Your group is full of a variety of personalities and individuals with different strengths. How do you plan a training session to make sure that each person chooses to engage with the training, and leaves having learned something new?
Interactive training sessions can incorporate a wide variety of activities that present a very concrete challenge or allow attendees to tackle company challenges in a brand new environment. While some activities might require breaking down your organization into smaller groups, some will allow hundreds of attendees to actively participate at the same time.
From learning communication and teamwork skills in the kitchen to working as a group in The Drum Café, the following tips will give you the opportunity to transform your next training session.
1. Take Your Group Outdoors
Choosing the right setting for your training session is one of the most important decisions you’ll make, says Mendie Triguero, events manager for Meritage Events, which has offices in Dallas and Austin.
Bringing your group outside provides a more relaxed setting, Triguero says.
“When you’re more relaxed, people open up more and share,” she says. “You get to the heart of what you’re working on and get a lot accomplished. You can truly get down to things and get a lot done.”
Detaching from technology with the right backdrop can help refocus your group.
“I had a group on a covered patio, and all around them was the beach,” Triguero says. “They had a table, flip chart and markets; no technology. That way, groups get right to what they need to learn and focus on.”
One venue that will help your group find its inspiration in nature is Canyon of the Eagles Resort, a boutique resort located about 60 miles northwest of Austin.
The resort offers 61 guest rooms on nearly 1,000 acres of pristine natural land, and is situated at the mouth of the Colorado River. The resort also overlooks Lake Buchanan.
“We have a large canvas with lots of colors to paint with and all you have to bring is your imagination,” says LaRue Roth, director of sales at Canyon of the Eagles. “I really believe in the power of place. People are affected by their surroundings. That’s the reason we gravitate to water and to green space. We gravitate to beautiful places.”
Office environments can be very tense and fast-paced, says Roth. Taking your group out to a pristine environment will transform the atmosphere.
“It’s incredible how time starved we still all are,” she says. “We recognize how important it is to get the team away. It’s important to give the groups enough time, because when you do, you start to see that transformation.”
There are no TVs in the resort’s guest rooms, although guests can find a TV in the resort bar and the recreation room, called the Perch.
“Some groups have told us they like the fact that there’s not a TV,” Roth says. “Not having one encourages people to not stay in the rooms, but to come out and stay together.”
The resort offers 4,780 square feet of indoor meeting space. The largest indoor meeting space, the Live Oak Conference Center, can accommodate 230 people.
“Any kind of team activities in a nature environment let the layers of anxiety float away,” Roth says. Roth recommends taking part in a guided nature walk, where groups can take part in a photo scavenger hunt. The resort also organizes fishing charters on the lake, wine and beer tastings, and s’mores around a fire pit.
2. Use Technology to Empower
Holding a general session is inherently a oneway communication. Enable two-way communication by utilizing technology.
“We did a conference where each person had their own tablet and throughout the speaker’s presentation they could send in questions,” Triguero says. “Then the speakers could use what was sent in to make sure they were talking about what people really want to know about or understand. It makes it very real-time. You could see people’s questions answered right away.”
Allowing attendees to engage without the pressure of asking a question in front of a crowded room will allow more attendees to interact.
“Technology is a big part of learning, outside of listening to a speaker,” Triguero says.
While more extroverted or outgoing personalities may be comfortable asking a question in front of a crowded room, many attendees will not.
“Technology empowers all kinds of people,” Triguero says. “It’s easy to type and send something in, so you’re not having to get in front of a microphone. It allows you to be involved and active without having to be in the spotlight. It works for everyone.”
Another suggestion Triguero has: Break your group down into smaller groups. “Mix up your teams so that they’re not with the same people who would normally be together,” she says. “You learn more through people you’re not normally working with.”
3. Choose Trust-Building Activities
Choose activities that build trust amongst your group, like a low ropes course.
During an activity like a low ropes course, “[the group is] working with a leader or leading others,” Triguero says. “Building trust is the first step in learning more.”
Get each team member through a giant web, or have everyone line up on a narrow ledge and have them switch their positions. Make the ground “lava” and challenge a group to get from one spot to another using just a few wooden planks.
Rio Cibolo Ranch offers these activities and more on approximately 130 acres about 25 miles outside of San Antonio in Marion. Kayla Kappelmann, corporate event and group sales coordinator at Rio Cibolo Ranch, recommends taking part in a low ropes course for groups of 25 or less.
