Tag Archives: tips for trainers

Distractions

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!).

Get It Done!

I am the consummate procrastinator. If there’s a project or task to get done, I’ll find a way to procrastinate and put it off until it must absolutely get done. Sometimes I hurt myself by putting things off too long. Here are some techniques I use to combat procrastinate and get things done.

Lists. I make lists–a lot. I create a list of my top five or six tasks for the next day before I wrap up my work. If I can put it down on paper (or in my phone) it gets it out of my head and becomes more likely that I will actually accomplish what I want or need to get done. There’s something very satisfying, too, about drawing a line through a task you’ve completed (or tapping the button that says “completed” on your phone). I know people who create their lists in a notebook and keep a record of all the things they’ve finished over time. I’m not that organized and prefer to use notepads I accumulate from attending conferences and expos.

Chunk it down. I learned this trick when I was working on my dissertation. The entire project looked huge and the prospect of working on something so large became a block. I put off starting the writing because I couldn’t conceive how to finish. Someone told me to take pieces and work on just that part for a while. When I did that, I started completing chapters. Soon, the chapters took shape and I was able to connect them and shape the entire project. “Chunking it down” gave me the ability to focus and finish. Now, I do this with larger projects on a regular basis. I break it down into parts, focus on the parts, then assemble the final work. I’m more likely to finish a small piece in a timely fashion.

Consider the end result. It’s easy to procrastinate when you don’t have a vision of where you’re going with something. I like to know what the planned outcome of a project is before I start working on the component parts of it. Sometimes it’s just a matter of considering the objectives or determining the preferred result. Whatever the end may be, starting is easier when you have a goal. This applies to just about any endeavor you undertake! I trained for marathons and half marathons one week at a time. The goal was to finish the race, and I kept this in mind as I trained.

Set a timer. If the prospect of working on a project for a long period of time (especially when it’s something you don’t like doing, but must) keeps you from starting, set a timer and tell yourself you’re going to work on X for Y minutes. When the timer goes off, give yourself permission to do something else. Come back to the project and set the timer again. Work on it for a number of minutes, then stop. This might seem counterintuitive (work on it until it’s done!), but by giving yourself permission to step away from a task that you don’t like makes getting it done a bit easier. I use this when cleaning my house. I really dislike cleaning. I manage to get it done with the timer.

Take a walk. Get out of the office and take a walk now and then. You’d be surprised what five minutes away from your desk will do to your attitude and ability to focus. Too often we chain ourselves to the desk thinking that’s the only way to get something done. We end up spinning our wheels and spending more time checking e-mails or looking at cat videos on Facebook. Walking away from your work at regular intervals can help you get it done. I make a point of getting up once an hour and either walking around inside the building or heading outside for a walk around the block. I’ve even done this when working at home. I come back to my desk energized and ready to get things done.

Sometimes you just need time to think and absorb the material you’re working on. Don’t forfeit contemplation in an attempt to speed up the process. Some projects are complex and need time to develop. Try any of these techniques next time you find yourself avoiding the work that needs to get done. Hopefully you’ll be able to accomplish what you thought you couldn’t and stop beating yourself up for procrastinating. That in itself will be an accomplishment!

Fatigue

I’m tired. Maybe I’m tired because I just spent four days traveling to and attending a large convention. It might be because I’ve had no time off other than a day here or there in months. It could also be due to an election hangover, but that’s a topic for another day. Whatever the cause, fatigue has an impact both physically and mentally on the trainer.

It’s probably obvious that when you’re mentally tired, you’re not so sharp. For the trainer, this lack of mental acuity manifests itself in your approach to training. You go on auto-pilot and move mechanically through the material just to get through the session. You deflect questions and comments in hopes of not having to think too hard to pull it all together. These are the days when you hope and pray no attendees have difficulty with the material you’re presenting. Your ability to re-phrase and give alternate explanations or instructions is impaired. Training suffers. Learners don’t get the best instruction when you’re not mentally on top of your game.

When you’re physically tired, it’s hard to speak with enough breath. it’s difficult to manage a large room of learners if you’re too tired to leave your chair at the front of the class. And let’s not even get into the yawns you try to suppress. You might get through the class, but your exhaustion shows.

If you’re physically tired, you’re probably mentally tired, too. They go hand in hand. But sometimes you’re just tired of the topic or material you’re presenting. This is mental fatigue’s cousin boredom. You can teach the subject without even noticing the words coming out of your mouth.

How do you combat fatigue? My first suggestion is obvious: Get some sleep! It’s hard, I know. There’s always something more to do that keeps you from getting to bed at a reasonable hour. And then we’re up early to get going with our day. At some point, the lack of sleep becomes counterproductive. I had to figure out how much sleep was enough for me. I have to be resolute in getting myself to bed in time to get my seven hours before I have to get up and get going for the day.

Other things that help me combat fatigue are exercise and time off. The latter may be self-evident, but some people may wonder how exercise helps you deal with being tired. Regular exercise gets your body moving, gets you in a better mood, and helps you sleep. Other benefits include weight loss, increasing your strength, and boosting your energy. By exercising regularly, not only do I help myself with sleep and mood, I’m increasing my ability to handle the physical demands of being a trainer.

Taking time off to recharge yourself is also important. Vacations are a good thing. It’s hard to completely unplug from the office or your business, but sometimes you have to disengage to give yourself the space to relax and refresh yourself. Put the “out of office” message on the e-mail and phone, turn off push notifications on your phone, and pledge to yourself that you will let someone else worry about the questions and inquiries for a few days.

My last suggestion for recharging is to become a learner again. Nothing gets my creative side going as well as learning something new or different. A few months ago, I took a class in glass blowing. Yes, it was hot. Yes, I felt stupid (turn the rod how fast?). But in the end, I learned how to do something new. Becoming a learner is humbling and fun at the same time. As trainers, we need to put ourselves in our learners’ shoes periodically to understand what they’re feeling. That sends us back to our classrooms with empathy and a commitment to do a better job.

Taking care of yourself is not a luxury. It’s a necessity. Your learners will thank you, too.