Making an Emotional Connection to Your Learners


Last week, I was on a flight from Phoenix to Indianapolis. Seated directly behind me was a woman holding an adorable 6-month old baby boy. Seated directly across from me was a gentleman holding an adorable 6-month old baby girl. Twins.

Many people would cringe at the thought of being seated by not one, but two teething babies on a particularly long flight; but in this case, it didn’t bother me at all.

You see, shortly before takeoff, Daddy handed me (and everyone else sitting close by) a little Ziploc bag, filled with Hershey kisses:


How precious is that? Immediately, everyone seated nearby (including the curmudgeonly old man in 13F) was disarmed, sympathetic and completely enamored by these adorable tots. In fact, people were offering to assist and hold the babies to free the weary parents’ arms for a few minutes throughout the flight.

And yes, they were cranky and did cry on the flight. Quite a bit, actually. But they were forgiven.

Whether the parents knew exactly what they were doing, or Mommy just found something cool on Pinterest, this was a brilliant move. Not only did it put a smile on fellow passengers’ faces, but it set the expectation for the inevitable – crying babies – and reminded us that they were babies and really couldn’t help it. They found a way to emotionally connect with the other passengers.

It made me think – are we doing this with our learners in a training environment?

You might be a presenter who has mastered the mechanics of public speaking, but if you are failing to truly connect with your audience, there will always be something missing from the sessions you lead. As I manage learning programs, I am a proponent of balancing the quantitative with the qualitative…whether it’s with content to deliver or metrics to measure. It’s important to balance the “head” and the “heart”.

Here are 3 quick tips for connecting to your learners on an emotional level:

1. Meet their needs.

Think back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and be deliberate in making sure that your learners’ essential human needs are met. Have you included necessary breaks in your agenda? Ample time to stretch and move around? Is there an opportunity to ask questions? Do your learners know where to find the restroom? Can they get a drink or a snack? If their basic, physiological needs are met, they will be in a more prepared place to absorb the material you are presenting.

Let’s be honest: How engaged are you when your mind is consumed by when the next restroom break is?

2. Get to know them as human beings.

Incorporate icebreakers or energizers to engage participants and help them feel more comfortable and get to know one another. Show up early to greet people as they arrive and informally chat with them. Seek out opportunities to connect with your participants and find common ground. The more connected they feel with you, the more likely they will be to connect with your content.

Most importantly? Be genuine. Don’t let “professionalism” mask your authenticity.

3. Be respectful.

There are situations where a facilitator is met with a challenging participant. A disengaged participant. An argumentative participant. A downright rude participant. You know what I mean…we’ve all been there, right? Regardless of the “true colors” a participant might be showing, it is critical to demonstrate respect toward all participants (even while managing the challenging behavior). When you are respectful, your character will be apparent, which will not go unnoticed by your participants.

Adult learners bring a wealth of experiences, expectations, questions and a need to be respected. Honor that as you facilitate.


Just like the parents of those sweet little twins found a way to connect with their fellow flight passengers, we should be finding a way to connect with our learners. Take your sessions a little deeper. Build richer relationships. Leverage those relationships to create engaging, relevant, meaningful learning experiences.

Your turn: How do you connect with your learners? Share your stories in the comments below!


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5 thoughts on “Making an Emotional Connection to Your Learners

  1. Tim Wright says:

    Can’t agree more. I make it a point to openly share about myself, my personal background, my experiences, then using humor, I encourage my learners to feel secure in sharing themselves with me. I make my it my main priority to develop a rapport with each learner and become personally involved with each one throughout the learning experience. It is only through showing genuine interest in the individual that you can learn what their needs and passion is and how to help them develop their strengths and overcome challenges to create success in their professional and personal life If you only view them as your “job”, then you will not gain their trust. No trust, no change.

  2. cegosasiapacific says:

    What an excellent story to drive your point! Instructors/teachers need to make an effort to know their learners and make them feel comfortable with them. It helps in building mutual understanding and respect which again lead to better learning and interesting interaction.

    • Michelle says:

      Hello! I totally agree – the more connected an instructor is to the group, the more engaged the group…which does lead to more effective learning! Thanks for your comment! :)

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