Photo by: Carlos Pereyra via Pixabay
“Boy, Am I Enthusiastic!” This is the chant we had learners recite, every hour, on the hour, when I was an instructor at a recruiting school years ago. It was torturous to get our adult learners to sit in a class for eight hours a day, six weeks straight. But this was one of the tools we used to keep them engaged. We threw balls when we wanted someone to answer a question and we had all manner of toys that we used to prove a point, mock an incorrect answer, and point out the class snoozer. Looking back, I now recognize that in our effort to make the curriculum “fun” and “engaging,” we did many things wrong.
Times have changed. We now know more about the adult learner than we ever did before. Psychology tells us our learners don’t want gags, games, or gimmicks. They don’t want to be singled out or ridiculed. They don’t want to be “volun-told” to participate. They do, however, want sizzling content delivered without fluff. They want the instructor to keep them engaged with a minimum of lecture. Most of all, they want it fast. How then does the savvy trainer turn on the “enthusiastic” button without sending the modern day adult learner into an apoplectic meltdown?
Here are four ways to keep your learners enthusiastic and engaged without having to be a court jester:
1. Know your stuff – You are the subject-matter expert (SME). Own it. There is a degree of confidence knowing what you know. When you’ve mastered your content, it’s difficult to be shaken. Keep a steady stream of anecdotes and real-life scenarios on mental tap to use as needed. You won’t use the same references for a room full of computer executives that you would for salespeople. Treat every class as if you were hosting a dinner party. When you have a dinner party, there are going to be vegans and carnivores. A good host ensures everyone leaves full.
2. Make it funny – No one expects you to be a famous comedian. Really, we don’t! However, some of the driest content can be elevated from boring to engaging by interjecting humor. Use your inner comic. Comparing Jerry Seinfeld to Rodney Dangerfield is like comparing an apple to an orange. Both are fruit but the taste is totally different. The use of comedy must be adapted to fit your personality. From “anecdotal” to “screwball,” you can find a comedic style that works for you. Trust me. You can do it. You just don’t know it yet.
3. Get them involved – As I mentioned we now know more about the adult learner than we ever have before. Ernest Hilgard, psychologist, theorized “…the adult learner must be active” (Hilgard, 1994, pp. 453-456). Engage them. Let them get their hypothetical and/or literal hands dirty. Adult learners bring years of experience to the table. When we allow them to get involved and bring their expertise into the learning environment, we encourage learning to go from passive to active, ensuring focus and content retainability. Allow your learners to move. Get them up to the whiteboards. Let them illustrate a strategy. Ask them to draw a concept and/or share an experience related to the topic at hand. Give them ownership. People tend to treat things they own better than those they borrow. Give them a reason to take the lesson with them.
4. Make your lesson sizzle – Elmer Wheeler coined the phrase, “Sell the sizzle, not the steak” in his book Tested Sentences that Sell, 1937. Having worked in sales for numerous years, I recognize that you need the steak. The steak is your content. Your content needs to be solid and filling. It needs to serve as the foundation of your product. You can have all the sizzle in the world but if the steak is dry and hard to swallow, you might as well give up.
On the other hand, you can have the juiciest and hottest steak in the world but if no one smells it, hears it, or tastes it, no one will ever know. The sizzle is the presentation of the product. It’s the professional trainer who gets the learner so enthused about the content that he/she becomes a return customer who brings friends with him/her. It comes from the trainer’s belief that the content is so good that its necessary for the success of the learner and his/her workplace. When you make your lesson sizzle, you leave your learner wanting more.
Enthusiasm is contagious. Everyone can make others excited. Bring your enthusiasm into the classroom and start a fire that causes everyone in the room to smolder.
What ideas do you have to make your classroom burn with enthusiasm?