“Most of our team-building activities are done outdoors, and people aren’t used to that type of atmosphere where they have to do some type of training for their job, depending on the type of job,” Kappelmann says. “Our activities keep everyone engaged and focused.”
The ranch can accommodate large groups on its property. The 20,000-square-foot RCR Corral features authentic Western décor and seats 100 to 2,000 guests—or 5,000 with the use of the grounds along the facility. Lazy Lily River House seats up to 150 people and its 2,000-square-foot-deck shaded by a 500-yearold Pecan tree accommodates an additional 50. The 4,500-square-foot Zuehl’s Hall banquet facility is fit for 250 guests and is styled to the likes of a German dance hall.
One of its most popular activities is Cowboy Olympics, which allows groups to choose from a variety of events. Participants can choose their own teams, or the ranch’s staff can pick the teams for the group. Activities include the Daffy Cowpoke Relay, Wild Horse Barrel Race, Looney Volleyball, Wild & Wacky Water Balloon Launch, Lone Star Shuffle, Loop the Hoop Basketball Shoot, Texas Cow Chip Toss and Four Team Tug-O-War. Kappelmann recommends Cowboy Olympics for groups of 50 to 200.
4. Learn by Teaching Each Other
If attendees are taking part in a general session and then a breakout, give attendees different tools for them to reteach what they’ve just learned, like a white board, paint, canvas or drawing pad.
“By taking someone who wouldn’t normally be a teacher, they can express what they’ve learned,” Triguero says. “When they reteach what they’ve learned, the group may learn better from a peer than they did from the original speaker.”
The key is to make your groups small enough so that attendees feel comfortable.
“Working with a smaller peer group is not as stressful as getting in front of 15 to 20 people,” Triguero says. “If you have a small enough group, people will come out of their shell and be more willing to participate.”
Offer an incentive for the person who volunteers to teach. “You can make it a challenge of who can reteach it in a way that’s totally different from the group speaker,” she says.
5. Give Groups Perspective
Training sessions accomplish important business, but it’s also important to offer your group counterbalance. Helping your group connect with one another and the world around them helps them debrief and builds deeper bonds that will better serve your group going forward.
Roth recommends taking advantage of Canyon of the Eagles’ observatory. The resort follows dark sky protocol and has its own astronomer on-site who helps guests learn more about the night sky with two telescopes and video presentations.
“I’ve seen some groups who were part of some really intense meetings for a number of days. Then the last night they were here they spent 90 minutes out there looking at stars,” Roth says. “It helps you put everything in perspective. It humbles you and makes you realize we’re truly insignificant. The universe is so vast. You can’t wrap your mind around it.”
6. Help Groups Find Their Rhythm
Most interactive training sessions work best in smaller groups. A Drum Café, like one offered at the Rio Cibolo Ranch, provides a group drumming experience that allows large groups to communicate and make something together.
The Drum Café started in South Africa about 20 years ago, and was brought to Rio Cibolo Ranch by Dale Monnin.
During the Drum Café, each participant has a hand drum. Relying on each person’s innate rhythm, the program merges individual rhythms into one musical expression. Unlike an activity that may favor a group leader or competition, the Drum Café allows each person to contribute at the same level. The Drum Café also allows everyone in the group to participate actively at the same time, instead of dividing members into smaller groups.
Drumming as a group allows participants to learn about communication and teamwork in a very obvious way. Team members are listening and contributing at the same time. When the team achieves alignment, every person in the group can hear the difference. Drumming also helps emphasize the importance of each person’s contribution and the value of the sum of each of those parts.
7. Put All the Cooks in the Kitchen
Gathering around a meal has always been an important cultural activity to bring people together. Have your group channel its inner cooking show to take part in an activity that requires teamwork, creativity and communication.
Rio Cibolo Ranch offers a chili cook-off. Group members are placed into teams and given one of the ranch’s 12 homemade recipes. Groups must use only the ingredients indicated on the recipe and present a sample bowl of chili to a panel of judges. They are also asked to come up with a company slogan for their product and make a three-minute presentation. Challenge your group to make another dish or decorate cookies or cakes in the most creative manner. Cooking and decorating allows your group to have a tactile (and delicious) result of their teamwork.
For a cooking challenge, Tiguero recommends 3015 at Trinity Groves in Dallas, which offers an Iron Chef-esque competition. Your group will divide into teams that will have 30 minutes to take a mystery box ingredient and make an entrée. Appetizers are served before the competition, and the venue is BYOB. Once a panel of chefs determine the winner, everyone will be treated to lunch or dinner cooked by the executive chefs of 3015.