As a trainer, you do your best to stay on top of technical issues, software updates and the latest beta versions of things to come. You research, study, and prepare. You’ve taught this class before and you know the material inside and out. The students arrive and you begin. It’s halfway through the morning and you’re on a roll. You begin to discuss something rather complex, pause for a moment, and then—blank. Nothing. Nada. El Zippo. The Thought Police just executed a search and seizure on your brain. So what do you do, hot shot? What do you do?
The way you handle this situation may communicate exactly the wrong message at a critical time. Because this kind of thing happens to every trainer at some point, how you handle it could also make a good impression on your students. So here are a few suggestions on how to react when your mind goes blank in the middle of training—and it will.
Stay focused. You need to maintain focus on the material throughout your recovery and look for signs indicating that your students are still with you. After recovering your train of thought, it may take more time than you anticipate to bring everyone, including yourself, back up to speed.
Pretend you “meant to do that.” Stop where you were, then start yet another example. This approach works under certain conditions. Suppose you’re teaching database report design. You might be able to start again using a different example. Depending on how immersed in your topic you were when you went blank, you may wish to provide yet another example. This diversion conveys the effect that you wish to cover this topic thoroughly.
Ask the group a question. Question your students on how to proceed. If they think you stopped intentionally, use that to your advantage. Ask them what they would do next. Better yet, ask them to repeat your comments. This method allows you time to recall your topic.
Use humor and honesty. Whistle the theme from “The Twilight Zone.” Tell your audience that your train of thought skipped the tracks. Depending on the course difficulty level, this may be your best approach. Just remind yourself that you already know the material and they’re being exposed to the course for the first time. The more difficult the subject matter, the more likely your students are to understand. Advanced users realize lapses happen and have probably suffered from their own in the past. This also provides a temporary break in a possibly otherwise very long class.
Take a break. Depending on your particular daily schedule, you may want to give your audience a small break. Go ahead and say something like, “Apparently, my brain needs more caffeine and sugar.” After all, if you lose your train of thought because you’ve been teaching intensely, chances are your students could use the break too.
Of course, you can institute your own tricks for regaining focus. Whatever the method, always remember the students’ impression of the class is paramount. They will discuss their experience with others, and it’s up to you to do your best to insure positive reviews—even if you have to reboot your brain.
Schoun Regan is the director of training at the Mac Group, a research and development, consulting, and training firm. Follow this link to write to Schoun and share your most memorable training experience.