Tip #371: How to Get Participants Back From Breaks on Time

“One good thing about punctuality is that it’s a sure way to help you enjoy a few minutes of privacy. Orlando A. Battista

Many trainers are concerned about giving breaks, because they fear that it will be difficult to get the participants back on time. However, there are many effective ways to increase the probability that all participants will be back in the classroom when the break time is over.

1. Whenever possible, hold the training off-site. Otherwise, participants will go back to their desks to check their messages and get roped into responding or handling business issues that arise.

2. Create group expectations that specifically identify the importance of coming back from breaks on time and what the consequences for tardiness or the rewards for punctuality will be.

3. Always start on time. Regardless of how many participants are back in their seats, start immediately after the break. Otherwise, the participants will see no value in coming back on time.

4. Use signals. Use a bell or buzzer, or increase the volume on music played during the break, or play a specific tune (one trainer uses the theme from the Lone Ranger with great results).

5. Project a countdown timer onto the screen. This provides a clear visual cue and avoids the confusion of clocks with different times throughout the building.

6. Put someone with a watch in charge of getting everyone back to the room. Just make sure this person takes this responsibility seriously and pays good attention to the time.

7. Have consequences for being late. Make tardy participants sing a short song, dance a short dance, do pushups, get hit with Koosh balls, or pay a dollar. Make the consequences just unpleasant enough that the participants will want to avoid them.

8. Have rewards for table groups that are always on time. This is a positive approach that increases the probability of success because the table members will make sure that their tablemates are back on time.

9. Keep the training interesting and engaging, so participants will not want to miss what happens next. Incorporating highly interactive and creative learning activities that have immediate practical value will provide great incentive for coming back from break. The participants may even come back earlier because they are excited to continue the training!

10. Give participants specific assignments that they will present immediately after the break. That will raise their anxiety just enough so that they are much more likely to pay attention to the time. They may even want to return early to be prepared for their presentation.

11. Give participants a one-minute warning that the break is about to end. This works well if the participants congregate in places that are easily located and accessible.

12. Close the door when the break is over. While closing the door, take that opportunity to tell the participants who are still in the hall that the break has ended.

13. Alert the participants that important content will be covered immediately after each break. The participants will not want to miss it.

14. Offer refreshments that are only available immediately after the break. Never underestimate the power of free food and beverages, especially if the selections are tasty and appealing.

15. Have participants buddy up and be responsible for getting their partners back into the room on time after each break. Peer pressure can be very helpful.

16. Give longer (and possibly less) breaks if restroom facilities are located at a distance from the training room. There is absolutely no point in setting up the participants to be unavoidably late. Avoid guaranteed frustration for the participants and the trainer.

17. Promise that the training will end on time (or even earlier) as long as the participants return promptly from breaks. This is usually a terrific incentive. Just make sure to keep this promise if the participants hold up their end of the bargain.

18. Require participants to stay in the room for the break. A lot can be said for the benefits of a change of scenery at break times, so this is not an ideal option. However, participants frequently do choose to stay in the room for a number of reasons: because it is a comfortable place to chat, there is sufficient space to move around, refreshments are available, the table space gives them a surface on which to do other work, they want to read ahead in the participant workbook or review their notes, etc.

There is no guarantee that 100% of the participants always will come back from break on time. Some events and interruptions can occur that are beyond the control of either the participants or the trainer. Nonetheless, these options, either individually or in combination, can be very effective.

May your learning be sweet.


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