Teaching Without Teaching: Handling a Crowd

Facilitators, trainers, teachers, leaders. What’s one thing these individuals all have in common? Working with groups, large and small. Whether these groups are made up of children, newbies in a company, or senior level management, crowd control is a must. The art of crowd control lies in using a multi-facetted approach to training your crowd to follow your lead and do as you request. This is not a simple process. Giving a command or request to a crowd that does not yet trust you, does not yet respect you, and does not yet know your verbal and non-verbal cues well enough to follow them will result in these commands falling flat, or being intentionally ignored.

In addition to building trust and respect, which each individual should go about in his or her own style (jokes, inquiring about and divulging personal details, professionalism, etc.), the key to handling a crowd comes in the art of teaching without teaching.

Some tips and tricks I find effective:

Man using a whistle

  • Punctuating sounds:
    In large group activities with lots of noise and action one way to get the attention of your crowd is by using a whistle or other loud, piercing sound. This is only effective if you sensitize your group to this sound from the start. They will not respond to a whistle in the middle of an activity if they have not been trained to listen and respond to it from the start.
  • Call and response:
    This can come in many forms, but one of the most effective is a group cheer. If you introduce a call with a group response in the start of an activity, meeting, or event, with this call you will always succeed in getting the groups attention plus the added bonus of the silence that follows the end of the group’s response.
  • Telegraphing:
    If you want a group to respond to an action you made, make it impossible for them to miss this action. Make the action large, and preface the action with large motions. For example, if you are making a stop cut motion (the cut off motion conductors make to an orchestra), exaggerate the motion so the group knows it’s coming and has time to respond to it.
  • Consistency:
    Once you associate a sound, action, or command with an expectation from the group, don’t change it! Allow the group to learn your verbal and non-verbal cues and their trust will deepen as their comfort grows.
  • Audio, Visual, and Kinesthetic:
    When asking something of your group, give your request in as many different ways as possible. Different people respond differently. Use an action in conjunction with verbal and visual cues to give directions to your group.
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Teaching without teaching comes in many forms. There is not just one right way to do this; there is an infinite amount of tips and tricks. Before you settle into one way, I encourage you to experiment. Some methods will work with one group while they won’t work with others. The moment you think you’ve secured your style and your method is the moment it’ll lose its effectiveness, because it’s the moment you’ve become complacent. Never stop trying new things.

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