Toys can be used to appeal to different intelligences and to generate a relaxed atmosphere.

Photo Credit: Ryk Neethling via Compfight cc

Emma Davidson asked me to talk about how you plan and integrate successful interactive exercises into training sessions. She said,

“I’ve been to some courses where this was done well and everyone had a great time participating, and others where the trainer droned on for ages then suddenly expected the group to do something which no one wanted to.”

As I started to write, I realised that I don’t have any hard and fast rules to do this. I do have some suggestions though as to what might help.


If you are going to introduce interactivity then it’s a good idea not to surprise people with it. No-one likes that sort of surprise. “What do you mean I’m going to have to do role play?” BUT I don’t want to!

It sounds pretty simple but one of the things I do is tell people what the day or session is going to hold for them. I explain that it’s an interactive day and they’ll be expected to work in groups/have discussions etc.  It’s a good idea anyway and helps you to manage participant expectations.

Start interactive, keep interactive

I think as well that Emma alludes to a good point when she says that ‘the trainer droned on for ages and then expected the group to do something’. Don’t just plan for 1 interactive exercise but include interactivity from the very beginning.

Successful interactivity depends on there being energy in the room. Lecturing people for ages on a boring topic is only going to deplete any energy the participants had to start with.

So include it from the beginning. You can start with something simple like getting people to introduce themselves at the beginning. You can then get people to chat about what they are hoping to get out of the course.

I’ve been reading the Trainers Toolkit about brain-friendly learning. It’s really good for getting you to think about how people learn. The authors’ feel that effective training shouldn’t focus on the trainer and that you should really only have 30% of the whole session with the trainer at the front talking.

Obviously that is an ideal. Your ability to include 70% participant work depends on what you are training, participant numbers and the length of your session. If you are training large groups in lecture theatres, then the session is going to be more trainer led but you can still add interactivity and get people to raise hands, talk to the person next to them, write on post-its etc.

I often build up to a large exercise, with smaller ones first, so start with getting people to work individually, then in pairs and then in a group. But you can experiment for yourself to see what works best for you.

Learning outcomes

Think about whether you are including interactivity for the right reasons – not just because you think you should. Why do you want the session to be interactive? What is the learning outcome? What is it that you want them to do and why? Are you creating a powerful learning moment by making participants ‘find out for themselves‘. Will participants be able to say later that they understood why you had chosen that exercise for them to do? Will it give the room a ‘lightbulb’ moment?

Appropriate tasks

Obviously some people hate all forms of interactivity, and you are never going to please them. But think about your group, is it appropriate for them to be forced to make paper hats and then have to wear them for the rest of the session? Take care when planning your exercises and make sure there is a reason for doing the exercises that you have chosen and that you can explain to the group why you did it. (See Tip No 1 in my post on What makes a good exercise)


Be enthusiastic about what your doing…

That’s it really.

Don’t fake it, as that’s just appalling and will make you come across like a crazed Blue Peter presenter. But if you enjoy what you’re doing it will be obvious and infectious.

  1. Thanks Lisa, this is great! The 30/70% split is interesting but I guess makes sense, and thinking about planning a session more that way presumably helps accommodate different learning styles too.

    • Thanks Emma, glad it’s useful. and like I say – it does all depend on what you’re teaching and how big your group is. There is a reason that some people lecture, it does mean you can ‘broadcast more information, to more people in a short amount of time. Although it’s not very exciting and some people will just switch off and not remember a thing. 🙂 Interactivity does help accommodate different learning styles and should help people remember the learning. 🙂

  2. Janice Tullock

    Really useful Lisa. After being told ” it’s Friday, we only came because we thought we wouldn’t have to do anything” I always start with an exercise. It sets the tone.

    • Thanks Janice and I agree. Get them working something straight away!

Comments are closed.