Our reader asks: What are some simple ways to re-engage an audience that starts dozing off because it's after lunch and we are all digesting our food? It's not trivial, I've often been asked to do a presentation at 2:00pm.
I guess this applies to us all! We’re sitting in a meeting, hunched over our computer or attending a presentation – our eyes are growing heavy, our body starts sinking, and it’s all we can do to stop ourselves nodding off …
How can we keep our energy fresh (after lunch – or anytime)?
And if we facilitate groups:
And if we facilitate groups:
How can we help others do the same?
As a well-seasoned trainer and facilitator, this certainly speaks to me. Some trainers even dub the post-lunch session the ‘graveyard slot’. I certainly recognise the glazed look, which seeps into people’s faces as those sleepy sensations creep up on them.
Yet curiously, I’d say I don’t often have a ‘sleepy group’, nor even a ‘sleepy time’ … Why?
Here’s my ABC to staying alert.
A = Acknowledge what's there
Feelings cannot be changed at will. If we feel sleepy, there’s no ‘off’ button. So we need to begin where we are now. Feelings always carry useful messages. If the message of the moment is: Sleep, Rest, Digest food! – then we need to acknowledge this as our starting point.
Instead of trying to get rid of those feelings, we can include the sleepy feelings, while taking steps to engage some livelier ones. The principle is:
- Things go more smoothly when we are not in opposition to them
When we oppose people or things, we use valuable time and energy; it adds stress. Yet ‘not opposing’ does not mean we give our ‘difficult’ feelings free rein, so that they take over. We do not ‘fall in’. How do we do this? We engage with them.
B = Be engaged!
The best way to engage feelings (and not to ‘fall in’) is to become curious about them; to notice the many subtle sensations they bring, and their sense that there is always much more going on.
Sensing feelings – just as they are – needs space. As Gene Gendlin (founder of Focusing) says, “If you want to smell the soup, don’t stick your head into it!” But with soporific sensations, this may seem impossible. If we give sleepiness more room, aren’t we in danger of going to sleep? How can we engage sleepy feelings?
We need to know how energy moves. Energy does not flow in straight lines. We cannot swing our energy about as if we’re driving a racing car. We’re more like an ocean galleon, whose cargo of treasures lies below deck, beneath the surface of the seas. We can turn our energy around, but generally in slow, gentle curves, like the ship’s wake we see etched across the shimmering waters. The skill is knowing how to give ourselves time.
The principle here is:
- Time spent engaging energy is never wasted
So while I don’t see a ‘sleepy group’ or a ‘sleepy time’, I certainly see sleepy feelings. And sometimes, a few glazed-over moments is just what we need to discover a new swathe of energy. Feelings need time to engage.
C = Create interest
We engage our energies by becoming interested. Tiredness dissolves as interest grows. Here’s a question:
What would I do, if I wasn’t doing what I’m doing now?
As you imagine your answer, you can explore the qualities it brings. Once you know what those are, you can consciously – cunningly! – find ways to bring those qualities into the present.
How would you feel now, if you could find fun and adventure? Would you respond better to challenge, interaction, clarity or support? Whatever it is, once you know what is missing, you can do new things to move you in that direction. Even a 2% increase in that quality may help.
The principle is:
- Our energy follows where our interest leads
Creating interested in a group: Tips for facilitators
Carrot not stick: energy naturally moves towards what it likes. Plan exercises or activities to enjoy.
Respect the needs of the group: if it’s a sleepy time, design quiet activities to match.
Engineer surprises: produce something unexpected which will shift attention and change the energy in the room – an image, a joke, a new exercise.
Ask questions which:
- get folks to think
- create discussion
- draw on people’s own experience
- explore motivations, benefits, ‘why we’re doing this’.
- produce longer answers than ‘yes’ or ‘no’
- will mean that you (the facilitator) learn something!
Take care to avoid ‘pub-quiz’ questions: right/wrong answers are rarely motivating for long, and may be disheartening. They also centre the attention unhelpfully on you, the ‘all-knowing’ facilitator.
Empower the group to give answers: explain as little as possible, elicit as much as you can.
Interactive exercises shift the attention away from you, and create activity within the group:
- break the group into pairs or small discussion groups
- create groups of different sizes, kinds and tasks at different times
- set clear goals and objectives, e.g. different groups can discuss different issues, and report back to everyone with their findings.
Notice how YOU are, as facilitator: your group is likely to mirror your energies. If you are tired or bored, others will be too.
Time yourself: don’t talk too long about one thing (8-10 minutes max?) – sleepy people have reduced attention spans!
Expand people’s connections with each other – suggest folks move to a different seat to meet new people.
Relax: you are most engaging when real and genuine – don’t falsely pep up your own energy to gee up the group’s.
Explore the group’s needs openly: ask them what they want or need just now to feel engaged.
Short bursts of activity: variety and change keep energies moving.
Tell a (relevant) story: people love a good tale!