Articles by Professional Speakers Guild members

Levels of Socialization-Promoting Learner Interaction

 (c) 2004 Dr. Jack Wolf

Promoting Learner Interaction
Safety is one of the most important ingredients of a successful presentation or meeting. When your audience is secure and relaxed they will feel safe enough to participate and, as active participants, will learn and remember more.
Safety, in this context, is defined by the ability of your audience/client/listener to participate at their own pace, and not at your request. If they have a belief that they will be called on, most participants will not be listening to whoever is talking at the moment, but preparing in their own minds what they are going to say when it is their turn. Your goal as a facilitator is to reduce or eliminate your participants’ feelings of risk and exposure to the eyes and judgments of others in the room.

To “socialize” your participants gently and to get them introduced to one another with as little stress as possible, start small, easing them into larger group interactions as the presentation or meeting progresses. There are four distinct levels of socializing your participants. Since personal feelings of risk increase as the group size gets larger, move through the levels until your group/team is ready for a whole room exercise.

Level 1. Individual assessment - get them writing or doing something by themselves at the very start.
Let participants self-assess themselves. Using 3x5 cards, post-its or sheets of paper ask them to write down the answers to one of the following questions: Why are they here?...What do they want to learn?... What are the most challenging/important functions of their job?…What do they believe their job is?
Ask for 3 responses to the question, and make sure to have them write their answers down. Usually, their first response is not their most important - it often bubbles up as the second or third response. Level 1 gets them involved in the meeting process with little or no exposure risk.

Level 2. Dyad - one on one partner exercise (let them choose their partner).
Now raise the level of interaction by asking participants to turn to a neighbor and discuss what they just wrote down – which response is most important and why. This helps them validate/concretize their thoughts and opinions.

Level 3. Small group interaction (six people or less).
Once you’ve reached Level 2, your participants are ready for the next level of interaction. According to learning style research, 80% of your participants will prefer to interact with each other in groups of 8 or less. My recommendation is to work with groups of 6 or less to reduce even further any feelings of stress. There are two ways to facilitate small groups, either as a controlled or uncontrolled process.
Uncontrolled Process:
Give the small group a contained period of time to discuss the responses without telling the group how much time each person should take to share their ideas.
Controlled Process:
Allot a specified amount of time for each individual, ensuring equal “air time” for all group members. (This is a good method for regulating aggressive, very vocal or disruptive participants).

Level 4. Whole room activity
According to research, this type of room mingle carries with it the highest levels of anxiety and socialization threat. It should not be used without the other levels of socialization being introduced first.
Use icebreaker type exercises as energizers, reviews and de-stressors after you have worked through the first three levels of socialization. If introductions are considered a necessary part of the program, incorporate them during the course of the session and not in the beginning when stress levels are highest. If possible, eliminate the use of titles during introductions.
Remember, if your audience enters the room with the perception that they are going to have a good experience, they probably will.

To Your Success!
Jack Wolf, Ph.D.

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