It happens plenty of times. You have a roster that shows a certain number of participants and, for one reason or another, only a few show up. Yet the “show” must go on! As facilitators, we take multiple measures to prepare the learning environment both logistically and atmospherically. By design, some of the activities may be structured for team efforts, or at times, to compel a bit of competitive energy.
But then you’re faced with fewer participants than expected…
How do you tweak the group activities and make them applicable and fun for a team of one? How do you make sure the participants still walk away with a powerful learning experience, and are enthusiastic about the training session? And how do you avoid over-lecturing because of an unexpected change in the group dynamics?
This is a reality that we all deal with at times. As trainers, when we respond to the situation with a can do demeanor and conviction, our participants will still have a phenomenal learning experience.
Here are four facilitation tips I find helpful when faced with a small class size:
1. Relax: Release the stress. There is nothing that I can do about a learner who is unable to attend the training. When I focus on what can’t be accomplished with a smaller class size, I worry, stress, and tense up; consequently, I project a very unapproachable energy. Instead, I get the participants busy with brainteasers or to peruse through their materials to become familiar with what’s coming up. If I project nervousness or stress, the participants will pick up on it and absorb some of it. However, if I project a relaxed demeanor, they, too, will be relaxed and feel safe and comfortable.
2. Sit & Partake: Instead of standing upfront or sitting on a tall stool, I pull up a chair and sit at the table with the participants. This makes the atmosphere more comfortable and less intimidating for them. During activities I may make myself available as a third or fourth perspective for discussion and consideration, as long as I refrain from being the center of attention, become a key contributor, or lead the activity. This also creates the perfect atmosphere for me to coach versus teach and lecture during other activities.
3. Take Your Time: There is no need to rush. The agenda of the course was probably designed to accommodate a class size of 12 or more. This means that you have a certain amount of flexibility with the extra time that will be accumulating throughout the day. It takes me more time to debrief three tables than it does three people, buying me some extra time to entertain additional examples and perspectives during discussions. Also, I find that with a smaller class group, I can explore most topics from a wider variety of angles than I would risk exploring with a larger group.
4. Maximize One-on-One Time: Larger groups usually demand a more universal approach to explaining or expanding on topics, in order to accommodate a more versatile and varied crowd. However, smaller groups give me the opportunity to build more one-on-one time with each participant. I am able to give more attention to each individuals training needs, focusing on their strengths and areas needing improvement. In the process, I’m also building a strong rapport with each learner.
What tips and best practices can you share with our readers that may help them when faced with facilitating small learning groups? For more detailed information on using small-group activities effectively, our Instructional Techniques for New Instructors workshop is the place to start!