Surprising situations during training

Piotr Nazimek
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9 grudnia 2016

Anything can happen during training. Nevertheless, the trainer should not assume in advance that it will be something unpleasant and stressful. Most of the workshops I have conducted have gone according to plan and without major surprises. Most are not all, however. Below I've described a few situations that have and do happen to me during training sessions. Some of them are so frequent that they are no longer a surprise to me, although they undoubtedly were when they first met me.

Technology wars

One form of conducted workshops that I like to use is discussion. Presenting different points of view, ways of arriving at a solution is valuable for the whole group, including the trainer. Sometimes, however, it happens that the topic of discussion uncontrollably changes to a completely different one. Most often to the so-called technology war, i.e. about the superiority of Linux over Windows, Vim editor over Emacs, MongoDB database over any other, and Java language over C++. The order in each example given is completely random. Referring to the initial issue and the objectives of the training, discussions on the topics listed are mostly unnecessary. I personally, even then as a novice trainer, was surprised by the extent to which engineers are able to wade into such polemics. To the point of collapse and to the point. Each firmly insists on his own and will not rest until he convinces the other side. And, after all, the discussion does not have to end at all with convincing someone of their point. Finding out where the adversaries disagree is no less valuable an end to it than consensus. It is worthwhile to make this clear to the belligerent participants in a timely manner, and preferably to move on to the next point of the training even more quickly. I would advise against taking sides in such discussions, even if we prefer Linux, the Vim editor or Java more. I don't recommend taking a break at this point either, it usually leads to exacerbating the disagreement by exchanging heavier and increasingly less substantive arguments.

Accurate questions

Questions from trainees can be surprising. Especially when they touch on the problem under discussion from a side we wouldn't even think of. Such questions are a pleasant surprise when we know the answer to them. In addition, they are very instructive, because they show how different views on the same topic can be. However, there are some questions that are every trainer's nightmare. They are the ones he doesn't know the answers to. You don't have to conduct training to realize that this is a very uncomfortable situation. This is what trainers who are new to training fear most often. What to do then? What to do when most simply do not know the answer to the question asked? The fairest way out of the situation is to admit that at the moment we are unable to give a comprehensive or certain answer. However, the question asked cannot be forgotten. At your leisure, for example, during a break or after a training day, you need to explore the issue the participant asked about and give him an answer. It is better to do it later, but correctly, than to do it right away, but wrong. Especially since even inexperienced participants will realize that we are not sure what we are talking about. In such a case, our authority will fall very quickly.

Regardless of the number of such situations after training, you need to objectively assess your knowledge. When we have not been able to answer the questions posed, perhaps we should not yet conduct a class in this area or consider a group at a lower level? The above comments, of course, apply to questions that were related to the topic of our training.

My solution is not working

A participant who reports that his solution doesn't work and asks for help or guidance is a fairly common situation in technical workshops. Rather, it should not come as a surprise to the trainer. Except perhaps for one exception, in which it is the trainer himself who looks at the participant's screen and also asks himself a question like why doesn't it work when it should work? Then there's the steady tapping of fingers against the desk by the help-seeker, followed a moment later by glances from other participants who are intrigued by the trainer's perplexing solution. It gets worse as we continue to look at the screen, and after all, it should work. In such a situation, I simply take a break and chase the participants out for coffee and cookies. A few deep breaths, calmly analyzing the example without stressed out stares, sometimes reviewing a few Internet search engine results has helped me deal with any such situation so far.

Where am I?

I always arrive a little early for the training I am to conduct in a new and unfamiliar place. Mainly so that I have time to lay out the equipment quietly and solve various problems before the training, such as the lack of an adapter for the projector, pens for the flipchart, etc. This was also the case I'm going to talk about. I showed up at the client's headquarters about half an hour before the training started. Before that, I called one of the participants with whom I was discussing the training plan and learned that he was already on his way and was almost there. I was a little concerned that the company was still closed, but I decided to wait, after all, the participants were already on their way. After several minutes I couldn't stand it and called the organizer, who confirmed that I was in the right place, but would still make sure. Just before nine o'clock I learned that , as if to tell you, the client had changed the place of the training, but I don't think they informed us about it and they are in a hotel, 40 km from their headquarters.

As a result, the training started an hour late. There is no denying it - it was unprofessional. It is always better when the trainer is on site before the participants. However, one should not seek to blame the situation immediately, and on top of that in front of the participants. It happened and that's it, it can be explained later. Since then, I always make sure I go to the right place. The direct contact with the participant of the trained group is valuable here. Who like who, but the participant will certainly know where he has training, especially in the case when his organization is on the client's side. Still referring to the described situation, I think that it was not the worst at all. After all, it's only 40 kilometers, I might as well, instead of going to Toruń, I could have gone to Wroclaw, for example, or forgotten my phone. Then it wouldn't have been so easy.

This projector is mine!

Finally, the situation I describe when I am asked about the strangest story related to training. This workshop was held at the client's premises. About halfway through the day, a key account manager walked into the room with a confident step and... without a word, disconnected the projector I was using to display the materials. To no avail were the protests of the participants themselves saying that we had just had a training session. When I calmly tried to figure out the reason for the surprising removal of the equipment, I was told that this projector from 13 o'clock is mine, because, after all, I have a reservation. It turned out that the projector was not booked for the whole day, and since it is a scarce commodity in almost every corporation this... whoever has a reservation has the projector. We did not interrupt the training for this reason. At the workshop everyone had his computer screen, so I provided the materials and we finished the class in this form. I did the same when the lamp in the projector burned out during another training.


I am sure that I will encounter many more surprising situations during the workshops I conduct. However, I hope that they will be a source of humorous memories rather than ones that I would like to forget as soon as possible. The incidents so far have taught me that one should remain calm and try to defuse conflict situations first, focus on the training, find substitute solutions quickly, and look for the causes of the incidents later.

I am also curious to know what surprised you during the training sessions you conducted or participated in. I encourage you to speak up in the comments. I think it will be an interesting read for everyone.

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