You need three hours to cover the topic. Management gives you two. Do you divide the content into two workshops? Do you find a way to influence management or do you reschedule? The meeting room was double-booked. Do you reschedule your training or do you pare down your workshop by a half hour?

Like most trainers, you're probably used to time constraints such as these. But what about time problems that arise during the training meeting? Maybe discussion is so strong, you spend more time on a learning point. Or perhaps you have one too many tangents during an activity debriefing. How do you handle those? What can you do to avoid that sinking feeling you get when you realize you won't cover all the learning objectives without going over time? Well, here are some common problems and potential solutions to keep you on track and help you make the most of your training time.

You need three hours to cover the topic. Management gives you two. Do you divide the content

into two workshops? Do you find a way to influence management or do you reschedule? The meeting room was double-booked. Do you reschedule your training or do you pare down your workshop by a half hour?

Like most trainers, you're probably used to time constraints such as these. But what about time problems that arise during the training meeting? Maybe discussion is so strong, you spend more time

on a learning point. Or perhaps you have one too many tangents during an activity debriefing. How do you handle those? What can you do to avoid that sinking feeling you get when you realize you won't cover all the learning objectives without going over time? Well, here are some common problems and potential solutions to keep you on track and help you make the most of your training time

Digressions, however, - even if appropriate to the training topic - create sidetracks that disrupt the current training or build to the point that you lose control of your agenda and your time. To help control the discussion, consider the following.

Use a parking lot. A parking lot helps you stay on track by postponing the discussion. Often, an item posted on the parking lot will be addressed later in the session anyway.

Its premise is simple. Before your workshop begins, create a flip chart entitled "Parking Lot" and post it on the wall. When a participant raises a relevant point or question, validate their thinking and assure them you'll discuss it later. For example, say something like, "Good question. Let's park it and we'll talk about it later." As part of your wrap-up, you may want to go through the list and ask participants "Did we talk about this?" and make sure each point was covered during the workshop.

Use a follow-up board. Like a parking lot, a follow-up board helps you stay on track by providing a place for you to post a question, idea, or discussion point. The difference is that what you post on a follow-up board will most likely not be addressed in the current workshop.

Before your workshop begins, create a flip chart entitled "Follow-up Board" and use it for relevant sidetracks. For example, if a dialogue with managers during a customer service workshop expands into a discussion about the need for stronger hiring practices, use the follow-up board to gracefully return to your workshop agenda.

It's important, however, to address the sidetrack as something that is worthy of future discussion. Say something like, "That's an important point and we could easily spend the rest of this workshop discussing our hiring practices and the customer service qualities we should be looking for in potential employees. Right now though, we need to get back to customer service. I'm going to post this discussion point on the follow up board and I will get back to you on it."

The follow-up board is also a good place to post sticky questions, or volatile comments. For example, maybe dialogue about the company's upcoming merger keeps coming up during your customer service workshop. While a participant's question or concern about the merger should be addressed, you don't need to let it derail the training. If a participant says, for example, "How can we expect our employees to continue to offer exceptional service when they're worried about the company and their jobs?". Acknowledge the question by throwing it back to the class; ask participants for their ideas and allow some discussion. Then say something like, "Because this is important and it's something that is on everyone's mind, I'm going to post it on the follow-up board. Right now, we need to get back to customer service. But, I will make sure to get back with you about your concerns sometime this week."

The challenging part for you is how to follow up. Is it worthy of a future training topic? Will management approve a follow-up workshop on the topic? Is it a conversation or practice the company wants to explore? What is the best way to follow up with participants? Because the answers to these questions are unique to each organization, training department, and management team, it's important not to over commit. Tell participants you will follow up but don't say how unless you're sure you can do what you say you'll do. No matter what, make sure you follow up.

Problem #2 - Irrelevant Sidetracks

Handling irrelevant comments and digressions can be tricky because you're actually dealing with a person's need to be heard more than the digression itself. Here are two ideas to help you handle irrelevant sidetracks.

Acknowledge and redirect. A simple acknowledgement and a redirect is generally the easiest and most effective approach. "Thank you for that Linda, now let's get back to..." or "Okay Jon, thank you. Now who can tell me..."

Ask permission from the group to focus on the topic. If the sidetracks continue, you may need to get permission from the group to share only stories, insights, or questions that are directly relevant to the training topic. Say something like, "Several very interesting points have been raised so far. However, in order for us to stay on track and finish on time, I'd like to focus our discussion, questions, and comments on the topic. Is that okay with everyone?" The class will likely be relieved and more than happy to agree.

Problem #3 - Keeping Activities on Track

If you realize time is running short, consider these approaches for running activities.

