Posted on 15 February 2017

How to Engage Your People as a Leader – Anywhere!

people-1As leaders, we often have important information to share – information that other people need to achieve results. I’m talking about training – but this could be equally true for any business ‘forum’. This might include something as formal as an annual meeting to present the company vision for the upcoming year, or something as casual as a catch-up over coffee to discuss a new project with your team.


Regardless of the setting, the important thing for leaders is to be able to engage people in these forums, so that others can easily understand and retain the information you share with them. Corporations spend billions of dollars on training and meetings each year, but actually getting the message to stick is what gives the forum its return on investment.


In order to really engage people in any forum, I encourage you to consider the learning opportunity from a broader perspective than the actual event alone, and look at what happens before and after the forum as well. I recommend that leaders – ‘Prepare’, ‘Present’ and ‘Follow Up’.




Before the forum begins, there is always some planning involved, but it’s mainly from the forum organiser’s perspective of deciding what to say. The preparation phase is also a great opportunity to get your audience ready to receive the information you want to share with them, as well. To do this:


  • Warm them up with something to spark their interest – Think of it like pre-heating the oven so it’s ready when the cake goes in. It might be as simple as a teaser email or some pre-reading, the goal is to make sure your peoples’ brains are primed beforehand and ready to jump straight into the topic.


  • Set expectations – Organisational support is a big factor in how well knowledge is retained, so contact with supervisors conveys the importance of the forum to attendees. If it’s a meeting for example, sending out an agenda lets everyone know what to expect and how they might prepare.




Presentation skills aren’t just about being able to use powerpoint effectively. The human brain is wired in certain ways when it comes to paying attention, and you as a leader can take advantage of this to boost understanding, retention and involvement. One way to do this is by keeping an eye on the clock.


  • 90 minutes – is the longest our brains can stay on track without a break. There’s a reason most movies go for an hour and a half, so make sure meetings and training sessions longer than this have a break in the middle.


  • 20 minutes – this is our brains’ limit for retaining information. Anything more than that on the one topic and our minds will start to ‘chunk out’ and drift off to other things like wondering what to have for dinner. This is good to remember for meeting agendas; after 20 minutes it’s probably better to do a quick revisit and move on to the next subject.


  • 8 minutes – it seems like a short length of time, but without some sort of variety or involvement, our brains shut down pretty quickly. Think about a meeting you’ve been to, if one person keeps talking for more than 10 minutes with no input from anyone else, they tend to lose the room. Playing a quick video clip, getting people to move or even just ask a rhetorical question to mix things up, anything to break up the pattern will keep your people on track.


Follow up


No matter how well you presented that information, the unfortunate fact is at least 35% of it will disappear from your audiences’ minds the next day. The human brain is a highly efficient thing, designed to get rid of irrelevant information so that the important stuff can stick, but without revisiting information, it gets filed by the brain as ‘not important’.


In other words, a follow up email or encouraging your people to share what they’ve learned with someone else could prevent a third of your training expenditure evaporating overnight. These are known as ‘boosters’ and a great structure to optimise their impact is the 2x2x2 model.


  • 2 days after the event: send your people something that will require them to recognise the right answers (eg: a few multiple choice questions)


  • 2 weeks after the event: send something that will encourage them to generate ideas on how it might be applied in their role


  • 2 months after the event: get them to consider an example of how they’ve used the knowledge in their role since the forum


These don’t have to be a long and involved boosters either, just touching on a couple of key points is often enough to signal to the brain that the whole thing was important information.


Consider how you could use this principles to bolster your next forum, and set yourself and others up for success!


Posted by Mel Armstrong. 

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