It takes bravery to be an experiential trainer, by the very nature of it you are doing something of an experiment and the exercises are just as likely to go wrong as go right, you are working with people and no exercise ever goes the same. If its brave for you to go for it with this type of training, how do you think the learner might feel, after all you have the experience, you are in charge and you are not doing this in front of your peer group. It can be all too easy to take for granted that they are up for it or they will love once they get into it and you only get out what you get in line. So many learners that I have worked with have told me that they are filled with dread and fear when they are asked to go a workshop.

So having had over 25 years in running experiential training courses where just about everything has happened below are my top tips for engaging learners in experiential training and a really great exercise you can run to set the right atmosphere.

  1. Take the pressure off – don’t make anything compulsory, allow your learners to opt out of an activity if they don’t feel comfortable and you have to mean it! Make sure there are other ways they can learn such as observation and feedback. This really helps to build trust and in my experience they are much more likely to go for it then.
  2. Why? Yes ask yourself why this exercise, why this game, simulation or skills practice session. There is nothing worse than being asked to take part in an activity that is exposing, challenging and totally irrelevant. I know trainers that run their “favourite” exercise on every course regardless of the subject. Make sure you explain the relevance and draw out the learning points – relate the activity back to the workplace.
  3. Be prepared – If you are not confident in an activity why should they be? Sometimes you have to take risks, make them calculated risks. Do as much preparation as you can, find a way to try out the activity if possible, ask other trainers for their feedback.
  4. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel – Use exercises that are recommended or others have used, you can put your own slant on them but you don’t always have to be completely original. Look for free tried and tested exercises on the Internet or ask others in the profession for ideas.
  5. Pass the acid test – ask yourself would you want to do this activity in front of your peer group or a group of strangers, if the answer is no, don’t run it!
  6. Set up a safe and comfortable environment – explain why this type of training works and start with less challenging exercises so they warm up to the process. We use professional actors in our workshops and would never dream of starting with a full blown simulation, we would run a forum theatre exercise of something similar where they can take part as a team from the safety of their seats.

The activity “The inner critic” is one of my favourite warm up exercises before a simulation with actors or when running a presentation skills course because it gives everyone permission to express their fears and what could hold them back – give it a try.

DTS not only run experiential workshops but we can also help you develop your own, from creating a whole program or by creating games and exercises that complement your own internal training.