Facilitate round-robin activities. If you have a small group activity that consists of several discussion questions, assign tables only one question instead of all of them.

Announce time intervals. As the end of time allotted for any activity draws near, announce it by saying something like, "You have two minutes left." For lengthy activities, like case studies or problem-solving models, help participants stay on track by breaking down the activity into parts. Explain at the start of the activity how long they should spend on each part of the task: 5 minutes for discussion, 10 minutes for planning, 5 minutes for execution, for example. Then, as you walk from group to group, tell them how much time they have left for a given task. For example, "You have another minute to wrap up discussion and start planning."

Problem #4 - Ending Breaks On Time

One of the most difficult challenges trainers face after a break or lunch, is getting the participants to return on time. Participants often remove their training hat during a break and their mental focus returns to work or focuses on socializing. As a result, phone calls, handling work problems, and socializing all get in the way of a prompt return to the training room. Consider these ideas to encourage participants to promptly return.

Choose a table timekeeper. Using timekeepers can help you keep on track in a light-hearted and fun way. Give them responsibility for rounding up stragglers from their group after breaks. How you select your timekeepers should set the tone; it should be quick and fun. For example, announce that the next timekeeper is the person at each table with the fewest letters in their name or the one who has the most pets. The one who is most colorfully dressed or owns the most pairs of sneakers. The one who went the farthest away for vacation in the last year or who most recently saw a movie.

Change the table timekeeper after each break so it's not always the same person. By the way, these quick elections also work well for choosing a table leader, table presenter, or any other role you need to quickly and fairly fill. The side benefits are usually a few laughs (and groans) and a raised energy level in the group.

Break at odd minutes. Who says your break needs to be 10 minutes? Or 15 minutes? Breaking at odd minutes will help keep participants focused on time. Look at the clock or your watch (which will prompt participants to do the same) and say something like, "It's 10 after. Lets take a 13-minute break." Then, whatever their watch says, they'll remember their 13-minute deadline. Another way to achieve the same focus on time is to ask for a specific return, like "It's almost 10 after 11. Let's start again at 11:23."

Reward promptness. Tell participants you will reward promptness and then do so. Distribute gum, candy, funny stickers, small trinkets or toys, slogan buttons, or other giveaways to those who arrive on time. Or reward groups in which all participants have returned from break promptly (this works particularly well if you have table timekeepers).

Set up a competition. Depending on the length of your session, you can post trivia questions, or conduct an ongoing game. Award points or giveaways. Post a trivia question or content-related summary question a few minutes before participants are expected to return. Take it down when break is over.

If you are conducting a long training session, consider using a trivia competition or summary game to bring people back on time. Offer table teams extra points for promptness and start the game even if all the participants haven't returned on time.

Problem #5 - You're Behind With No Way to Catch Up

If you're faced with the realization that you will run late in spite of your best efforts, talk to participants about it.

Ask your participants to tell you what they want to learn. Create a flip chart list of learning points that you have yet to cover (do so while participants are engaged in an activity or on break). Give participants a moment to look at the list and think about which learning point is most important to them. Explain that you'd like to focus on the learning points that they'd most like to learn about during the rest of the session. Tell participants to come up to the flip chart and place a check mark next to that point. Look for clusters and patterns. If applicable, summarize a learning point or two instead of covering it in its entirety. If a pattern doesn't emerge, use that information as you elicit help from the group (see below).

Elicit help from the group. Offer them a realistic choice: skip the break, add a half hour, schedule a follow up session, etc. They'll appreciate your honesty and your efforts to include them in the decision-making process. Losing time doesn't mean you have to lose control or sacrifice learning. To make the most of your time, consider the suggestions outlined here and try them for yourself. You'll be amazed at how easy it is to keep on track with these time keeping ideas.

IN SUMMARY... To keep you on track and help you make the most of your training time...

Problem #1 - Relevant sidetracks
Use a parking lot.
Use a follow-up board.

Problem #2 - Irrelevant sidetracks
Acknowledge and redirect.
Ask permission from the group to focus on the topic.

Problem #3 - Keep activities on track
Facilitate round-robin activities.
Announce time intervals.

Problem #4 - Ending breaks on time
Choose a table timekeeper.
Break at odd minutes.
Reward promptness.
Set up a competition.

Problem #5 - You're behind with no way to catch up
Ask your participants to tell you what they want to learn. Elicit help from the group

You know the feeling. We've all been there. The presenter or keynote speaker is droning on and on and on and as much as you try you can't stop your chair from feeling harder; your eyes from glazing over, or your thoughts from drifting away to anything but the subject at hand. It can be torture, especially on a warm afternoon.

