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Whistle While You Work

Sometimes, you desperately need to get the participants' attention in the middle of an activity. Usually the participants are so busy talking to each other, solving problems, making decisions, or working out strategies that they totally ignore you. You need to announce important rules or procedures and you are worried that people will miss your announcement and blame you later.

This is a problem for all facilitators. In situations like this, you have to be assertive.

Long time ago, friends of mine who were teaching hearing-impaired children taught me a foolproof strategy: You turn the lights off. Total darkness gets everyone's attention. Then you turn the lights back on and make your announcement. This strategy works with hearing participants also. Obviously, it will not work if daylight streams in through the windows.

I have experimented with different noisemakers (gongs, xylophones, bells, chimes, buzzers, banging on the wall, drums, sirens, and screams). They work effectively, but some of them irritate the participants. And some attract all the dogs and police officers in the neighborhood.

My favorite noise-maker-and-attention-getter is the train whistle. It is a wooden whistle usually sold in craft shops and county fairs (or you can order them from Workshops by Thiagi). The sound is pleasant and nostalgic. It attracts participants' attention.

At the beginning of a group activity, I stress the importance of paying attention to my announcements. I then introduce the participants to the sound of the train whistle and ask them to please stop whatever they are doing and listen to me when the whistle sounds. I also request the participants to politely shut others up whenever they hear the whistle.

The train whistle is a great tool when you train people.

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