Participants are using their phones too much! And other distractions you can work around. Here are 4 simple hacks.

Are you having problems with distractions, especially phone usage, and constant movement, by participants during training or facilitation? Here are 4 simple hacks you can employ to enhance attention, focus, and even participation.

  1. House rules.
    Often, people resort to small distractions because there are no agreed-upon regulations on standard behavior. Have you tried setting up guiding rules for the session? Before carrying on as always, take some time to engage the class on what is the best character that everyone in the room needs to practice in order to ensure there is minimal distraction. Have a ‘No-phone-usage’ in between sessions and assign a ‘cop’ if you must. Remember, the key is drafting the regulations with participants. This way, anyone seen using a phone or moving unnecessarily understands they are violating a part of the group’s covenant.
  2. Have a sincere discussion on distractions.
    One simple way of getting participants to dedicate their focus and attention is by having a candid conversation on focus and attention. As a trainer or facilitator, guide the participants in;
    a) Outlining the session’s goals.
    b) Highlighting the possible challenges (distractions) that may arise during the sessions. (Ensure phone usage and movement are mentioned.)
    c) Coming up with possible remedies for the factors mentioned above.

    Most times, participants are aware of how their behavior affects the whole session and will be more than willing to offer solutions. A natural trajectory that this may take is what we have discussed in hack one above.
  3. Sharing the program with the participants progressively through the session.
    Begin with calling the group to attention and DECLARE that the session has officially commenced. If it is not already apparent to the participants, remind them that you are now governed by the ‘commandments’ everyone agreed to. Thereafter, give an outline of the session’s activities, including starting and ending time. This way, participants will know when there is a break (to use their phones or move around) and when their total participation is needed.
    Through the session, communicate how much time is left until the next break or end of the current activity. Providing this information to participants helps them plan themselves. It is easier to know ‘I can use my phone or go to the bathroom in five minutes’ than constantly fiddling with my phone because I think the session is too long and I still have to reply to an important message.
  4. Lead by example.
    An interesting fact about most participants is that they take cues from their trainers and facilitators on what is acceptable behavior during the session. Just like coming late, having low energy and other factors can sip into the group, phone usage and other general distractions are learned. How often do you use your phone when leading a group?
    Model the attention and focus of your participants by showing them just how much engrossed you can also be during the session. Walk the talk and your group will walk in your footsteps. Simple!

Without a doubt, participants will always follow your guidance because of the respect and responsibility you are accorded as a trainer or facilitator. As such, do not be afraid of being ‘hard’ on them. Constantly remind the group on the importance of maintaining attention and focus through set rules, especially in relation to ATTAINING a session’s goals. Just like everyone else, they yearn for success and would do anything right to attain it. Including putting their phones down and devoting their concentration.

I hope this helps you in your next session. What other ways do you think help in reducing distractions and improve attention during facilitation and training?

By Emmanuel Marumbu Misiati
Professional Trainer and Facilitator.

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