Using Nonverbal Communication Cues with Adult Learners

Using Nonverbal Communication Cues with Adult Learners

Anyone who has been in the business world for a period of time has likely received instruction on how to effectively communicate with others through the use of nonverbal cues. By consciously controlling eye, facial, hand gestures and other body movements, you can enhance and support verbal messages while building more effective interpersonal relationships with customers and others. The same is true between trainers, facilitators,  adult educators and adult learners in a classroom environment.

Using Nonverbal Communication Cues with Adult Learners by The Creative Trainer

Nonverbal communication or body language has been studied for centuries in an effort to better understand and extract true meaning from what someone is sharing nonverbally as they speak. Unfortunately, human behavior is not pure science and cannot be measured with complete accuracy. This is why it is crucial for anyone engaged in sharing information in an adult learning environment to recognize the power of nonverbal cues and use them effectively to engage learners while better managing the interactions that occur in an adult learning environment. Through the use of effective classroom management techniques and strategies, you can potentially enhance learning outcomes in training sessions or other adult learning environments

The following are some nonverbal communication strategies and techniques that might aid you in increasing your effectiveness in the classroom.

Use eye contact effectively.

There is no one rule of how to effectively make and hold Using Nonverbal Communication Cues with Adult Learnerseye contact with another person. Many factors, such as the cultural background, education, gender, age, and other similar personal elements, affect the type and duration of eye contact that might be useful. In the United States and other westernized countries, 3-5 seconds is often comfortable for one to maintain eye contact.

After that, you should glance away or look at something else before returning your gaze to someone during a general conversation. Such contact lets the person know to whom you are speaking, potentially helps you recapture their attention and can send a message of interest for what they are saying. On the other hand, staring can make someone feel uncomfortable and can potentially be a sign of disrespect or control in their mind. Either could potentially cause them to shut down or form a negative opinion of you.

Hand gestures.

Hand and arm gestures might be used to emphasize key points, to show openness (e.g. spreading arms in a gesture that indicates that you welcome comments or input following something you said) or to gesture to something or someone. In the latter Using Nonverbal Communication Cues with Adult Learnerscase, it is better to use an open hand (e.g. fingers extended and joined with the thumb along with forefinger) when inviting someone to comment or refer to a specific person. This is much less potentially offensive or accusatory than pointing with a finger or objects.

Keep in mind that many hand gestures (e.g. “V” to indicate peace or victory or an “O” formed by joining the thumb and forefinger) have different meanings when dealing with people from various cultures. In some instances, vulgar connotations exist for similar hand and finger gestures.


When you wish to better control the behavior of learners in a classroom, you might apply movement as a strategy. For example, if you have two participants quietly chatting during your presentation of information or someone who is typing a text message or searching the Internet during class.

Using Nonverbal Communication Cues with Adult LearnersIn these instances, continue to talk to all learners as you casually walk toward the offender(s). Close the personal space between you and them, then make eye contact. This lets them know nonverbally that you are aware of their behavior, they need to stop and refocus, and that others likely now realize what they are doing. Normally, this will correct the inappropriate behavior on their part. If they later continue or repeat the behavior, move toward them and casually sit on the edge of their desk/table, make eye contact from a closer distance and possibly ask an open-ended question like “What do you think of what I just said?” Chances are they won’t have a clue how to respond and will be embarrassed.

There are many other nonverbal communication techniques that you might consider. You might want to search the topic on the Internet and take a look at The Creative Training Idea Book: Inspired Tips and Techniques for Engaging and Effective Learning. By continually trying to improve your presentation and training skills, you can help ensure that your training delivery results in the best possible learning outcomes.

Flip Chart Usage Basics – Three Planning Tips

Flip Chart Usage Basics – Three Planning Tips

Flipcharts have been a standard in adult learning classrooms for decades. They provide an inexpensive and efficient means of gathering and posting information to make ideas and concepts useful for visual learners. To avoid a potential hit to your reputation and credibility, always use a checklist and consider what flip chart content you will need to accomplish your learning objectives. This means preparing your flip charts in advance and being ready to use blank pages to capture ideas as the session proceeds. By applying the following flip chart usage basics when planning your session, you can better ensure a more positive outcome.

