Many projects are started by a bunch of like-minded enthusiasts. Group dynamics changes with each passed milestone. But the core, bound by a common goal, stays strong and keeps the project running. It can’t last forever: if the project is great, it will grow bigger. At a certain scale, it becomes impossible to cover an ever-expanding set of tasks with the initial team. You will either need manpower to replicate your work in twinning cities or somebody to cover your back while you’re gaining additional competencies or someone with enough expertise to take care of the new direction of project activities. Our next step in the series is to learn the basics of engagement.

Keys to engagement

To begin our examination of engaging project participants, it’s necessary to look at the overall keys to engaging your audience. Regardless of where your project takes you or your participants, it’s a good idea to keep your eyes on these keys at all times.

If you’re looking forward to recruiting new members, make sure that all current team members are aligned with this question. We might be positioning ourselves as the most open-minded and friendly people in the world, but in reality, getting new members in the project’s «family» does not feel easier than with the real one. People are often afraid of changing habitual work order and roles.«Vibes are gone/different», «somebody will do my job better», «we won’t have enough space», «salary will get lower» – these and other thoughts might be overwhelming your team members. Leaving these worries in place is dangerous. Poisoned or paralyzed by negative images, colleagues might slow down and hinder acquiring new members, and might even give new members a cold shoulder.
It is a good idea to conduct a small workshop session on fears and expectations. A warm and friendly atmosphere might help people share their inner turmoils. Go over each fear as a team and brainstorm possible solutions. When all family members are finally on your side it will be much easier to work on acquiring new members.

Key 1: Relevance

The first key to engaging participants is relevance. Adults tend to learn when they have an experience to “pair” with the knowledge. Although it’s difficult to do this with abstract topics or for subjects with which the participants have little experience, it’s still possible to make learning relevant. For example, if customer service project dives into a technical or “behind the scenes” explanation of a product or service, it’s easier for them to tune out the knowledge. But if you link the learning to their jobs, making it relevant, they will be more likely to retain the information. The secret is learning how to make a job linkage relevant. It could be that they need to understand the technical explanation in case a customer asks. Or, it could be that the customer service person needs to understand what happens behind the scenes to understand the process of helping the customer fix his or her problem. In other words, relevance is all about the benefit to the learner. What does he or she stand to gain by staying tuned in?

Key 2: Applicability

Next, applicability is very important. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge is a great thing, but not necessarily in the organizational or corporate sense. There are some things that adult learners, your project participants, really don’t need to know to do their jobs. And the key here is that applicability usually means, “to do their jobs.” If knowledge does not apply directly to a job function, such as the above explanations of a technical process, then it may be a good idea to leave it out of project altogether. Another way to check for applicability is to go back to your stakeholders’ descriptions of what the participants need to be able to do once they have completed project. Besides, the objectives or outcomes of your learning interventions can test the applicability of the subject matter and its corresponding materials.

Key 3: accessibility

Project should be accessible in a way that is appropriate to its audience. If you have salespeople onsite for a week long seminar, classroom interventions with high interaction will be the most accessible to the participants. On the other hand, if your audience consists of remote technicians who deal with complex applications, the most accessible path may be online or social-media style interventions. In some cases, accessibility means making a program available depending on a learner’s style. For example, a general course can be offered in the classroom, online with audio, and online without audio to be accessible to all learning styles. Plus, having learning opportunities available via a Learning Management System is another way to make project accessible.

Key 4: Manageability

However you deliver project or make it accessible, it must be manageable for the learner, and this depends on the subject and the audience. You may have heard project professionals talk about “chunking” material – this is the same thing as making it manageable. Content should be broken down into the most “digestible” segments possible to maximize engagement and retention. Even if you are providing a multiple week “boot camp” style project, breaks for learners should come every 60 to 70 minutes.

Key 5: Interchangeable content

This simply means that the “digestible chunks” we’ve just discussed should be written in a way that makes them useful to other audiences and in other delivery modes. For example, general knowledge content that is provided by a live instructor can be modified to go into an online tutorial or a self-directed learning intervention.

Now that we’ve examined the steps of making a twinning city project, let’s move on to making new projects come alive..

Tip: fuel your inspiration

Seek inspiration from alike-people. Check ted videos on engagement and community building. Your project might be different in purpose, name, location, goals. But at the bottom-line people around the globe face the same issues.
I personally find them very motivating. Sadly, pretty often I lose focus in the middle of the speech. To avoid it, I speed up the videos in youtube and TED settings. It then starts to fully occupy my attention and requires less time to watch.