How To Incorporate More Movement Into Your Nonprofit Training | Beth's Blog

How To Incorporate More Movement Into Your Nonprofit Training

Instructional Design

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Photo: Americans for the Arts

Designing and facilitating training (not matter the topic)  is one of my passions and why I blog about it on a regular basis.  I also love sharing techniques and tips with other trainers and often do “train the trainers” sessions as part of my practice.  I recently  submitted a proposal for NTEN’s 2017 Nonprofit Technology Conference with colleagues Cindy Leonard, John Kenyon and Jeanne Allen called “Supercharge Your Technology Training,” so please take a minute to vote for it. 

Good instructional design and delivery engages people’s brains, eyes, ears, and bodies.    People pay attention more, they learn something, they retain it better, and there is a better chance of them applying what they learned.   There are many creative ways to engage learners during a training  – both face-to-face and online.   Moving around is better than sitting still to enhance learning.

The simplest way to incorporate movement in your training is to use mini-stretch breaks.   As a facilitator, you have to watch the participants body language and look for the “slump,”  and if you notice people getting tired, interject some movement.   The photograph above documents a creative stretch break from a recent Leadership Training I designed and co-facilitated at the Americans for the Arts Conference. (Here’s the video if you want to see it in action)

Movement does not distract learners – although some audiences are so formal and stilted they aren’t use to moving and the initial discomfort when asking them to move can make you believe otherwise.    When participants move, oxygen to the brain increases, thereby enhancing both learning and memory.   People can’t be as focused on content when they been sitting longer than 20 minutes.

I came across a brain scan by Dr. Chuck Hillman from University of Illinois Neurocognitive Kinesiology Laboratory.  The lab does research on the relationship between physical fitness and cognitive function.   The scan shows a comparison of the brain after sitting vs walking for 20 minutes.     There is more red in the walking scan which shows more connections in the brain and more ability to concentrate and that is good for learning.   The sitting brain is really disengaged.    Which brain do you think is more open to learning, retaining, and applying the content during a training?

Incorporating movement isn’t just about stretch breaks,  think about ways that participants can do discussions and small group exercises while moving  or walking around.  Movement is better than sitting.

Here are some techniques you can incorporate into your training and staff meetings that will help with learning and retention.

1.    Body Breaks:   Incorporate some sort of movement or body activity every 20 minutes.   One technique  that I use all the time  is “share pairs,”  it makes people get it up, take that body break, and check in with someone.    Here’s a description of some other body breaks that I’ve used – these are simply stretches and energizers.   They help “air out the brain” and can help a tired group regain focus.     I incorporate energizers into webinars (see slide 22) and virtual meetings.

The body break I used in the Arts Leaders training in the photograph above is called “Follow the Leader.” I like to use this one after lunch when people’s energy usually dips.  You ask participants to copy your stretch and movement.  You don’t just stand still either, you can walk around.  (Of course the training room has to accommodate this.)  Then you appoint someone else the leader and everyone follows them.  As the facilitator you cue the leader to pass the power on to someone else in the room.   If you do this for about 5-7 minutes, it will wake people up and they will be concentrate focus on the content delivery.

2.   Walk and Talk: If you have taken a training with me, you know that won’t be sitting in your chair for long.    It is a more than structured body break, but integrates some form of movement into small group or full group exercises and discussions.   It might include standing or walking.  I’ve incorporated movement into openings and closers.

One movement icebreaker that I’ve used is to have participants walk around the room and think about what they want to get out of the day. As the facilitator, every so often you ask the participants to “Stop” and meet up with someone.  You have them pause, make eye contact, and say hello and then walk more.   You have the group stop, connect, and greet several times before settling in.

I’ve done walking reflections at the end of session as well.  You have people pair up and go out for a walk.  You can make it a guided walk where everyone walks together in pairs or give people a time to come back.   I’ve also done this during a session as part of a small group exercise.  Most recently, when I facilitated design lab to gather research about nonprofits and self-care for my forthcoming book, The Happy Healthy Nonprofit.


nampc innovation lab

For this exercise, rather than having people sit and interview each other in pairs in the room  I had them write down the interview questions on 3×5 card and go for 20 minute walk around the hotel and do a walking interview, ten minutes each.   I told them to come back at a precise time.


There is that moment of fear, as the facilitator, when you let go of control and trust your participants.  As I waited in the empty room, I wondered how many would come back and how many would come back on time?  They all arrived precisely on the dot!   We even discussed how they could incorporate one-on-one check-ins as walking meetings.

Here’s some more examples of incorporating walk and talks into trainings.

3.  Wall Writing: This an exercise where participants will write specific responses on labeled charts on the wall at designated times.    It can be an answer to a question, a question learners still have, a summary statement, an opinion about the content, facts they want to remember, or how they plan to use the content.   I often incorporate sticky notes and often have to rearrange the furniture.

If you are trainer, how do you use movement to keep people engaged and learning?  If you been to a training where the trainer incorporated movement, what techniques did they use?



One Response

  1. Thanks Beth. Been watching your evolution in this arena. I’m a trained dancer and constantly observe our field’s sedentary approach. At MDC’s strategy sessions, we begin each segment with a stretch and breathing exercise – as well as use any excuse to get people out of their chair. It’s something our clients have begun to expect – and is considered part of our approach. By making this part of our meetings, we hope to inspire our folks to incorporate it into their own meeting routines.

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