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Have you ever developed training or group coaching content that you think will be utterly absorbing, and maybe even life-changing, for your participants? Have you then presented that content only to have your participants be disengaged, and very far from “changed?” Whether this has happened to you or it is simply something you fear, there are certain actions you can take to liven up your content and effectively engage participants.

Here are five things we, at The Exeter Group, strive to include in our sessions that help spice up even the mildest topics.


Even the most engaged participant only has, on average, a 20-minute attention span.  Since none of our training or group coaching sessions have ever been only 20 minutes, breaks are a must. They are a time for participants to stretch their legs, use the restroom, check their phones, and come back to the session refreshed and alert. Think of breaks as mini-vacations for the brain. For something non-traditional, utilize a breathing or walking break. A breathing break allows participants to practice mindful breathing, or meditation, to refocus and clear their minds from outside stressors. Studies show that walking reduces the negative health effects that sitting for extended periods of time can have, such as heart disease and depression. Walking breaks, in particular, can energize participants and help get conversations started.


For a different type of break, add some media to your session. Media, whether it’s video or audio, breaks up a potentially monotonous session, and provides the facilitator with a brief respite. Additionally, and more importantly, media is engaging and facilitates participant learning. Media tells a story, which provides a nice supplement to your presentation of facts. A story holds participant’s attention and provides a narrative for the information covered in the rest of the session to attach to. Audio and video also help cater to different learning styles. This can help engage participants for whom traditional lecture is not their primary learning style. Credibility plays a role when media is used. It is important to choose media that comes from a credible source, such as TED or Harvard Business Review to ensure that participants take the information seriously.


While some may groan at having to participate in an ice breaker, adding activities that underscore the session’s content throughout the session is important. Content-related activities drive home information that has been presented by allowing participants to interact with it and apply it. Activities are doubly useful in that they require every participant’s participation, even the least engaged attendees. Small group activities that report their results out to the larger group are recommended as they get participants talking to each other when they might not normally do so.


It is important to note that personal anecdotes should only be used if they are professional, appropriate, and relatable to the setting and audience. Similarly, to media, personal anecdotes can provide participants with a narrative to attach the session’s information to. Anecdotes also provide a connection to participants that facilitators may not get otherwise. By opening oneself up with a personal anecdote, your participants open up as well and the environment becomes more trusting and inviting. Personal anecdotes are often a great way to garner a laugh from attendees, which can break down barriers to communication and make the session fun.


Questions are another engagement tool in the facilitator’s arsenal. Questions are interactive and both break up a session and increase engagement by creating a space for participants to share their thoughts and feelings on the content. Participants are likely to pay attention when one of their own is speaking, and a thought-provoking question can lead to constructive conversations between participants. Adding questions throughout a session allows facilitators to determine if participants have been paying attention and allows facilitators to single out those who have not contributed thus far. Ask more open-ended questions than closed-ended questions. Encourage participants to expand on their comments or explain them more fully. This helps the session get deeper into substantive content a lot faster.

There will always be times when the topic of a session is simply not the most exciting, your participants are tired and stressed, and a PowerPoint alone is not going to cut it. While you may not be able to change those things, we hope something on this list jumped out as a tactic to engage participants and combat these challenges in the future. Do not forget that you are the expert on your content, and there is no need to throw everything on this list into one session. Use your best judgment while creating your content and start small with a breathing break here and a TED Talk there. If you do use any of the above tips, or if you have some unique ways that you spice up your sessions, please leave a comment and let us know!

For more information on Exeter’s training and group coaching services, click here.


Kara Genereaux is an Organizational Development Project Analyst, specializing in the construction of high quality deliverables such as leadership assessments, individual development plans, training materials, benchmark analysis and research, qualitative and quantitative data analyses, and training and coaching plans. Passionate about reducing healthcare disparities across underrepresented populations, she is dedicated to facilitating positive interactions in the field of healthcare between people and business.