To help you lead engaging sessions, we’d love to share with you 10 of our favorite strategies below. Feel free to adapt these for your own classes or workshops.
NOTE: Click the triangles (▶) to expand each of the ten tips
1. Begin with a warm greeting 👋😃
Greet participants warmly as they arrive. Show enthusiasm. Smile 😃. Your positive energy will have a significant impact on participants' perceptions of you. The first impression people have of you will last. A presenter's energy and enthusiasm levels tend to be highly correlated with participant evaluations.
2. Share the agenda and objectives 🎯三
Show it visually. Make it simple. Explain not just what you’ll be doing, but why and how. Why are these particular topics so important? How will you conduct the session?
Let everyone know when to expect a break. Let people know you’ll periodically pause for questions.
Remind participants where they can find handouts, slides, & other helpful materials.
Clarify learning objectives
Sum up in three bullet points what you hope participants will gain from the session. Be crystal clear about goals for the session. Tell participants what they'll know more about or be able to do after the session.
3. Engage people right from the beginning 🎬 😳
Your first 10 minutes set the tone for your teaching. Begin by engaging participants actively. If you open with a long preamble about your topic people may assume you’re delivering a lecture. Instead of a long bio, consider beginning with opening poll questions or a short warm-up activity.
You'll have time for other stuff after engaging the group. Here’s more on starting your session in an engaging way.
4. Spark curiosity 🎈💡
Pique their interest right from the start. Outline one or two big questions your session will wrestle with, and a few smaller questions you'll address along the way. These "mysteries and puzzles" help spark curiosity. They prime people for learning.
A mystery is a big, important, intriguing question.
A puzzle is something unexpected or unexplained — a meaty issue you’ll address. Counterintuitive points grab people’s attention and avoid the trap of predictability.
5. Share anecdotes 🗣
Stories help in three ways.
1. Relatability— Stories help translate technical knowledge into relatable experiences and concepts. They help participants connect with you.
2. Stories Stick— they make ideas more memorable. They help ensure your teaching doesn't disappear from participants' minds a week after you say goodbye.
3. They hold attention— distractions lurk. We're all wired for stories, though. Regardless of what subject you're teaching, stories are crucial in cultivating, maintaining and regaining attention.
6. Avoid the overtalking trap 🤐
One of the most common mistakes teachers make is assuming that covering more material is better. There’s a tacit assumption that volume of information is the key metric. People mistakenly assume that showing a lot of slides or saying as much as they can in the allotted time is desirable.
7. Use fewer slides and more activities like these... 🖼
If you've relying on talking through hundreds of slides to convey information — without activities or other engagement opportunities— chances are much of that information will fly past people.
Instead, teach through activities
Participants learn best by doing, not just listening. The key to memorable teaching is enabling people to connect your material with what they already know and to practice applying the concepts. This can be as simple as asking people to spend a minute thinking about a concept and writing down one thought about it.
Think, pair, share
After introducing a concept, give participants a few minutes to jot down their thoughts on that individually, then pair then up with a colleague to discuss their observations, analysis or application of the idea. Then bring everyone back and invite three people to share something one of their partner's observations that they found noteworthy
Have participants complete a worksheet, fill in a template, answer a question or otherwise use the concept you're focusing on, either individually or in groups of three or four.
Have the group collaboratively create something.
This can be:
A Google Doc, with each team adding a bullet point or short section.
A Google slide deck, with each person or team creating a slide or two on an assigned topic, or something they choose
If you'd like to try one of these or need help, let us know and we'll help.
8. Include micro-engagements — quick activities that take just 2 minutes — as well as fuller activities — to cultivate students’ skills 🙋♀️
Participants learn best by doing, not just listening. The key to memorable teaching is enabling people to connect your material to what they already know and to practice applying the concepts. This can be as simple as asking people to spend a minute thinking about a concept and writing down one thought about it.
9. Conclude with active reflection 🤔
Invite students to process and synthesize the session's materials by writing down their primary takeaways. Use a poll or shared document to collect them so participants' can benefit from one another's synthesis. Sum up the key points you've focused on and make note of next steps. These might include additional materials to explore, questions to consider, or recommended actions to take. Conclude with a big thought or vision point, or a big question to address next, to help reinforce the significance of your topic.
10. End three minutes early ⏰
People have commitments right after your session. They may have other meetings to go to, classes, or personal matters to manage. Respect that. Those three minutes of extra time will be appreciated. Assign a time-keeper in the group if you need assistance in meeting that early ending objective.
Reminders for Supportive, Inclusive Teaching
Schedule breaks if you’re teaching for more than an hour 🕕
- Teaching 60 minutes or less: If you’re teaching for 60 minutes or less you may not need a formal break, but it’s helpful to give people a bit of humor or some other change of pace to sustain their attention periodically.
- 90 minutes: Schedule at least one break. A five to 10-minute stretch break can work well.
- 120 minutes A 10-minute break in the middle can work well.
- 180 minutes For a three-hour session, two 10-minute breaks can work, or two mini breaks and one 15-minute break. These breaks ensure that people can focus during the rest of your time together.
Provide a safe space 👁
On any given day, some participants may be facing physical or mental challenges. Ask participants to let you know if there's something you can do to help strengthen their learning experience, like slowing down, or adjusting your camera or volume (if online). When relevant, mention a private channel they can use (such as your email, an anonymous form, or DM on Zoom/Slack) to share anything they'd prefer to communicate privately or anonymously.
Facilitate actively and with warmth 😃
Invite participation, including critiques or "devil's advocate" points. Some people may be reluctant to engage actively unless explicitly invited. When people do engage, make a point of welcoming that participation, regardless of whether it was what you were looking for or expecting.
Your reaction to participation will either open up or shut down subsequent engagement. If someone's engagement is so vigorous that it crowds out colleagues, thank them for their participation and then invite others to offer additional or alternative perspectives.
Aim for inclusiveness 🎁
To avoid making someone uncomfortable, provide an off-ramp in case they would prefer to engage in a different way or at a different moment. So to draw in those who haven't yet participated, rather than putting any one student on the spot, you can say something like "Jane, John, and Pat, I'm curious about how you see this issue, if you'd like to share a thought. Or anyone else who has thoughts on this, feel free to use the chat or un-mute and share out loud, whatever you prefer."