“Every crowd has a silver lining. ” P. T. Barnum
Large groups can present a number of challenges for a trainer. Informed choices will need to be made about seating arrangements, learning activities, and amplification.
1. What is the best way to seat them, assuming there is some flexibility in table or chair arrangements?
Whenever possible it is better to avoid a classroom style arrangement with parallel rows of chairs facing the front of the room. There are two reasons for this: it is too reminiscent of elementary school and it means that people are facing the backs of other participants’ heads.
Ideally, it is best to use a large room that can accommodate tables and chairs so that the participants can face forward and also face their tablemates for small group activities.
2. What adjustments need to be made to planned interactive learning activities?
Most interactive learning activities can be adapted to work with a large group. For example, small group activities can still occur as planned if the participants are seated at small tables. If the participants are seated in an auditorium and the seats can be moved, they can rearrange themselves into small groups comparable to the table groups. If the seats cannot be moved, the participants can form small groups with the people seated next to them and either directly in front or in back of them.
The groups will need to be debriefed in a slightly different way than would occur with a smaller group. Rather than having each small group report out, the trainer will need to have just a few of the groups report out and have the rest indicate their agreement or disagreement with the group reports by a show of hands.
Some learning activities depend upon the easy mobility of the participants. If they are seated at small tables or in rows with wide aisles, the participants should be able to move around as needed to create new groups, pop up at their chairs, or gather in small groups around a flip chart to brainstorm. However, if the participants are seated in an auditorium with little space between the rows of chairs, the trainer will need to consider alternative activities that do not depend upon the participants’ mobility.
The adjustment to these activities may be as simple as having the participants continue to work with the group seated next to them, having participants volunteer answers by raising their hands instead of standing up, and having the trainer write down the participant answers during a large group discussion.
3. How can the trainer ensure that everyone can hear what the trainer or other participants say?
With a very large group, either the trainer has to be able to project a clear strong voice or use a microphone. If a microphone will be needed, it is always better if it is a battery-powered lavaliere that can be attached to a lapel rather than a battery-powered microphone that has to be held. It will free up the trainer’s hands. This will also enable the trainer to move around the room listening to the small group work and interacting with the participants.
The larger issue is how to ensure that the entire group can hear participant comments and questions. One option is to have a second battery-powered hand held microphone that can be passed to the person who wants to speak. Another option is to have stationary microphones set up in various places throughout the room so that participants can access them. The third option is to simply have the trainer repeat what the participant has said and then respond to the statement or question.
The fourth option is to have the trainer stand as far away as possible from the person who is speaking, so that the participant has to project and speak loud enough so the trainer (and the rest of the group) can hear what is being said.
Although large groups may present some definite challenges for room arrangement, participation and amplification, they are not insurmountable. They just require that the trainer plan ahead and make the necessary arrangements to accommodate the larger group.