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Five ways to build confidence in your audience

27th Aug 2019
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Training is a two-way interaction, so winning the confidence of the room is crucial for every trainer. 

How do you build confidence in your learners? Make them feel like they matter and you care – it’s that simple…

So many trainers are focused on delivering their content, to the detriment of the learning process. Of course, the trainer has a job to do and there is content that needs to be delivered.

Here’s the thing though - if a trainer prioritises their need to get through their content to tick a box, there’s a risk that learners will feel a lack of space to share their thinking, a lack of permission to explore the content and a lack of confidence to participate.

Here are five approaches that (if you’re not already doing), will take your learners’ confidence and your training to the next level:

1. Set the standards to support engagement

As a trainer your role is to facilitate learning, and while individuals have different ways of expressing engagement (for example a highly auditory-digital learner will not necessary look at you, because they’re processing), engagement is boosted when participants feel they can express their thoughts in an open manner.

To achieve this, it’s vital to frame the session with expectations for behavioural and participation standards.

2. Manage your movement

Building confidence in your learners begins with you. Your words convey your knowledge and thinking, but your body (movement, gestures, mannerisms) communicates your emotions.

To build trust, do not allow learners to take you off-point by sharing comments that are unrelated to the point being made.

I recommend getting a peer to provide you with feedback on your body movements so you can address any distracting, annoying or overused gestures/habits that you may not have conscious awareness of.

3. Validate contributions

When discussion is flowing, the energy in the room can be wonderful, but just allowing one comment after another from learners, with nothing more than a ‘yes’ or ‘thank you’ to the person who contributed to the discussion, can leave participants feeling unfulfilled and unheard.

To build trust, do not allow learners to take you off-point by sharing comments that are unrelated to the point being made.

Enhance the discussion by adding at least one other comment that elevates the idea. Where appropriate, ask for others to build on this idea, rather than starting a separate thread of conversation.

If a comment is steering discussion in a direction you don’t wish to follow, acknowledge their contribution and suggest where it might be addressed (eg via a resource or another training programme, or if it’s something more appropriate for a conversation during the break).

Make sure to check that they are happy with your suggestion so they don’t feel shut down.

4. Assess participation confidence

I developed the Participation Confidence Map below, which provides a rating scale of participation, to reflect a learner’s confidence in any given environment.

These behaviours move through passive stages to proactive stages. At least confident, participants avoid any signs of participation.

This shifts to observer status, where they’re curious and comfortable to watch from the safety of the sidelines.

This transitions into engagement in the form of responding to direct questions. This level of participant confidence may reflect the individual’s attitude towards authority. The trainer represents the authority figure, and the learner will respond to them, but not initiate participation. It’s the ‘don’t speak unless spoken to’ mentality.

Building confidence in your learners is about obtaining permission for exploration, gaining agreement for the contribution of ideas and giving validation through acknowledgement and building on ideas.

These three stages are all passive. In contrast, an audience member who contributes by actively sharing their thoughts during training demonstrates a level of proactive participation.

Building on this, participants who are very engaged will contribute their thoughts as well as ask questions, reflecting deeper thinking and applied learning. The most pro-active stage is demonstrated by leading the conversation.

As the trainer or facilitator, your job is to lead the discussion. If ever you’ve dropped the ball and allowed the conversation to be dominated by an attendee, you will have felt an energetic shift from being the leader to being an influencer (until you were able to reign the conversation back).

5. Leverage your room

If you’re not confident about what you’re training, use the experience and expertise of people in the room to your advantage.

Frame your training session by acknowledging the range of experiences and abilities in the room and obtain permission for these to be contributed during the session. Here’s an example of how that might sound:

“Some of you have had experience with X, so I want to check in and ask if you’d be willing to share your knowledge and experiences to help others in the room. Would that be ok?”

(Wait until you receive a yes from relevant individuals. If you don’t hear a yes, you don’t have buy-in, so hold the space, look puzzled and ask again if this would be OK.)

“Also to make this valuable for those with experience, we’ll cover some advanced content. So for those of you who are less familiar with X,  if you don’t understand what we’re covering, will you ask questions?”

(Again, wait for their response).

By elevating those with experience, they become your allies, actively wanting to share their knowledge.

For those with less experience, they now feel free to ask questions, which will help generate valuable discussion points and shared learning.

This also provides opportunity for you to check in with your allies and at appropriate times during the training and invite their input.

Building confidence in your learners is about obtaining permission for exploration, gaining agreement for the contribution of ideas and giving validation through acknowledgement and building on ideas.

Interested in this topic? Read Learning culture: six ways to tell if your employees are learning.

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Picture of David Taylor
By David Taylor Axio
27th Aug 2019 16:26

Kerryn - great post and I totally agree with you. As a trainer for many years I long ago moved from 'what have I got to deliver' to 'what do these people need from me today'. This means knowing your audience, applying all of your points and being a role model (as best you can) for the behaviours you want to see in the training room.

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