We’ve all been to boring meetings, workshops and trainings. Sitting there, staring into space, twiddling our thumbs and drifting off into a dream world. I could impress you with statistics about how much time is wasted in such meetings, workshops and trainings, but I don’t think I need to. Reflect back on the last year and ask yourself; how often was I in a room full of people and bored out of my mind?

I learnt the value of engagement very early on into my career as a trainer. As a trainer, I hope that certain messages and certain experiences get through to my learners. But if my learners are not engaged in the first place, nothing is getting in. Engagement is like the door to the mind. If people are not engaged in what’s going on around them, then their door is shut and nothing about that experience will get in.

And in my quest to to engage learners, I’ve noticed several principles that always lead to engagement. And that is what I will share with you here; The Rules of Engagement:


Rule No. 1: Purpose

Jason is an engineer responsible for building a rocket that will land people on Mars. He loves his job, ever since he was a child he was fascinated by rockets and space, and now he’s living his dream.

But Jason is a bit frustrated.

Earlier on in the day, Jason’s boss told him he needs to enroll on a Geology course at the local University. When Jason frowned and started to protest his boss told him “Sorry, this is compulsory, everyone working on this project is required to attend and pass this course”.

How is Jason going to feel when he attends this course? He’s going to be frustrated, it’s distracting him from what he wants to learn. He’s going to be constantly checking his watching, looking out the window, and dreaming about getting back to his rocket.

But what if Jason’s boss introduced the course a bit differently. What if he said the following?:

“Jason, our rocket is going to land on the surface of Mars. Mars is a rocky planet, and we need to make sure it’s designed to land safely on the surface of Mars. So, we need to learn more about the rocks on the surface of Mars to help us land safely”.

Now Jason will be far more interested. He will be focused on the course, actively asking questions, and always reflecting on how he can apply what he has learnt back to his rocket. Now, Jason has purpose.

In the first example, Jason was told to go to the course by his boss. The only reason for him to go was to satisfy his boss. When people do things for reasons like this, we call their motivation ”Extrinsic”, which means that the motivation comes from the outside.

But for engagement we need motivation to come from the inside. Just like in the second example where Jason now has a reason to care about this course. We call this kind of motivation “Intrinsic”, and it results in participants who attend meetings, workshops and trainings with purpose. And when they have purpose, they’re engaged.


Rule No. 2: Involvement

In English, the word “Engagement” describes more of an end result. People look interested, they actively participate, they seem energised, so they must be engaged. Everyone knows what engagement is, but the question is HOW do we engage?

This question is easy to answer if we replace the word “Engage” with the word “Involve”.

Instead of dictating the agenda and outcome of the meeting, ask everyone what they want the outcome to be and what they think agenda should be. Involve them.

Instead of telling everyone what the ground rules are, ask them what they think the ground rules should be. Involve them.

Instead of lecturing at people, ask them questions.

In the training room, your learners are not blank slates with no knowledge at all. Actually, they already know quite a lot! If you keep on lecturing, then at some point, or maybe even many points, you will be talking about things they already know. How boring!

Think of it like a puzzle. Your job is to help your learners get the big picture. And each learner brings with them different puzzle pieces. It’s only when we take out all of their different pieces and match them together that we can complete the big picture. So, ask your learners questions. Draw out things they know already and help them put it all together. Your job is not to paint a picture, your job is to help them complete a puzzle.


To be continued in ‘The Rules of Engagement Part 2’…