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Help Please!! Delegates wont participate!


Can anyone help please I am currently running a communications skills training session accross two days and I am completly unable to get the delegates to participate. I have tried all my usual tricks like icebreakers, games explaining the benefit of what we are doing etc but am reaching a complete blank to the extreme. I am asking delegates simple questions such as what is an open question and the delegates are just looking blankly at me. I know that they know as they have all been assessed on this no more than three months ago and this is just a refresher. I have asked my collegues and have tried everything that they can think of.
Please help me

Paula Rooney

12 Responses

  1. Ask the group
    It won’t be easy necessarily but it might help to explain how you’re feeling (without being unduly critical or hostile) to the delegates. And ask them why they are not participating (it might be boredom, lack of relevance, lack of management support or any of a hundred other things) and then ask them what they want from you in order to become more involved etc.

    I’ve an inkling that it’s not you it’s the subject matter – communication skills has become the most over trained thing in the workplace. Every delegate can seemingly describe the techniques etc. and they sulk when it’s taught to them – unless you can demonstrate that they’re not using them and how they could be using them (and it’s hard to do) then these sessions are often a complete waste of time, sadly.

    I’d revisit the TNA too and see if your delegates actually understand why they are there and what they are supposed to be getting out of the course.

    Maybe in the future you need to recommend that this area is not taught or refreshed but coached out by managers/team leaders etc.

    I’m sorry to hear of your predicament it doesn’t happen often in training, but it does happen to all of us at some point or another and it’s not one of the best things about the job.

    Finally, it might just be worth considering abandoning the session or completely changing it’s focus after performing the above.

    Good luck.

  2. Thankyou Nik
    Thankyou for your assisstance, Its very reassuring to know that it is not just me. I will certainly follow your advice and hopefully this evening should be better.

    Thanks again


  3. Revisit TNA
    I’d also recommend examining your TNA, if you are simply refreshing the knowledge and skills already learnt and there is no real need for it then this can easily promote disengagement. A written paper could easily assess and/or refresh the same issues.

    Training for the sake of training is a definite turn off and a poor strategic decision.

  4. could a teambuilding game be of help
    As communication is the topic on hand could your group benefit from a practical forum in which they could apply what they’ve learned in an enjoyable way. If they could use this opportunity to talk through, listen and discuss real issues with which they are concerned then I know of an effective game that could facilitate dialogues on various topics of communication.

    Contact me


  5. In Reply
    Thankyou for your advice,
    The TNA was a client stipulation so unfortunatly not down to myself. I completed the session last night and it was far more successful with implementing both your suggestions. I have since suggested that I am informed of the client findings as to the training I need to deliver. being a fairly new Trainer I still have a lot to learn but the learning curve is a great one.

    Thanks again

  6. One Final Tip
    Glad to have been of help.

    If you want to prevent this kind of thing in future you might find it useful to find out from your groups what they want out of the course at the start of it.

    Just ask a few questions (and don’t be afraid to lead them a bit if they’re somewhat reticent) as to why they are there, what they hope to achieve and how they want to apply that learning.

    List their responses on a board/flipchart and then as you go through your delivery tie the learning in to the points they’ve raised.

    I’ve had to deliver client led training before and often delegates don’t have a clear focus of what they want etc. If that’s the case give them a quick summary of the course and ask them to think about what they could gain from it – again list their requirements for them.

    You’d be amazed at how often this will get them engaged with your material.

    Glad things are going better though and well done for asking for the TNA in future.

  7. Non Participants
    I had this trouble but decided with the joining instructions to ask people 2 weeks in advance to answer 14 questions about themselves AND to keep these facts secret.Eg hobby,claim to fame,worse job,etc.The first session was a quiz with a prize.Later on in a team building session they had to have a leadership ballot based on nominations and indeed self nominations.Very lively.