Well as a trainer you're in luck. You needn't do much more than ask a few questions to save your trainees from a similar fate. But to excel as a trainer requires a bit more. It requires that you ask a lot of questions. It requires that you probe for more than just surface answers. It requires that you inspire participants to figure it out themselves. Why? Because adult learners are usually capable and experienced; and deserve to be treated as such. After all, a good trainer is really nothing more than a facilitator, or said another way, a catalyst for learning.


It forces participants to think critically and problem solve. Asking questions engages participants. It involves them in the learning. Best of all, asking questions forces them to create their own information, which is much more believable to them than anything you tell them.

What do participants learn from a trainer who tells them that the extra tissue paper they use to wrap their customer's purchase costs the company thousands of dollars each day? Interesting information? Maybe. Compelling learning? No.

Now consider what happens when you ask participants what they believe the cost to the company is. Sure, you'll flip chart a range of answers. But, then you'll probe further. What do you think a single piece of tissue paper costs? What is your average number of transactions in a month? How many stores do we have? Even as you offer the correct figures, you've got your participants thinking. And as they calculate the cost of tissue paper by number of transactions by number of stores, you'll see them creating their own information. Facts. Data. And, when participants create their own data, they believe it. It becomes real for them. But, without questions, they can't create their own data.

Asking questions and probing for answers is an art, not because it's a gift or a talent that few have. On the contrary, anybody can ask questions. It's how you ask and when you ask that makes it an art, one that requires:

Patience and Trus
The Ability to Read Your Audience
Quick Thinking

When asking questions, you must have patience to wait for an answer, and trust that it will come. It's important to remember that your participants don't like silence any more than you do. But rushing to answer a question you've posed simply because no one has thrown back an immediate answer can short change your students. Don't be afraid to let a question hang in the air; or to repeat it. Without patience, you'll not only be answering a lot of your own questions, but you will be robbing participants of the deep rooted learning that happens when they are forced to process information for themselves.

It's important to trust that participants want to learn and want to participate. If you don't, they'll meet your expectations with blank stares. Sure, you need to encourage them, engage them, and make it fun. You need to help them understand the benefits of the training. But, when you trust them to participate and answer your questions, they will.

Learning is not static; it is a dynamic and changing process. As the facilitator, you need to know when to move on, when to continue, when to redirect, when to dig deeper, and when to tap into experience. Asking questions also serves as a barometer for you. Is there understanding? Are they with you? Where should you go from here? Consider the following.

If you continue to ask questions to reinforce a point and your group got it five minutes ago, you've lost them. The goal of facilitating with Q&A is for your participants to gain understanding. When they do, it's time to move on. If you have a training meeting in which there is one person who monopolizes the discussion or is quick to shout out answers, it will be difficult for you to know when it's time to move on. Other participants may get bored or frustrated. To encourage other people to participate, you may need to throw the question their way. For example, after saying something like, "You've offered a lot of great input" redirect your question by adding something like, "Now, it's time for us to hear from the other side of the room." Or, "How about somebody else?" Or "Does anyone else have any thoughts on this?" Then, repeat the question. Direct your probes in the same way.

If you have a group that catches on quickly and understands the basic concepts, you may need to take the learning in a different direction. Recognize the experience they've brought and tap into it. Be prepared to go beyond what your notes say. Ask questions to dig deeper. Ask for insights, opinions, and experiences that support or challenge the learning points. Ask questions about transferring the learning to their job.

Thinking on your feet is also important when your participants turn the tables on you. Have you ever been challenged or asked a question that stumped you, even for a moment? What do you do when they ask you a question you don't know the answer to? Or what if they ask something you aren't sure you should answer based on the company culture or organizational politics? That's when a question redirect can buy you time to think.

For example, say something like, "Does anyone here have an opinion on that?" Or, "What do the rest of you think?" Answering their question with a question may give you the extra minute or two to formulate an appropriate answer. Or, someone else will answer the question or provide additional information you need to field the question accurately. This is also an effective way to handle a challenge. If someone disagrees with the learning point presented and challenges you, throw it back to the rest of the group so a peer can try to persuade or convince instead of you.

If asking a lot of questions of your participants seems daunting to you, start out slow. Prepare a few questions for each section of your next training meeting. Ask them with a lot of energy and reward answers with enthusiasm. Before long, asking questions will become part of your training style.

IN SUMMARY... Asking questions to enhance learning requires:

Let a question hang in the air, or repeat it and patiently wait for an answer.
Trust that your participants want to learn and participate, and they will.

When participants gain understanding, move on.
Balance discussion and redirect questions and probes.

