Pace is a four-letter word, which might account for why some trainers pretend it doesn't exist. Even in these days when train-the-trainer courses abound, there are those who still think the following formula is enough: Knowledge of the subject + covering every possible point = successful learning experience.
Of course this is nowhere near enough. You may be the world's expert on your subject, but that isn't a license to bore your listeners to death. The best way to make sure you achieve your teaching objectives is to use the power of pace in all your presentations. Well-paced, interactive sessions allow everyone present to get the most out of training.
Let's look at some of the aspects you need to consider when conducting a training session or seminar:
1. Needs of the Participants: People get restive in even the most comfortable chair after a while. Plan opportunities for the participants to take a break, mix with others, con- tribute to discussions or work on an exercise. Provide different things for them to look at, listen to and do.
2. Pace does not mean "at the speed of light": Some trainers think that by changing their activity every 10 minutes and getting people to jump up and down like jack-in-the-boxes they are providing "dynamic" sessions. If you do this, don't be surprised if you encounter lots of mutinous looks and groans at the suggestion of yet another "game." To pace your sessions properly, you need to provide variety in (a) the rate of delivery, and (b) the nature of the activities. You don't just speed up everything until people feel they're caught in some nightmarish video with the fast-forward button on.
3. Avoid information overload. While you don't want to race ahead so fast that everyone gets left behind, you also want to avoid getting bogged down. This can happen if you give people too much to do for the time available, if you don't explain things clearly, or if you don't consistently wait for the slowest person or group to finish before you proceed with your next point.
To avoid overwhelming your audience, whittle down each session to no more than five major points. If you absolutely must treat more than five, break them up into two different kinds of activities within one session.
4. Balance your program: Begin by briefly outlining the entire course, so everyone has a clear idea of what to expect. Within that framework, you can be as innovative as you like.
• Alternate "listen to me" and "go and do it" types of activities. Remember, even listening does not have to be a passive activity. Involve the participants as much as possible. Before you tell them "Five ways to promote your Toastmasters club in the community," get them thinking by asking something like, "Can you think of five things you could do to invite visitors to your club?"
• After several activities, give the participants time to think about what they have done in relation to the theme of the training session. If you have devised an activity to teach a certain concept or skill, allow time to discuss it and see where it fits in the overall plan.
• Tie things up at the end: Leave the participants with the sense that they have been given a nice rounded package, rather than a sackful of half-grasped concepts to sort out for themselves.
5. Be different: With the emphasis on training these days, people who come to your training sessions are quite likely to have gone to a number of others as well. This means you run the risk of their having been exposed to the same "icebreakers" and games that you have planned for your session. Try to be imaginative with your activities. Do you really have to hand out sheets of paper and felt pens? Do you rely too much .on the overhead projector? Has that icebreaker checklist of "favorite things" been done to death at other workshops?
6. Work to the clock: Use the 7/20 rule: The average adult's attention starts to drift after only seven minutes if he or she is not participating. To beat the seven-minute lapse, try changing the modulation of your voice and change the stimulation your participants see and hear every seven minutes. Then, every 20 minutes, change the stimulation of what they feel and touch; cause some movement in the room.
7. Share with a neighbor or share in teams: After you've spent some time talking to your audience, ask them to (a) turn to a neighbor and for two minutes tell them how they could apply the ideas you've been suggesting; or (b) divide the audience into teams and set a time limit for the team to share ideas.
8. Take more risks: Trying new things might mean you'll find they need refinements - but what's the worst that could happen? A joke might fall flat; a new technique might not work. Remember: you'll be judged on the entirety of your presentation, not just a few segments that didn't work as well as you'd hoped.
Of course, thinking about and trying new ways of keeping your sessions bubbling won't work if you don't have the basics in place. Learning is a two-way process, and you must therefore establish trust. The participants trust that you know your material, have prepared conscientiously, will not embarrass or humiliate them, and will attempt to provide a stimulating training session.
In turn, you trust that they will participate in activities, will give you a fair go, will give feedback when required and will try to get something out of the course that they can take back and use.
In summary: Work out a basic workable formula for changes in pace during a session; allow time between activities to consolidate; be creative with choice of activities; and hone your basic presentation skills. Finally, be sensitive to the preferences of your group - some prefer a slower pace than others. The response of your audience will give you a pretty fair idea of how you're succeeding - if their expressions look puzzled, slow down or give clearer instructions; if they look sleepy, speed it up. Remember: pace is not speed; pace is the forward movement of your lesson at the appropriate rate.