There are distractions around us every day. Trying to conduct a training class with distractions in and around you is challenging.
There’s the property maintenance crew running the lawn mowers outside the window. Or the training class is in the middle of an office thoroughfare with people walking back and forth, having conversations in the process. Then there’s equipment that fails or lack of promised supplies.
These and more present themselves during training, and as trainers, we have to figure out how to keep the class focussed. Sometimes it’s enough to have people work in pairs or small groups and let them complete a task, then bring the group together for discussion.
To have participants in the class who take you off track is most challenging. They come in at least three “flavors.”
- The grandstander wants all the attention, all the time. This person regularly interrupts the class to ask irrelevant questions, give a lengthy opinion of the topic we already covered, or ask personal questions. The grandstander thrives on questions and comments from other participants and will hold court at the drop of a hat.
- The sub-trainer feels the need to explain everything covered to participants around him/her. This person wants to demonstrate that he/she knows just as much as the trainer and really doesn’t need to be in the class.
- The CEO takes calls in the middle of a class and has to run out of the room multiple times to talk, missing pieces of information in class. Upon return, this person asks for clarification of points covered while he/she was out of the room. Everyone experiences a double distraction: once when the person leaves the room (often stumbling over desks and chairs in the process) and again when they return.
There are probably more types of distractions or disruptions that occur during a training class. How can a trainer deal with the frustration that he/she inevitably feels when experiencing such disruptions?
- Be cool. It sounds easy, but it takes practice. The less likely you are to blow your top in front of a room full of professional development participants, the more likely you’ll get the material across to them in a way that causes it to stick.
- Smile, nod, and put off the question. Sometimes you have to interrupt the questioner, but if it’s truly something that needs to be taken care of outside of the current session, the participants will be happy you stop this before it takes over the class.
- Set the stage. Tell participants what you expect when you start the class. If you are o.k. with them leaving the room to take calls, tell them so but warn them not to disrupt others in the process. If you really don’t want people to take calls, tell them to put their phones away and turn them off. One successful technique is to tell participants what to do: Create a voicemail greeting for just that day telling callers when you’ll get back to them and setting up an e-mail out-of-office message that says essentially the same.
- Let participants help. Use “teach-backs” or other methods to have participants teach each other the material you have presented. This gives them the opportunity to demonstrate competence and to reinforce each other’s learning.
Disruptions and distractions are common in busy places. With a little practice, a trainer can minimize those that come from the participants (and work on moving the training class to a quieter venue!).