Flip Chart Usage Basics – Three Planning Tips by The Creative Trainer – Robert W. Lucas, Awarding Winning Adult Learning & Training Author

Flip Chart Usage Basics - Three Planning Tips

1. Gather and organize all materials you will need before the participants arrive. Make sure that you bring a facilitators Tool Kit with you that contains commonly needed items, such as tape, markers, stapler and staples, a ruler, and other things you normally use.

2. Always ensure you have an extra pad of paper available. Before starting a session, make sure that you have several backup flip chart paper pads on hand. This is especially true if you are facilitating a brainstorming, strategic planning, or another meeting where you anticipate gathering a lot of ideas.

3. Ensure that you have a room large enough to post completed flipchart pages. Also, ensure that posting pages to the walls is okay. Some hotel and facility managers will not allow you to adhere to pages on walls out of fear of damaging the surfaces. This paranoia usually results from some careless predecessor of yours who did not use the right type of tape or acted unprofessionally. To prevent damage use a good quality of the blue “painters” tape available in most hardware and home and office products stores.

Like any other aspect of training and education, it is the little things that often mean success or failure. Take the time to plan ahead and you will likely be viewed as more professional in the classroom.

For more ideas on effectively designing, using, storing, and transporting flip charts, check out The Big Book of Flip Charts: A Comprehensive Guide for Presenters, Trainers, and Team Facilitators.

YOUR THOUGHTS? – Please share any tips for effectively using flip charts in adult learning environments?

Strategies for Maintaining Credibility and Learner Trust in the Classroom

Strategies for Maintaining Credibility and Learner Trust in the Classroom

Maintaining trust and credibility in front of any group of learners or students is crucial to your success as a trainer, presenter, educator or facilitator. As with any other environment, if you fail to build and maintain trust, you run the risk of relationship breakdown and lost credibility.

Strategies for Maintaining Credibility and Learner Trust in the Classroom

Since credibility is a mainstay of any professional development or learning event, you should never fall prey to the trap of delivering information that you cannot substantiate. A good reason not to do so is that with the proliferation of technology-based information, someone in your session can quickly summon the data in question and might even challenge you on the spot if you are incorrect.

Strategies for Maintaining Credibility and Learner Trust in the Classroom by The Creative Trainer – Robert W. Lucas, Awarding Winning Adult Training Author

If you fail to establish and maintain validity in the eyes of learners, you risk failure of your event and your reputation from the outset.  Unfortunately, many trainers and educators neglect this basic premise and haphazardly use information or quote data without thoroughly double-checking their facts. In doing so, they not only share erroneous and sometimes misleading information, but they also detract from the potential learning outcomes.

Using research to engage learners and provide impact is a great way to encourage learning if you prepare and use the data effectively. Unfortunately, many trainers and others have missed this crucial detail when trying to cite information to their audience or learners. Have you ever been in a presentation or learning event where a trainer, presenter, educator, or facilitator offered statistics preceded with the phrase, “Research has found…?”

“Research has found…?”

If you have experienced this situation and have asked for the citation of that research, you likely heard the standard retort, “I don’t have that with me, but if you’ll contact me after class, I’ll be happy to get that for you.” In my experience, those requests for additional information are often not fulfilled because the session leader has no idea of the original research source and is only parroting something he or she saw in an article or book or heard someone else share.

One of the fastest ways to destroy your credibility or trust with a group of learners is to be caught without substantiating data for statements or claims that you make. This is why, when I do trainer and staff development programs, I stress the need for including a reference page in lesson plans or notes. On that page, detailed citations for books, articles, studies, and other data that will be used during the program should be listed so that there is a ready response to questions from participants.

Try this strategy yourself and you will be less likely to get caught with your facts down!

Learn This Blogger – Robert W. Lucas

Robert W. Lucas is an internationally-known author and learning and performance expert. He specializes in workplace performance-based training and consulting services. Furthermore, he has four decades of experience in human resources development, management, and customer service in a variety of organizational environments. Robert Lucas was the 1995 and 2011 President of the Central Florida Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD).

Robert W. Lucas has lived, traveled, and worked in 28 different countries and geographic areas. During the past 40 years, Bob has shared his knowledge with workplace professionals from hundreds of organizations, such as Webster University, AAA, Orange County Clerk of Courts, Walt Disney World, SeaWorld, Martin Marietta, all U.S. military branches, and Wachovia Bank. In addition, Bob has provided consulting and training services to numerous major organizations on a variety of workplace learning topics. To contact Bob visit his website at or his blog

Energizer Training Activity – Take a Stand

Energizer Training Activity – Take a Stand

Getting training participants and students actively involved in the learning process ties directly into the tenets of adult learning (andragogy) and what brain-based research has shown can aid learning.

