or, Managing for Engaging and Involving…

I’ve been lucky in that I have been able to share ideas and generate high levels of participant involvement for 20+ years, working with small teams of people in tiny offices, doing workshops in regular training rooms, and even doing large deliveries in huge ballroom situations. So, I wanted to share some ideas about controlling groups whereby your desired goal is to have them operate with minimal controls and only good directions and focus.

Engagement and involvement has always been a key driver of my deliveries, and every one of my sessions over 10 minutes in length would definitely have the participants talking and engaging each other in focused discussions about possibilities and ideas. Since,

Nobody ever washes a Rental Car,

you want them involved and engaged and sharing their ideas and participating in discussions with their peers or table-mates. (I try to have 5 or 6 people at round tables, but that is another blog post…)

At the same time, you want to have some control over time and it is hard to regain control (or influence on control) in many such groups. How do you do that with style?

Yesterday, an associate asked me my opinion about his use of a wooden train whistle for his workshops, which generated a rant from me about how much I dislike those heavy-duty intrusive kinds of things (yeah, I overreacted but was nice about it!).

I have used bells for this purpose and have collected quite a few different kinds. Metal ones tend to be best, especially if you travel, but put them in your checked bags because TSA people seem to have a hard time with the phrase, “If it looks like a bell, it is probably a bell.”(It is actually pretty funny when they open the bag and find a bell. I will often ring it for the benefit of all the other passengers!)

So, here are my thoughts on how to influence and control meetings without being obtrusive and interruptive of the flow of creativity and ideas. After all, their interactions are the key to generating any changes or success.

Here is the key, though:

For any session interruption kinds of activities, use the bell at that start of the session and, once you have their attention, tell them that when they hear the sound of the bell, they have 15 seconds in which to end their discussion and come back to focusing on you.

This is a nice, courteous way of avoiding The Blunt, Stop Immediately On My Order kind of autocratic thing that so often frustrates someone who is making a key point. (And the reality is that they will keep talking anyway!). So, you can nicely use the social pressure of “coming to attention” without being rude or abruptly stopping people.


I use very small tinkle bell for small groups or for communication between me and some of my associates who might be assisting me in a session. Little tinkles are quite noticeable but would not disrupt anything happening in the room. One can hear them across the room, in most cases. So much easier than yelling! They also work in small rooms like a classroom.

Middle-size bells work nicely for most of my training sessions, especially if I am using a mic and the sound of the bell can carry over the speaker system. Get one with a nice tone, Small “temple bells” work nicely for this and look good – I generally buy them used on eBay and similar places.

For my larger sessions, I take a slightly different approach. For our team building sessions like in The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine or Seven Seas Quest, every 2 minutes I am changing the Weather and moving the game along. So, instead of me trying to shout over their noise but knowing that they want to know the information immediately, I use a loud large cowbell for the larger sessions. This is an interrupter by design, but they will look up and keep talking.

For my Very Big sessions, like presenting to an auditorium of 5oo or 1000 people — let’s say that they are in a heavy duty discussion naming some of the Square Wheels that they have to deal with in their organization, I use the Ting Sha kind of bells that ring (you bang them together) and then slowly, very slowly stop ringing. It might take 30 seconds for the sound to go away.

These are truly elegant in how they work. And people will often come up afterwards and ask about them.

Bob Pike and many of his associates use the clapping — “If you can hear my words, clap once” kind of announcement and participation, where some people get it right away and clap and that is heard by the others, who clap on the second announcement, “If you can hear my words, clap twice” kind of approach. I tried that, but like the bells so much more.

Shouting to get attention just doesn’t do it, in my opinion. The bells just work so much better, have a much prettier kind of “interruptive sound”, and show more style and preparation.

Find some you like and use them,

For the FUN of It!