Encouraging Participation

Encouraging Participation Requires Communication Skills

When soliciting participation, we need to remember that some people will feel more comfortable getting involved than others, so we should avoid putting people on the spot. However, if we are facing a particularly uninvolved group, we have various options for getting people involved: • Use open-ended questions, which may encourage participation (versus asking yes/no questions). After asking a question, we need to wait and accept the silence; after several seconds of silence, we can then paraphrase the question to see if anyone volunteers an answer. 

  • Have people pair up to talk about a question, series of questions, or a topic, and then have the pairs report on their conversation. 
  • Hand out index cards on which people write their responses to discussion questions, and then either collect them and talk about people’s responses or have people read aloud what they wrote. 
  • To encourage more physical participation, we can have everyone stand up, and then ask them to sit down if they agree with a statement. We can then generate conversation based on people’s physical responses. 
  • Similarly, we can designate different corners of the room as possible responses to a given question, and people can go to the corner that best reflects their response to a question. They can then talk among themselves about their response, as well as report out as a group on why they chose that particular corner. 
  • With a large audience, using small-group activities increases opportunities for participation, especially from people who might otherwise stay quiet in a large group setting. 
  • When appropriate, we can respond to a participant’s question by polling the entire group to ask for feedback to the question. 
  • Given that most people have a cell phone these days, we can use sites such as Socrative.com to create questionnaires, or simply poll the audience and receive instant results that everyone can see. 

Excerpted from Patricia M. Buhler and Joel D. Worden, Up, Down, and Sideways: High-Impact Verbal Communication for HR Professionals (SHRM, 2013).

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