Energizer Training Activity – Take a Stand by The Creative Trainer – Robert W. Lucas, Awarding Winning Adult Learning & Training Author

This activity is a simple way to engage learners and solicit their thoughts and opinions during a learning event. It can be used as indicated or modified to be an icebreaker, review activity, or another tool for engaging learners throughout a session.

PURPOSE:  This light-hearted technique allows a facilitator to quickly assess how participants view an issue. Also, to provide a visual record of their opinions.

OBJECTIVES:   This activity allows participants to:

  • State their opinion or knowledge level in an active manner.
  • Move around the room, thus energizing and stimulating brain neurons with enhanced blood/oxygen flow.


  • Prepare a tally flip chart with the words Strongly Agree; Agree; Somewhat Agree; Somewhat Disagree; Strongly Disagree in columns.
  • Post flip chart pages around the room at different points with statements that indicate opinion preferences (e.g. Strongly Agree, Agree, Somewhat Agree, Somewhat Disagree, and Strongly Disagree).
  • Read a statement or question related to a meeting or session topic (e.g. “In order to maximize learning, participants should be actively engaged during training”).
  • Ask participants to go to the area where the flip chart best describes their view on the issue and stand in front of the flip chart page.
  • Do a quick count and write the totals on the tally sheet in appropriate columns.
  • Present the next question or statement and have participants move again.
  • Continue the process until all issues or statements have been read.
  • Thank participants and ask them to have a seat.
  • Debrief the activity by reviewing total scores and discussing implications related to the session topic.


TIME REQUIRED:   Approximately 10 minutes.

Energizer Training Activity -- Take a Stand SOURCE: The Big Book of Flip Charts: A Comprehensive Guide for Presenters, Trainers and Team Facilitators by Robert W. Lucas.

For additional activities and hundreds of creative ideas for designing, developing, using, storing and transporting flip charts get a copy of the book.

Creatively Selecting Small Group Leaders in Training

Creatively Selecting Small Group Leaders in Training

Learner engagement is a basic tenet of adult learning that is supported by brain-based learning research. By encouraging participant involvement in a training or educational setting, you increase the potential that learning will occur and that they might actually use what they experience later.

Creatively Selecting Small Group Leaders in Training

You can encourage maximum involvement of your training participants or learners by creatively grouping them and then asking for volunteers to take on the roles of scribes (note-takers) and group or team leaders during small group training activities or discussions. This strategy also provides an opportunity to recognize their initiative and reward volunteers with small incentive prizes (e.g. candy, toys, or other objects related to the program topic of the theme).

By providing extrinsic rewards and supporting positive behavior you can potentially encourage involvement by other learners in future group activities. However, like anything else, there is a potential downside in asking for volunteers. That is some people volunteer more than others because they are more extroverted or in order to receive prizes. The key is to integrate rewards appropriately and not make it into a competition to see who can get the most.

Creatively Selecting Small Group Leaders in Training by The Creative Trainer – Robert W. Lucas, Awarding Winning Adult Learning & Training Author

To avoid a small number of participants from dominating and volunteering continuously, consider a fun, random system for selection. Just be conscious of the method you use for volunteer selection. Avoid using physical characteristics like body size, gender, hair or eye color, or other such factors since these could be perceived as discrimination or at least omission or favoritism by some participants as criteria for selection.

One goal of selecting volunteers is to engage as many different learners as possible. This helps everyone take ownership of the session content and disseminates rewards over a larger portion of the participant population.

Creatively Selecting Small Group Leaders in Training

Think creatively and use a variety of techniques for selecting your volunteers rather than sticking with old standby formats like “count off from 1-5” or similar boring strategies. Some potential techniques for random designation are to assign participants based on the following. Be prepared to use several techniques in the event of ties.