  8. Inject a bit of competition
    I do sympathise Paula, it’s not nice being in that situation, I hope it doesn’t happen too often!
    Obviously in an ideal world you’d get keen delegates who are all on the right course at the right time, however working for clients this doesn’t always happen.
    On top of the already good advice, if you do find yourself in a similar situation, something I find works is to generate an element of competition into the proceedings. However un-interested or ‘grumpy’ delegates are, most people like to compete! I’ve used various methonds for this but most revolved around question cards of which I have a set of per section of the course. As you re-cap each section get them to pick a card and ask another person the question. Or split them into teams, hand out the cards and ask them to pick out 4 questions that they want to ask the other team (at this point they start looking for the hardest questions in order to score points!). Finally I sometimes have a countdown on the screen at the end of the day and get them to ask as many questions from all the cards to their team in 60 seconds.
    Its never nice to ask a question and everyone stares at you like you are speaking a foreign language but if you gently force the issue with a few games you may get a better result.
    Hope this small bit of advice was useful

  9. Try a non-verbal approach!
    Curious that you’re running a communication skills workshop and not realizing that only 7% (or thereabouts) of communication is through words.

    I provide training in Thailand where the very culture discourages people from expressing their views for fear of causing upset or losing ‘face’ if the answer is WRONG!

    Try to find ways to get the information across without talking! Graphics, cartoons, or anecdotal stories. (OK, so that’s talking, so what you going to do?)

    The other very effective technique is to line them up against the wall and shoot anyone who doesn’t answer the question.

    I know that’s not the answer, but it’s a Lateral Thinking technique that might generate some alternative ideas.

    Make it fun and irreverent and don’t worry so much about the ‘message’. The trick is get behind the subject of the workshop and show people how they can tap into their own innate skills.

    Take communication skills as an example. We can all communicate exceptionally well when we’re in a pub (or hairdressers) and talking about our favourite topics (cars, football, hubbies or lovers).

    So we already know how to communicate. The issue is: how do we apply these innate abilities to the oh-hum corporate environment.

    My style tends to be to get people actually doing what they are supposed to be learning – I just shut up and enjoy the fun.

    It doesn’t always work, and they don’t always get to learn anything, but at least they get to be consciously incompetent rather than unconsciously incompetent.

    If none of that works then just stand up and tell jokes. If you’re good then you’ll all have a laugh; if you’re bad they will line up against the wall voluntarily to be shot at!

  10. Facilitation Skills
    Hi, I just wanted to tell you about a course which I recently attended called Facilitation Skills it was run by the The Training Foundation. I have had lots of problems over the years with non participation, ‘grumpy’ and learners forced to attend a course. Since doing this course, I’ve changed the way in which I engage the learners right from the moment they enter the training room and it has added a massive benefit to the course – learners get more out of it and I don’t have to work as hard. It won’t solve your problem right this second but certainly the format and tools the course gave me has had a big impact and they are practicle and easy to put into place. You may find it of benefit. One of the tools I use is a contact which they must all verbally agree to before the course starts – it sets their’s and your expectations of how the course is going to be. It really helps resolve a lot of problems before they rear their head.


  11. A different spin…
    Have you ever come across this phrase? “Resistance in an audience is a sign of lack of rapport”.

    I have also experienced some of the challenges that you have had and I found that if I really build rapport with the group you will be successful. Be aware of your own body language and tone. Also think about the language you are using to engage the whole audience. People have different internal representational systems i.e. kinaesthetic(feeling), auditory(hearing)visual(seeing),auditory digital(logic). If you are not tapping into all of these, then you will lose an element of the audience.
    Have a look at a very good book ‘Presenting Magically’ by Tad James and David Shephard to get some more information.
    Good luck!

  12. Alternative communication
    Just a suggestion, but have you tried linking the communications to conflict management/resolution. Or handling difficuly conversations and trying to make sure it initially is non work related as a hook. I’m sure your audience has its fair sure of realtionship, teenager, stressful neigbour etc situations that might be addressed! You might even link to Big Brother and the importance of negotiation!!! Once hooked you can bring back to the relationship between , team /service delivery and the implicit messages that we send out.


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