Even when you’ve adequately communicated the transition from passive attendee to active participant, some audience members will still resist.
You’re challenging their comfort zone of passively sitting in a lecture. You are now asking them to engage on a different level which requires being fully present and doing something. And you’re challenging their past school years.
Six Common Attendee Complaints To Participation
Here are six common attendee complaints (obstacles*) and suggestions for overcoming them.
1. I’m Not Doing This (Poor Habits Of Passivity)
After 12 years of school and possibly four years in college, we’ve trained audiences to adopt passive habits. Some of our attendees even call it “passive learning” which is an oxymoron as all learning is active. Many neuroscientists, including Dr. John Medina and Dr. Ruth Clark, have demonstrated that learning is a biological active process that occurs in the brain. Passively listening to a lecture leads to knowledge retention and learning as much as resting your head on a stack of books leads to osmosis (unconscious, absorption of the information through exposure). Help the audience understand that learning requires doing something such as thinking, talking, reflecting and taking notes.
2. I’m Not Responding So I Don’t Look Stupid
Many audience members do not like to be put on the spot to answer a question, role play or any other activity where they are suddenly the center of attention. Reduce this fear by allowing participants a free “pass card” that they can use throughout the entire session. Another method to reduce fear is to ask participants to discuss or role play in pairs or triads. This is much safer than a table of six, ten, twelve or the entire room.
3. I’m Looking For The Answer The Presenter Wants
Most adults automatically default to their school role of student and teacher when a presenter asks them a question. Instead of responding authentically, they start searching their brain for the answer the teacher wants so they can receive positive feedback. Ask them to respond in pairs first, and then debrief. That way they can feel safe and give the answer according to their knowledge and experience. Give positive reinforcement for all answers as well.
4. I’m Looking For The Right Answer Only
Audiences often feel that when faced with discussions they have to argue for only one position. Let them know that all answers do not fall into a black and white area and sometimes there may be more than one right answer depending upon the context. Discuss that a good technique is to argue for all sides and try different perspectives in discussions.
5. I Don’t See Any Value In This Discussion Or Activity
It’s important to help your audience understand why you have introduced discussions or other activities. Explain that they don’t retain information and learn without being actively involved in doing something. Let them know that if they see this information as valuable, it’s important to participate so they can remember and apply it.
6. I Just Want A Formula And Solution Now, Stop The Audience Activities
Often attendees will respond with, “Can’t you just tell me what to do and how to do it?” Respond with, “Yes I can but telling doesn’t lead to learning.” Education researchers like Svinicki and McKeachie (2011) have discovered that if presenters give audiences the solution or formula, they never understand why it works. They may apply it a couple of times and when questioned by others on why they’re using it, they can’t logically explain the rationale. Then due to pressure, they default to old methods and ditch the new solution. It’s like cramming for a test, they get the right answer for a moment but never fully understand it and eventually forget it.
*Some barriers identified by these authors, researchers and education professionals: Donald Bligh (2000), Stephen D. Brookfield and Stephen Preskill (2005), D. R. Forsyth (2003), B. G. Davis (2009), Wilbert McKeachie and Marilla Svinicki (2011).
What are some additional complaints audience members have about engaging in activities, discussions or audience participation? How have you overcome attendee barriers to audience participation?