  • Person whose birthday is closest to but not past the date of the session being held.
  • Person with the most (whatever) (e.g. color blue, jewelry, metal) on their body.
  • Person whose has been with their organization the longest/shortest period of time.
  • Person who has most/least siblings.
  • Person who traveled farthest/least distance to get to the session.
  • Person with the most/fewest number of pets.
  • Person with decorative metal on their shoes.
  • Person who arrived home earliest on their last day at work.
  • Person who participated in an athletic event over the past weekend.
  • Person with the most/least change in their pocket or purse.
  • Person who has had the most cups of coffee or tea, sodas, or glasses of juice/water since arriving at the session.
  • Person with the most/least letters in their first/last name.
  • Person born in the city/state/country in which the session is being conducted.
  • Person who has attended another professional development event (e.g. presentation, workshop, webinar, college class, or podcast) on-site or online within the past six weeks.
  • Placing props randomly at some participant locations prior to the start of the program (e.g. toy police officers badge, gavel, or another symbol of authority.
  • Placing a special colored item related to the program topic, that is different from those of other participants (e.g. themed shape eraser; small animal or cartoon character).
  • Placing colored dots or special stickers (e.g. colored smiley face stickers) randomly on nametags or name tents prior to a session start.
  • Rolling a foam die or color cube at each table.

Creatively Selecting Small Group Leaders in Training

No matter what approach you take to getting people involved in the learning process, the key is to make it quick, fun, and related to your program topic. Engage your learners mentally and physically throughout your sessions and you will potentially be rewarded with higher levels of attention, learning, and satisfaction.

For additional creative ideas and brain-based learning strategies, get a copy of The Creative Training Idea Book: Inspired Tips and Techniques for Engaging and Effective Learning, Creative Learning: Activities and Games That Really Engage Learners, Training Workshop Essentials: Designing, Developing and Delivering Learning Events That Get Results, and Energize Your Training: Creative Techniques to Engage Learners.

Grouping Learners Using Props

Grouping Learners Using Props

There are many reasons for creatively finding ways to group your participants in a learning environment. Many of them relate to the concepts of brain-based learning which emphasizes factors such as novelty, fun, and movement to stimulate brain neurons in order to enhance learning.

To make your life easier and save time when trying to come up with creative ways to effectively organize participants into small groups, try using small toys or props. Simply decide some item related to your session theme and gather an equal number of various colors or types of the toy or prop to use in identifying team members.

Grouping Learners Using Props by The Creative Trainer – Robert W. Lucas, Awarding Winning Adult Learning & Training Author

To use any type of item for identifying group members, count the total number of people in the room, divide equally based on the number of groups you desire for an activity or discussion, and then select an equal number of different colored or shaped toys or props. Randomly place one item at each learner’s seat location before they arrive. When ready to group them, just announce where they should gather for a group based on the type or color item they were given. For example, if you were doing a train-the-trainer program focused on brain-based learning, you might use a small colored rubber brain-shaped pencil erasers. People with yellow brains would go to one corner, blue, another, and so on.

Here are some suggestions that may help get you started.

  • Different denominations of play currency or coins are effective for a bank teller or cashier training;
  • Brain erasers of different colors can be used in train-the-trainer or creativity sessions;
  • Various colored smile faced items can be used for customer service programs or virtually any other topic. For example, stuffed animals, hacky sacks, or foam balls;
  • Colored fish exemplify successful programs/projects when things are “swimming along”;
  • Foam stress toys in shapes related to your session topic (e.g. cell phone for telephone skills training or smile face balls for customer service training);
  • Assorted zoo animals can add fun to virtually any subject or when discussing stress or a high energy topic when things are hectic (e.g. It’s a zoo around here);
  • Assorted insects or bugs help in activities when discussing pet peeves or things that “bug” participants either in customer interactions, or the workplace;
  • Colored spinning tops made of plastic can emphasize high sales or improvement levels (on top of the world);
  • Back scratchers made of wood or plastic can be related to ways of “reaching or attaining a goal”;
  • Sheriff’s/Law enforcement badges can be tied into concepts of taking charge, authority or ownership of an issue;
  • Rubber ducks made of rubber or plastic might be used to remind people that sometimes things are not always what they are “quacked up” to be (when discussing problems or how things can go wrong in a specific situation);
  • Handheld novelty shaped pencil sharpeners can stress the need to point out the need to ask direct questions or “get to the point” when doing customer service or interpersonal communication program;
  • Footballs, baseballs, sponge balls, or similar small items may help emphasize teamwork or “getting on the ball.”

These simple, yet fun approaches to group formation can get people laughing and be a novel way to save time rather than the traditional “count off” method that many trainers and educators often use.