Feeling a Little Silly at the Front of the Room? Three Very Serious Ideas About Enthusiasm

Some time ago, I was delivering a workshop for a group of soon-to-be trainers. Each of them was a subject matter expert (SME), and they were preparing to deliver training to groups of people within their organization. On the first day of the class, we were focused on helping the SMEs strengthen the skills required to get comfortable at the front of the room and engage the group. For one of the men in the class—I’ll call him John—this raised some issues.

We were talking about enthusiasm. John was not particularly unenthusiastic, but he was the type of person who got a little less enthusiastic and a bit quieter at the front of the room. We see this all the time. What interested me was John’s reaction to my recommendation that he crank up the energy just a bit.

“I don’t believe that should be necessary. It is their job to come to my class and pay attention. When teaching, I shouldn’t have to be someone I am not.”

In many ways, I agreed with what John was saying. First, he was right to believe that the business of the class he was teaching was serious and important. He was also correct to believe every person in the class had a clear job to do: listen and learn—no doubt about either of these assumptions.

Where I differ with John is that he equated an enthusiastic trainer with an entertaining trainer. Here’s what I mean:

When trainers attempt to entertain a class, they always miss the mark. This type of entertainment can take many forms: pointless activities, inappropriate humor, relentless ice breakers, and—as we see with John’s concern—calculated enthusiasm.

Enthusiastic trainers are not entertainers. Their passion and excitement for the task shine through because they want to help people understand something new. Their enthusiasm generates interest and is infectious. Because it is the result of being deeply engaged with the group, this type of enthusiasm serves a very practical purpose. It simply makes listening easier.

Here’s what I say to trainers and presenters with John’s concerns:

  1. Enthusiasm must be genuine, and it can spring from many things—what you’re saying, the people you’re saying it to, the task at hand. Find a way to tap into any or all of these things.
  2. When you’re the one at the front, you are responsible for the atmosphere in the room. Do what needs to be done to set the right tone.
  3. Think of enthusiasm as the fuel you need to keep the conversation going. Let it boost your volume, vary your vocal inflection, and bring life to your gestures.

So, yes, while the learners in John’s class did need to “listen and learn,” it’s his job to make that process as easy and inviting as possible. This has nothing to do with adding fluff or insincerity to delivery. It’s about creating the conditions for a fruitful conversation.

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About the Author: Dale Ludwig

Dale Ludwig has a Ph.D. in Communication and, prior to Turpin, taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He founded Turpin Communication in 1992 with the mission of providing the best presentation and facilitation skills training available. Since then, he has worked to do just that. In addition to being one of Turpin’s lead instructors, Dale is our Chief Learning Architect when tailoring learning engagements for our clients. He holds a Bates ExPI™ (Executive Presence Index) coaching certification. Dale is a frequent blogger and the co-author of “The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined,” “The Virtual Orderly Conversation,” and Effective SMEs: A Trainer’s Guide to Helping Subject Matter Experts Facilitate Learning,” all written with Turpin’s VP, Greg Owen-Boger.

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