Over the years I’ve often been asked to increase the number of participants at our leadership courses. The way the courses are designed, the ideal number of participants is 20 – 30. With groups larger than that it can be challenging to get the same results.
Despite my hesitance, there are times when it makes sense to increase the group size. With some planning, I’ve learned that you can ensure that larger groups get great value from classroom training; however, the onus is on the facilitator to adapt.
Watch a short video blog post about Facilitating Large Groups
Protect break-out time
Give participants the full amount of time during break-out activities to discuss, practice and role play. This ensures that, even if participants aren’t able to interact within the larger group, they are able to learn by doing in their smaller groups.
Revise total group discussions
Many participants will be intimidated to speak in a large classroom setting. When this happens, try calling on people from one table: “Who from this table has an example for us”. This will get more people sharing their ideas without putting anyone on the spot. Alternately, you can ask for a show of hands and then select from those people: “Who has ever felt frustrated at a meeting? (show of hands) Bob, you have your hand up. What frustrates you?” Avoid simply calling directly on someone out of the blue. They may have nothing to say and the awkward silence definitely won’t help you get more people engaged in discussion.
Adjust activity debriefs
As you debrief activities within the total group, use focused questions so that no one person shares all of the answers: “Who has one thing they would like to share that came out of that activity?” Once that person shares one idea, ask for a different person to share another idea. This is a great time to encourage quiet people to share, since they will feel prepared with an answer. Avoid getting into the trap of starting at one table and moving to the next and the next. You’ll quickly find you’re trapped and people expect you to get to every table.
Be heard, and ensure that others are heard
You’ll probably need to use a wireless microphone with a larger group. You may also want to have someone roam around with a microphone for participants to use when speaking to the whole group so they can be heard. If there is no roaming microphone available, ask people to stand up when they speak or encourage them to project to the group.
Maintain room set-up
No matter how large your group is, avoid having the room set up like a theatre with all the chairs facing forward. This discourages interaction, encourages the facilitator to lecture and makes the break-out activities and role plays very awkward.
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