If participants have grasped the material, be perpared to go beyond what your notes say.
If a participant challenges you, throw the question to the group to give you time to think on your feet

You know the look. Arms crossed. Slouched in their seat. Maybe even a furrowed brow. And you wonder is she going to be a silent resister? Or will she pounce at the first thing with which she disagrees? Will he shift and harrumph when his opinion differs from yours? Or, is he going to freely share his negative opinions with others in his group? Will they try to discredit you by respectfully challenging you?

Resistant learners can cause havoc in your training meeting in a variety of ways. Some may silently undermine your training with their body language and gestures. Others may share their negativity covertly, during small group discussions or breaks. Some may verbally challenge every point you make, or try to draw you into an emotional or heated exchange. All can disrupt your training by creating tension and negativity. Here are some ideas for dealing with resistant learners.

#1 - Create buy-in.

Resistant learners can often be pulled into the training if you can engage them and help them understand how they will benefit. Most adult learners walk into a training session wondering what's in it for them. If you answer that question at the beginning of the training, their resistance will start to dissipate and they will become more open to learning.

Better yet, let your participants determine how they will benefit from the training. Help them answer the question of how they will benefit from the training. Set up the problem or situation and use a Q A format, small group discussion, or activities to lead them to the appropriate conclusion. For example, post several flip charts with headings pertinent to your business units (Company, Customer, Employees, Managers, etc.) and give them a few minutes to think about how each area will benefit from the training outcomes. It's not enough for you to outline the benefits. Their buy-in will be stronger if they determine the benefits instead of you.

#2 - Confront the problem.
If you know in the first five minutes that your audience is going to be a tough one, confront the problem head on. Say something like, "I know we have a lot of experience in this room. And I can tell a few of you think perhaps you don't need to be here or that maybe there are more important things you could be doing right now, so this is what we¹re going to do..." Then creatively deal with their resistance.

For example, flip chart all the reasons why they think they don't need the training. Next, post a flip chart with the problems or training needs, as you know them and a third flip chart with the heading "Benefits." Facilitate discussion around both lists taking care to ensure that your participants come up with the benefits of the training: benefits to them, to the customer, and to the company. Again, creating buy-in is important; but combining a discussion about benefits with the training problem and why they don't think they need the training will help you win over a difficult group. Your honesty will likely affirm how they¹re feeling and help you get past their resistance.

Another idea is to give each participant a blank piece of paper and a minute to jot down all obstacles in the way of their learning. After they¹ve finished tell them to fold it and put it in a pocket out of sight and out of mind for the rest of the training (or crumple and toss it in a wastebasket). The idea is for them to have a clear and open mind. And, tell them that¹s the goal. Again, confronting them with your knowledge of their resistance affirms them and may make it easier to overcome it.

#3 - Create the ground rules.
If you are concerned that their initial resistance will impede participation or that a few participants' negativity may adversely affect the entire group, facilitate a discussion around the ground rules for the meeting. Again, address your concerns head on.

For example, ask for a show of hands and say something like, "How many of you believe you have an open mind about today¹s training?" "How many of you believe you don't really need to be here?" Then, talk about the outcomes and explain that before you proceed, you'll make them two promises ­ 1) that they will leave with at least one thing of value and 2) that they¹ll have fun.

But, explain that they have a responsibility as well. Then, flip chart answers to a question like, "What do you need to do to ensure a positive and fun learning experience?" Their answers become the ground rules for the training and the exercise should outline their responsibility for learning as well as alleviate some resistance.

What about that one person you just can't bring around? Or the participant who continuously challenges you? Here are a few ideas for handling these other types of disruptions.

#1 - Talk one-on-one.
If you have a participant who continues to cause problems in the workshop, try

talking with him one on one during a break. See if you can elicit other underlying issues that may be causing problems. If you can't bring him around, you can outline your expectations for his behaviors, including that he shows respect to you and the others who are trying to learn. Focus on his behaviors and how they are disruptive. Ask him if he understands why his behaviors are a problem. As a last resort, you may have to ask him to leave.

If your training meeting is a short one and doesn't include a break, you won't have the opportunity to talk one-on-one. However, if the resistant learner is someone who attends your workshops regularly, you may want to talk with him to prevent problems in future meetings.

#2 - Throw the challenges back to the group.
If a participant continues to challenge you and it is detracting from the learning process, consider throwing the comment, question, or issue back to the group. Say something like, "Do any of you have any thoughts on this?" Or, "What do the rest of you think about that?"

It's better to let peers point out why the participant is off base instead of you. While this is an effective way for controlling a verbally disruptive participant, it can also backfire if the group is not on your side. You may find that there are others who think the same way and an emotional exchange may ensue. If that happens, consider calling a quick break to give you a few minutes to prepare. Then, try to turn the dialogue into a healthy debate. In the end, you'll likely find that learning was enhanced by the discussion.

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