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Seb Anthony

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Hitting “The Wall” !


Hi there

I ran a 2 day module this week that forms part of a larger Management programme. The programme is participative, lively and fun but also pretty intense, involving a lot of content and also a lot of self-reflection on the part of the delegates. The course ran from 10am to 6pm on Day 1, and then 8.30am to 4pm on Day 2, so I don't believe it was excessively long in terms of hours.

However, by 2.30pm on Day 2 several delegates told me they had "hit the wall" in terms of their learning and had reached a point where they were so tired mentally that they felt they were just not taking anything in anymore. As trainers we have all experienced the post lunch slump, but this level of fatigue did seem to be in a different league from anything I have experienced before- they all looked absolutely shattered!

No-one had been up late the night before, but the light in the venue was quite subdued, with only 2 windows in the room. Additionally, the food at the venue was excellent and they all ate very big breakfasts, lunch and dinner each day, which can't have helped.

I did try to really liven things up in the afternoon and changed my tack to include some activities to get them up on their feet, working in groups, added some short breaks and did some question & answer sessions etc. However it still felt like I was dragging them through the afternoon session.

My question is:

1) Have you been faced with this and is there anything else I could have done?
2) Would you have carried on in this situation, or just let everyone go home early and risked missing out some of the content? (There is no room to transfer the content onto the next session, as that is also very full).

All thoughts and advice grateful appreciated.
Helen Wyatt

7 Responses

  1. Hitting the Wall
    Hi Helen,

    What a difficult situation for you to deal with!I have had that situation only once before and i tackled it in exactly the same way as you, tried to liven things up with energisers and getting the group to open up about what they are experiencing and what would help… In the end we had a discussion around what would work for them to prevent it happening next time,exploring their learning styles etc and then finished early!

    When I ran the next workshop we began with a reminder of what had happened last time and we drew up some groundrules – it seemed to work!


  2. this won’t “help” in a practical way today but….
    Hi Helen

    This is a situation I’ve been in in the past and I’ve also seen a similar outcome where the delegates were not tired but the information overload was so great that the Homer Simpson Syndrome kicked in;
    “My brain is so full that everytime I put something new in something else has to fall out!”

    Quite simply I think you did all that could be done on the day, the big learning point for us all as trainers is to watch out for “scope creep” during the design phase, recognising that the client’s desire to pack more and more into each training day needs to be managed assertively.

    This is particularly a problem where the client/account/project manager of a consultancy is not a trainer themselves and therefore agrees to what appear to be reasonable little requests from the client without any responsibility to make it happen on the day!

    Rus Slater

  3. Hitting the wall
    Hi Helen, the closest I have come to this is when I been delivered to delegates who regrettably had to travel long distances for a 9:30 start – so some had set off at 4:00 in the morning! (Rest assured discussions later followed with the Company and they did change things for subsequent programmes!). My thoughts for handling this on the day – rather than abandon it – add in an extra break. Encourage them to go outside – do something different for about 20 minutes. This might just help to re-energise and then also do what you did in terms of pace of activity, active involvement etc. I would also suggest you review the programmes going forward to build in some time for break and reflection. I know clients (and ourselves) often try to get as much in as possible, mut sometimes more means less taken in.

  4. more exercises …
    This is indeed a situation that everyone dreads, but of course as a trainer we need to have a way to handle it.

    I had a similar situation once and the method was to switch exercises. I use this rule of thumb in training or even non-training environments. We need to balance the information we put in our head and the information we get out of it. For example if we read a lot of books and articles for several days, we start to feel we need to do something about it. We like to go and talk about it to others. It is as if we received a lot of info and now we need to send some out.

    We can use the same for training. When delegates have been receiving so much new info, it’s time to get them to express it so they can balance their brains.

    In practice this means you have got to get them do ‘stuff’. Physical exercise is good. Team working is great. Talking about past experience is good. Amusing stories with humour can also lighten up the delegates. Creative group exercises always work. For example give them a flipchart each, lots of colourful pens and get them to write a series of verbs that define them. Encourage them to be creative and tell them that you will put these flipcharts on the wall. Creativity uses different parts of the brain which can be great if they are tired of logic-based stuff which is usually what the main training is all about.

    Information overload can be a big problem, but as a trainer it’s your job to manage the amount of information they have to absorb. So you have total control over this. If you think delegates can’t handle all of this information in one go, then dilute it a bit.

    Hope this helps

    Training Resources

  5. Brain gym
    I find that when this happens it is helpful to get everyone moving around a bit, doing exercises that make both sides of their brains work. Brain gym exercises seem to do the trick, even ten minutes doing some physical type of exercises, mabe a bit of stretching too, helps wake both trainers and delegates .

  6. Embedding
    Hi Helen,

    In my opinion, rather than trying to find various ways to pep up the afternoon of the second day we should be going back to basics.

    Thinking of the Kolb cycle for a minute, it’s not that experience, reflection and conceptualization are all covered and then off to the next part without leaving enough time for experimentation and bedding down the learning? In my experience that’s one of the prime causes of learning fatigue, even for the most enthusiastic and motivated learners.

    If there’s no time for experimentation why not bring it back to the office, even splitting the course over 2 days if travelling doesn’t become excessive.

    Take care,

  7. Input/Outpul
    Hi Helen,

    Lots of great points so far in this discussion. I work a lot with type preferences (MBTI), and think it might be useful to look at this also through the lens of type. Looking at energy, as has been identified, it’s a balance between action and reflection. And a change in energy can help.

    Balance is also needed between input and output – ie between content (input), and conclusions (output).. the “so what”. So perhaps a change in energy/activity that also involves a change of focus from input to output might help clear the log-jam as it transforms information into decisions for action.
    And if you know the type preferences of the participants, you are more likely to be able to predict those “Homer Simpson” moments and plan accordingly.


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