Trainer's Notebook: Tips for Good Openings | Beth's Blog

Trainer’s Notebook: Tips for Good Openings

Instructional Design, Trainer's Notebook

I’ve just returned from a two-week trip to Guatemala hosted by Wake. Wake’s Tech2Empower program organizes delegations of volunteer Technology Advisors, women who work for Silicon Valley companies like Google, Salesforce, Mozilla, YouTube, GE Digital and IRC, to provide training for women’s rights and girls empowerment NGOs in developing countries and here in the United States.

We worked with a network of women’s rights NGOs located throughout Latin America and Guatemala who traveled to Antigua for the multi-day training. Our group also visited Starfish Impact School, where we learned about their work to ensure indigenous girls have equal access to education and provided mentoring and training for young women graduates of Starfish.

This work is very inspiring because you are able share knowledge and learn about their work in protecting women’s rights. My role in the project is to the facilitate the training sessions, design the overall training, facilitate openers and closings, help prep the curriculum, and deliver modules on digital strategy and social media. Working with Wake is also a wonderful professional development experience to hone training and facilitation trade craft.

I facilitated a number of openings, but we also got to experience a few opening exercises they use at the Starfish School.

A Good Training Starts with A Good Opening

A good training begins with igniting the participants curiosity and passion for the content during the first 15-30 minutes.   The goal is to get everyone comfortable, thinking about the content, and ready to enhance their preexisting knowledge.  There are four key reasons for incorporating a good opening into any of your training sessions:

(1) Participants get to know each other and feel comfortable with the group.  This is especially important if participants do know each other or do not have experience working together.   Even if your group consists of a team of people who work together regularly, it is still a good idea to ease them into the training with a good opener.

(2) Connect with the Content:    No matter what topic you are leading a training on, participants may know something about it.  Learning is about connecting the dots to existing knowledge and skills so participants can build on it during the training.

(3)  Opening Up:    Depending on the situation, not all participants to a training voluntarily or your training may be the kick off to a more in-depth program and participants may have hopes and concerns about their ability to complete the project.  For example, they may be concerned about the amount of time or specific topics address.    Having a opening that creates the space for participants to ask questions, air concerns, and get everyone on the same page is a good idea.

(4)  Get To Know Your Audience:   We don’t always have the ability to do in-depth participant surveys or interviews prior to a training to understand in great detail what participants know and feel about the topic.    A good opener will also help you as the trainer to better understand the people in the room and adjust accordingly.

I should also mention that there are “bad,” openers that include sharing too much personal information or touching.  Milk the Cow is one example and while it might have been fun to do different handshakes when you were summer camp in Junior High,  it is awkward and a little creepy to do this type of opener with professionals.  Nonprofit blogger Vu Lee has some tips on what types of openers to avoid.

A Few Examples of Good Openers

Speed Networking:   Since we had two-day training with 50 people, including participants, hosts, and advisers, we spent about 40 minutes on an opening designed for everyone to get to introduce themselves to each other and have a brief conversation.  We were lucky enough to be a large room that had an outdoor terrace that had enough space to do the Speed Networking opening.  “Speed Networking, a variation of “Speed Dating, ” allows participants to experience many exchanges with other people in a short period of time. It maximizes the opportunity for people to connect and be comfortable.

Speed Networking sessions are typically a series of short, focused conversations about specific professional questions.  It can be done a number of ways, but because I had get people to move from the main training room to the terrace I asked people count off 1, 2.  Then I asked the number 1’s to go outside and line up.  Then I asked the number 2’s to go out side and line up facing a person in the other line.   

Participants were asked to introduce themselves to each other and share what they were most exciting about for the workshop.    They had three minutes to have a conversation before first person at the top of line 1 one moved to the end and everyone else moved up by one and repeated the process with a different partner.   We kept doing this until people had a chance to have conversations with about dozen people in the group.

The challenge is getting people’s attention when time is up because the noise level goes up.  At the market the day before, I got some noise makers with bells that I used.  I also the Spanish phrase for “Change.”    And I walked through the middle of line with the noisemakers telling them it was time to change.

We also had an added challenge of having a group of participants where some spoke fluent Spanish/English, only English, only Spanish, or fluent in one language and only a few words in the other.    While we did have simultaneous interpretation, it would not be useful for rapid share pair discussions that this opener requires.

So, before we did the icebreaker, I had everyone put dots on their name tags.  One dot was very little or no English, two dots indicated can carry a basic conversation in English, and three dots indicated English fluency.     That helped facilitate small group conversations and identify those individuals who spoke both languages and could do on the fly interpretation, if needed for small group work.

At the StarFish School, where we had only an afternoon to do the training and smaller number of participants, so we did a shorter, briefer opener and an opening that Star Fish teachers use in their classrooms to build community.    We stood in a circle and each person got to introduce themselves and say how they were feeling.   We passed a ball (it was ball with crochet cover with Mayan designs) to the next person whose turn it was to speak going clockwise.  After each person spoke, the group “snapped” to welcome them.

Later in the day, we split up into three groups and were welcomed into the homes of three different students at Star Fish School.    We did the same opener with the family as well as played a few games.    Then we cooked lunch together in their home and had a meal together and conversation.

Learn More 

There are many other examples of openers for trainings.   Next week at the NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference,  I am co-leading a session with fellow nonprofit tech trainers, John Kenyon, Jeanne Allen, and Cindy Leonard on how to supercharge your training.   If you want to learn more and you are attending the NTC, come join us!




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