Short sessions to energize participants

July 17, 2015 by Maja Tomšič Pavlič

The CEF’s participatory approach to learning helps keep adults motivated. It enables learning to be inclusive, meaningful and competent experience. But even when the program is designed by all participatory rules, it is impossible to expect high motivation of all participants during all lessons. Sustaining motivation for learning is actually the biggest challenge for adults during face-to-face learning initiatives. It is normal that due to different situations and conditions trainees may become less motivated. We use short sessions to overcome this problem and energize people.


Playing ice-breaker

We can group short sessions into ice-breakers, buzz sessions, and energizers.

Ice-breakers are designed to break the ice at learning initiatives or meetings. It can function as a start of the training course and helps people get to know each other (MindTool 2015). It is also an effective tool for:

  • bonding people of different backgrounds who need to work for a common purpose
  • encouraging cooperation, listening to others, and working together
  • creating good atmosphere for learning



We use them regularly at the beginning of face-to-face meetings and they have proved very successful. As the tasks are usually relevant to everyday life and touch upon unofficial topics, these activities relax people and create the first bonds. At the beginning of the learning initiatives it is good to choose activities that physically activate people. As they move, the silence or “ice” (which is quite common) is broken.

Buzz sessions are short sessions that are deliberately built into a lecture to stimulate discussion and provide feedback. Participants simultaneously work in small groups. Buzz sessions help:

  • identify the audience’s needs
  • encourage participants to contribute
  • obtain feedback



Buzz sessions always bring action

Buzz sessions have many advantages. We use them when many ideas and recommendations are needed. They are also good for shy participants, encouraging them to speak up and contribute to group work. Their biggest advantage is introducing variety into a lecture.

Energizers are brief activities that are intended to increase energy in a group by engaging group members in physical activity, laughter, or in ways that engage them cognitively, i.e. in problem-solving (Training & Development World, 2015). If the facilitator realizes that people do not follow the lesson, it needs to be stopped and an energizer introduced. We usually deliver them after lunch, when motivation is always low. At the same time, the facilitator has to be careful not to use too many energizers. If they are introduced more than three times a day, people may get used to them and their main objective could be lost.


How to design and deliver successful sessions?

Each of the activities has its own specifics, but some similarities as well. They are built into lectures, bringing change and variety to the learning process and increasing motivation. However, they should not be stand-alone events. If the majority of lectures is boring and people are unmotivated for most of the time, then even short sessions do not help.

There are a few ground rules for the successful delivery of short sessions.

  • The key to success is to make sure that the short sessions are focused on increasing motivation. The facilitator should concentrate on what is really important and use short sessions as a tool to achieve the learning objectives.
  • The facilitator should bear in mind and make sure that the session is appropriate and comfortable for everyone involved. In this respect the facilitator needs to get to know the participants (in advance, if possible).
  • When bringing together people of different background and level, the facilitator must handle differences sensitively. It is always the best to focus on the similarities rather than the differences, such as shared interest in the outcome of the learning initiative (MindTool 2015).
  • The facilitator should keep the sessions simple.
  • The facilitator should be enthusiastic during these sessions (Knox 2015).
  • The facilitator needs to choose volunteers carefully not to cause any embarrassment.
  • Timing is important. The session must be finished when the participants are still enjoying.
  • The facilitator should choose a session that is appropriate for the age group. If the group consists of people of different ages, no specifics should be used.
  • It often happens that something goes wrong or does not work. A great session can smooth the way for a great event, whereas a bad session can destroy a lot. To avoid embarrassment and waste of time, the facilitator needs to move quickly to the next activity.
  • A check list could be useful for facilitators, especially for the beginners.



Learning facilitator has a key role

These rules are helpful but they cannot be used all at the same time. Sometimes the same rules can affect two groups completely differently. Speaking from the facilitator’s point of view, it is crucial to be aware of all the rules and apply them selectively, depending on the situation. For example, the facilitator should be enthusiastic but if he/she realizes that the participants are shy and need more time to get used to the new environment, a longer and gentler ice-breaker should be used instead of great enthusiasm. So, it is important to observe the audience.

At the same time it is important for the facilitator to be confident. We are gaining experience and skills only through practice.

The CEF strongly believes in the advantages of short sessions and makes regular use of them.

The main objective of the short sessions is to refresh people’s mind (and body) to raise their motivation, while keeping in mind the main goal – to facilitate learning. If participants have fun and laugh in a relaxed atmosphere, we have achieved the objective.


Note: The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the CEF.



Knox, G., 2015. 40 Icebreakers for small groups.

MindTool, 2015. Ice Breakers. Easing Group Contribution

The Training & Development World, 2015.