The art of coping in the moment

By: Alison Coleman, 19 June 2024 Categories: Learning, development & personal growth

In the fast-paced world of workshops and training sessions, planning is crucial, but sometimes, circumstances force us to deviate from our meticulously crafted agendas. Thinking sharp, coping in the moment and managing unforeseen challenges is a vital skill for any facilitator. This blog will explore how to handle the unexpected and how we try to convert those unplanned moments into success.

When things don’t go to plan

We live by our plans at The Juniper Co. but no matter how well you prepare, there will be times when you're thrust into situations where you can't rely on your plans. This could be due to unexpected technical issues, a sudden change in participant needs, or any number of unforeseen disruptions. Here are some of the strategies that help us to manage these moments effectively:

  • Stay calm and collected: our composure sets the tone for the group. If we remain calm, participants are more likely to stay engaged and relaxed.
  • Read the room: we pay close attention to participants’ body language and energy levels. Are they bored, confused, or disengaged? We can then adjust our approach based on these cues.
  • Think on your feet: we are always ready to adapt our content or delivery method. This might mean incorporating a spontaneous exercise to re-energize the group or shifting focus to allow a few minutes on a topic that seems relevant at that moment.
  • Engage the group: if we sense a lull, we might introduce an interactive activity. A quick, relevant exercise can re-focus attention and renew interest. For example, a brief group discussion or a hands-on task related to the content can make a significant difference.

The difference between training and facilitation

Understanding the distinction between training and facilitation is key to managing dynamic learning environments effectively.

Training: training typically focuses on delivering specific knowledge or skills. This often means being more directive, involving structured content delivery and clear objectives.

Facilitation: facilitation, on the other hand, focuses on guiding the learning process, creating an environment where participants can discover and apply knowledge themselves. It is more about managing interactions and fostering a collaborative learning experience.

Engaging the cohort during workshops

We find keeping participants engaged requires flexibility and attentiveness. Here are some of our favourite tips for maintaining engagement and handling challenges as they arise:

  • Be adaptive: we are not afraid to deviate slightly from our planned content if a group’s needs dictate it. This doesn’t mean going off on a tangent, but rather, being responsive to the situation and people’s interests.
  • Interactive elements: we try to incorporate plenty of interactive elements such as group discussions and Q&A sessions. It is important to get the balance right. However, these kinds of hands-on activities can help those who learn by doing and keep energy levels high.
  • Mini exercises: if we notice attention waning, we might introduce a mini exercise to bring participants back into focus. This could be as simple as a quick brainstorming session or a brief collaborative task.
  • Balance practice and content: we aim for a balance between theory and practice. We think that ideally, workshops should have a 50/50 split between content delivery and practical application. This not only reinforces learning but also keeps participants actively engaged.

Adapting in the moment

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we will need to adapt on the fly. This might mean:

  • Modifying activities: if an activity isn’t quite working for the group, we are prepared to switch it up or move on.
  • Changing the pace: we are ready to speed up or slow down our delivery based on the group’s feedback and energy.
  • Encouraging participation: we try to draw in quieter participants with targeted questions, or by introducing a small group or paired activity to give them space to interact.

Knowledge transfer beyond the learning environment

Effective learning doesn’t have to be confined to the workshop itself. We encourage participants to take responsibility for their own learning by:

  • Pre-workshop preparation: we usually assign pre-workshop reading or tasks to get participants thinking about the topic in advance.
  • Post-workshop practice: we often provide exercises or workplace application opportunities that participants can work on after the session to reinforce what they've learned. By emphasising that learning is an ongoing process, we can empower participants to take control of their educational journey.

Coping in the moment and managing the unexpected is a crucial skill for anyone leading workshops or training sessions. By staying adaptable, engaging participants, and understanding the distinct roles of a trainer and a facilitator, we can ensure a productive and dynamic learning environment. Effective knowledge transfer often extends beyond the confines of the workshop, relying on the individual’s commitment to their own learning. We need to embrace the unpredictable, read the room, and be ready to adapt—our participants will thank us for it.