Seating can take up quite a bit of space for the number of people involved.
3) Lecture Style Seating
The lecture style seating arrangement is best used for formal presentations to larger groups when you want to maximise the space in a room. Chairs are placed in rows and face the front. There are no tables.
In a nutshell
- Great set up for lectures that are being presented to large groups.
- Good for audio-visual displays.
- Reduces interaction as communication is mostly one way.
- The trainer may have difficulty viewing the participants in the back rows.
- There might be visibility / sound issues in the back rows.
- Note-taking can be difficult for participants.
- People in the back rows will be less likely to participate than those in the front.
So how do you select a suitable seating arrangement?
Consider the following factors:
- The size of the group and the size of the room.
- The type of content ie does it involve group work or audience participation?
- Are there participants with special needs (mobility, seeing, hearing)?
- The furniture that is available to you.
- Any audio-visual requirements and other teaching aids such as posters, flipcharts etc.
But above all, the most important factor is not to leave seating to chance!
The inspiration from this icebreaker came from my children’s games cupboard and it’s most effective in groups of about 20 people. What I like about this activity is that it requires participants to get out of their seats and interact, but also ends in a group discussion. To facilitate this ice breaker you‘ll need a children’s game of Associations, which are readily available in toy stores (and make a great investment if you deliver a lot of training).
- Count the number of participants and put a corresponding amount of matching puzzle pieces face-down and mixed up in a container. If there is an odd number of participants, include yourself in the activity, so that each person will have a partner.
- Each participant is invited to select a puzzle piece and then asked to leave their seats to locate the person with the matching puzzle piece.
- Once they’ve found their puzzle partner, participants must check that the pieces fit together and have a discussion about what they are hoping to achieve from the training, with the aim of reporting back to the group.
- During report back time, each participant is invited to introduce their puzzle partner to the group and tell the group about their partner’s expectations for the day.
- The facilitator may wish to call on a volunteer scribe to record these on some butcher’s paper or a whiteboard.
At the end of the activity participants should feel more relaxed and loosened up. There will also be a list of expectations that the facilitator can address in a segway to the first session of the day.
To learn more about the benefits of ice breakers in training sessions, click here.
Ice breakers are an essential tool in any trainer’s toolkit. They’re short, structured activities that are used to ‘break the ice’ in meetings or facilitation groups. Well-designed ice breakers are great for:
• Reducing tension
• Energising and motivating a group
• Helping people become more engaged in the proceedings
• Getting to know the other participants
• Creating a relaxed learning environment
• Generating conversations
• Creating a climate of participation
By the same token a badly designed ice breaker can go down like a lead balloon.
So what makes an ice breaker work? The activity must be thoughtfully selected, appropriate for the group, tailored to the audience and the duration of the ice breaker should be proportionate to the length of the session.
Over the coming weeks, I will be featuring some unique ice breakers that have worked well for me in different settings. Do you have any tried and tested ice breakers to share? If so, I’d love to hear from you.