My Stories with Difficult Participants

Sensing and Preventing Trouble

As I entered the training room, and before starting the training session, I noticed that one of the participants who was seated third on my right side was speaking a bit heatedly with the colleagues sitting next to him. It seemed he was dissatisfied, perhaps about work, and I sensed he would be a troublemaker and could disrupt the training session when it starts.

Right before the training session started, and before even introducing myself or anything, I slowly stepped forward towards that slightly agitated participant who seemed like one waiting for an opportunity to pour out his anger and agitation in the form of negative words or actions. Once I reached him I stopped. I then looked to him with a smile and extended my hand towards him for a handshake while greeting him. He was taken by my unexpected behavior and suddenly smiled back and shook my hand while returning my greeting. He was surprised and flattered that I went to him in particular to greet and shake hands with him while skipping his other colleagues.

His state was instantly transformed.  He became calm and pleasant. He simply got all the attention he craved not only from me, the trainer, but also from his colleagues who witnessed the trainer shaking hands with him and greeting him exclusively even before the training started. That participant gave me no trouble at all throughout the training program. It was a simple preventative approach that helped keep the training session running smoothly and protected it from disruption from attention-seeking participants. That training program was for a group of employees of a corporate client.

I Asked Him to Leave the Room

I remember another story of another participant who was also calling for trouble from the time he entered the training room. It was during my early days in my training career. He came a bit late for the first training day. He missed the initial part where I had set the tone for the training and started to build a warm and informal relationship with participants. He acted in the peculiar way of a difficult student totally closing his ears to what the trainer is saying and pretending not to comprehend instructions given by the trainer. I kept using a flexible approach with him during the training days. It was a computer programming course I was delivering and participants were fresh university graduates.

One day despite my clear instructions not to do so, I found him indulging in playing a computer game at the back of the training room while the rest of his colleagues were focused on the training. I asked him quietly to leave the room. He was astonished as this contrasted sharply with my previous lenient behavior. He resisted at first, but then I calmly asked him if he had resigned from his job to attend this lengthy training program and he said yes. I told him that he is now neither working nor benefiting from the training so there is no reason for him to remain in class. He left the class embarrassed. I had kept my words to him private.

During the remaining days of the training program his behavior was transformed 180 degrees. He came on time, was not late after breaks and was well behaved throughout the training session. It is a rare thing that I would ask a participant to leave, but it might be necessary to take such an extreme measure if the situation calls for it.

Conclusion

A competent trainer must have a variety of methods to help him handle difficult participants preventing their negative behavior before it happens or dealing with it effectively if ever it takes place.

In what other ways can a trainer handle difficult participants?

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Learning from my Mistakes as a Trainer

My First PowerPoint Presentation

I was not yet used to using PowerPoint presentations in my training, in fact it was my first time to create a PowerPoint presentation for a training session and use it during the session. I was volunteering to deliver such a session at some local place in my hometown. At first I was not planning to use a PowerPoint presentation for the session but the team organizing the training requested that I use one. I huddled and assembled a group of slides in which I kept listing points in bullet form in one slide after the other.

Saving the Day

During the training itself, I experimented by using the think and listen technique. It was my first time to use it after reading about it online. I had not even experienced it in any training I had attended before. Although the elements of interactivity I have used combined with my confidence in speaking to an audience helped save the day for that training session, which I was delivering for the first time, yet the dry sequence of bulleted slides I had been using was poor enough to reduce the overall quality of the training. The PowerPoint slides I had prepared contained no images, graphs or photos at all! My slides consisted of nothing but bare text in bullet form.

Poor Evaluation

The average evaluation of the training session as per the training evaluation forms for the trainer performance section was “good”. Compared to other trainers who had been getting “excellent” for their performance at that place my performance was considered pretty modest.

Feedback from Organizers

I remember those organizing the training politely suggesting to me, after the training session was over, that I add some images to the PowerPoint presentation to give it some visual appeal. They noted, however, that participants were “happy,” which seemed to surprise the organizers in light of my bland PowerPoint presentation.

Photo Slides

This experience I had gone through preparing and using my first PowerPoint presentation during a training session was enlightening and resulted in a powerful transformation of my skills later on. As I prepared PowerPoint presentations after that incident I started including some photos to provide visual appeal. This kept developing till my PowerPoint presentations were largely nothing but a sequence of full size photo slides with a few captions and minimal bulleted text which I found to be way more effective than cramming lots of text in bulleted form into the heads of participants.

Learning from Mistakes

Without having gone through the difficult and stressful experience of presenting my first bare PowerPoint presentation I would probably not have learned in such a powerful way the importance of using images and visual appeal in a PowerPoint presentation and would not have had the strong energy propelling me towards creating highly visual PowerPoint presentations later on.

Lessons Learned

Although a trainer should prepare well for the training program he is about to deliver and should practice before actually delivering it to participants yet poor performance and mistakes a trainer makes during the training itself can be a powerful way by which he learns and transforms his skills from a mediocre state to an exceptionally effective one.

So next time you make an embarrassing mistake while delivering a training program do not dwell on it, just use such force to fuel your efforts in developing your skills further in order to avoid such an embarrassing mistake or such poor performance from taking place once again. You will be surprised at the great positive transformation that can result in yourself after going through such an initially stressful situation.

Is there a difficult or embarrassing situation that you have been through which has helped transform the way you see things and has resulted in a positive transformation in your skills? Share your it with us.