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Trainer’s tip: Hitting the wall


Helen Wyatt asked for advice on our Any Answers forum after delegates at a recent training session 'hit the wall' and became so mentally tired that learning wasn't happening anymore. She changed her tack to liven things up and included activities to get them up on their feet, working in groups, and added some short breaks and question & answer sessions. Have other trainers been faced with this dilemma, she asked? And if so, what did you do? Would you have carried on in this situation, or just let everyone go home early and risked missing out some of the content?

Sharon Gaskin suggests setting ground rules for next time:

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 ground rules - it seemed to work.

Rus Slater says be assertive at the design stage if you think the client is trying to pack too much in:

This is a situation I've been 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 every time 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!

Gail Winwood agrees, and says more content can mean less learning:

The closest I have come to this is when I have been delivering 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, but sometimes more means less taken in.

Ehsan Honary suggests getting active & creative:

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.

Mary Waters recommends using brain gym exercises:

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, maybe a bit of stretching too, helps wake both trainers and delegates.

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Hitting the wall

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