When I was in college, there was one particular professor who always referred to himself as a lecturer. It stood out to me because throughout my life, I had seen people shying away from the word “lecture”. Lecture was a dirty word, because it meant that one person wasn’t giving another person a chance to talk. Everybody preferred using the word “discussion” for their talks, even though it never was a discussion.
Parents, other relatives, and even teachers always used the word “discussion” as they continued to talk at me without giving me a chance at all. If I responded, I was considered rude. So it was refreshing to me for a teacher to own the L-word. I respected him for it, and paid a little more attention in his classes.
As a trainer, are you a lecturer or a discussion facilitator?
There are merits to both, but you have to own your style. If you call yourself one thing and act like another, you will lose the respect and attention of your participants.
The advantage of lectures is control – you are always in charge. You can always predict what will happen next, and you control the flow of the session. Where lectures suffer is that they’re not dynamic enough. Unless you’re an extremely charismatic presenter, lectures can become boring.
If you don’t want to pivot to discussion-style sessions, which are more dynamic but harder to control, you can make your lectures more interesting with activities.
The Value of Activities
Activities allow learners to consolidate the knowledge you’ve given and put it into practice. This way, they’re not just using their senses of sight and hearing to learn from you, but now engaging their brain to try and complete an activity successfully. By engaging their mental faculties in multiple ways, learners have a higher chance of retaining information.
And besides, activities are fun. By building activities into your training sessions, you reduce the pressure on yourself as a lecturer, while ensuring your learners leave with a positive experience. A great activity can be the biggest highlight of a session.
You can do something as simple as a rapid-fire quiz or an icebreaker game, or you could go so far as to have your learners create something. As part of a team building exercise, I once built a literal boat out of tape and plastic-board that we floated in a pool of water, with a teammate inside! Thankfully, our boats were the sturdiest out of all the teams. That activity remains an important memory for me.
Integrate from the Beginning, Not at the End
One important lesson to remember is that you shouldn’t add activities for the sake of adding them. Too often, we see trainers create a slide deck for their material, and then afterwards force-fit an activity because they want to engage their audience.
Your activities should fit the message you’re delivering in your training session, and therefore it is important to think about activities right when you’re creating the training program. That way, you can ensure a seamless integration between lecture and activity. You give your learners a complete, well-thought out experience.
Edit: In July 2020, we released the A to Z of Facilitation podcast series. To learn more about engaging the learner’s mind and improving retention, listen to our episode about Bloom’s Taxonomy.