Creating A Positive Learning Environment

What are your audience members thinking when they walk into your workshop, talk, or retreat session?

Either consciously or subconsciously, a lot of questions are going through their minds…

  • Will this be a good use of my time?
  • Will this be a good use of my money? (for those who paid for your session)
  • What will be expected of me?
  • Will I be made to feel uncomfortable…embarrassed…put on the spot?
  • I hope I don’t have to participate…or the opposite…I hope this is interactive.
  • When are the break times so I can check my messages?

Your attendees are going to want the answers to these questions pretty quickly…

There are a number of things that you can do early on and throughout your session to create an environment that sets their minds at ease.

I’ve created a 9-point checklist of things I do to create a positive learning environment.

You can download the free checklist here.


What Is a Positive Learning Environment…and Why Should You Care?

In a positive learning environment, you set your attendees up for success… making it easier for you to teach and for them to learn.

It facilitates the learning process and minimizes the barriers (1) between you and your attendees, (2) among the attendees, and (3) between the attendees and the information/skills they came to your workshop, talk, or retreat session to learn.

Why should you care?

A positive learning environment increases the chances that

  • at the end, they can do what you want them to do.
  • they leave impressed with themselves and what they now know or can do as a result of having spent their time and money with you. How exciting is that!
  • they’ll be back for your other products and services…and refer you to others

That bodes well for future business dealings with your audience members!


6 Ways to Minimize Barriers, Set Your Attendees Up for Success, and Create a Positive Learning Environment


Strategy #1

The first strategy is going to seem pretty obvious, but stick with me here. The first thing I always do is smile. The reason I mention it first is the effect that it has on approachability. Remember those barriers I mentioned earlier?

My many years of experience leading masterclasses and workshops and coaching presenters has shown me that it is often nervousness and fear that puts a serious look on their faces when they’re standing up in front of a group.

At other times, a few students in my classes have told me that they’re not usually smiley people.

I can tell you that smiling makes a huge difference to your audience. Let’s look at an example.

Here’s a woman with a neutral or serious look on her face. Does she look approachable as a presenter? What are the chances that you would ask her a question or comment on something she said?

Let’s look at the difference when she smiles.

Her face lights up and she appears much more pleasant, friendly, and easy to talk to. If she were a presenter standing at the front of a room, how would you feel about asking her questions or commenting on something she said?

So, smile — even if it doesn’t come naturally to you. You’ll appear open and approachable, and it’ll increase the interaction your audience members have with you.

Strategy #2

Secondly, I always set expectations for what the session will be like.

I try to anticipate all the questions my audience members will have regarding logistics and the agenda.

  • How long is the session going to run?
  • When are the break times?
  • Are there refreshments, and if so, where are they?
  • Where are the restrooms?
  • Is the session going to be entirely lecture-style?
  • Are they expected to work with others in the group?
  • Will there be discussions, practice exercises, or special activities?
  • Will they get coaching and feedback during the session?
  • Are you going to be the only presenter?
  • When can they ask questions?
  • Is there a Q&A period?
  • If they need help during the event, who do they go to?

Setting expectations sets your attendees’ minds at ease and increases their comfort level. It even helps build anticipation and excitement about all the things that are coming up.

Strategy #3

Another strategy I always use at the beginning of my sessions is to reveal the destination. What I mean by that is I give my attendees the objectives and the agenda – and answer the question “What are they going to be able to do by the end of the session?”

It might be a skill they’ve gained, some knowledge they can apply to their work or personal life, or a call-to-action  you’re asking of them.

When you share the objectives and agenda, it encourages everyone to focus.

It also helps YOU stay on track and minimize the possibility of going off on a tangent.

You attendees can track their progress because they can refer back to the objectives and the agenda whenever they need to.

It’s a good idea to put the objectives and the agenda in a spot where they can refer to it over and over again…

Not just on a slide, because that disappears as soon as you move ahead to other slides, but…

On an easel or wall chart and definitely in any handout materials that you give them.

When you include the objectives and the agenda in the handout materials, your attendees will have a more accurate reference afterward of what they accomplished in your session. It’s a good memory booster for them and provides great promo for you. You want to be remembered!

Strategy #4

Share information about the group.

Many people come to a workshop, talk, or retreat session to make connections. They’re looking to network, find suppliers, and/or find prospective clients.

Others are uncomfortable until they know whether they have anything in common with other attendees in the room. They begin to relax and feel more settled if they know there are others from the same city or country, doing the same type of work, engaging in the same hobbies, and so on.

You can quickly and easily share information about your audience by asking for a show of hands for questions such as…

  • Who here is from _____?
  • How many have traveled from ___?
  • How many coaches are in the room?
  • How many of you work with entrepreneurs?

Use questions that are applicable to your audience and your event.

Encourage your participants to look around the room at the raised hands and make connections during break or lunch time.

For more ideas on questions to use, search Google for icebreaker questions.

Strategy #5

The 5th strategy is getting the participants involved in an activity while they’re waiting for the session to begin.

I especially enjoy this strategy and so do my attendees.

You’ll find detailed instructions for a puzzle activity in an earlier blog post that I wrote called Grabbing Your Attendees With Great Introductions. You’re free to use the activity. Click here to read the post.

Strategy #6

The sixth strategy I’ll share with you of the many that I use in my workshops and my talks is using a variety of audience engagement techniques.

Different techniques will appeal to different attendees and while you can’t make everyone happy all of the time, you can make everyone in your session happy some of the time.

Read my blog post How To Create Audience Engagement to grab ideas for creating an engaging session instead of a lecture-style information dump.


Six strategies for creating a positive learning environment…

  • Smile
  • Set expectations
  • Reveal the destination
  • Share information about the group
  • Get the participants involved in an activity while they’re waiting for the session to begin
  • Use a variety of audience engagement techniques


Check out our Engaging Talks and Workshops Online Academy here


Add Your Comments Below

Is there anything else you do in your sessions or have seen others do that sets the stage for a positive experience?

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1 Comment

  1. Marcus

    Much like your other resources, practical and useful! Thanks.
    I do wonder… many/most trainees tune out during discussion of administrative details, even during discussion of terminal objectives; so is that okay? Maybe just ask at the beginning ‘anyone have questions about logistics, admin?’ and then dive into lesson content.. what do you think? thanks


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