Last weekend I took my kindergarten daughter, Zoe, over to play at her friend Ada’s house. They painted, played, dressed up, danced, snacked, pretended, and did a variety of other little girl things for about three hours. Since all the parents were enjoying the adult companionship, we didn’t keep a close eye on the time. Suddenly, the girls devolved into painting hair, squishing grapes, jumping on furniture, screaming, crying, tearing off dresses, and other typical tantrum behavior. Although in corporate classrooms the tantrums may look a little different, a tantrum is a tantrum and should be avoided at all costs. Here are some lessons that I learned from Zoe and Ada:
Lesson 1: There’s such a thing as too much fun. Painting and playing and snacking and dancing are all great fun. Three hours of any combination of those without a break is too much fun. It’s the same for corporate training. Fun, interactive tasks and activities increase engagement. They are also exhausting and overstimulating. Don’t pack a bunch into your training day. Use them sparingly so they have a greater impact. Plan debriefs and breaks between them to allow your participants to rest. Be flexible in your plans so you can change things up if you’re noticing your participants are getting weary, which leads me to …
Lesson 2: Read the room. We parents were lulled into submission by the rarity of two content kids and the joy of adult conversation. There were signs that things were about to implode but we weren’t paying attention. Pay attention to your participants. Heed the signs that they’re getting tired, aren’t engaging with the content, don’t get what you’re saying, or just aren’t feeling it. Give them a break, end for the day, switch up activities, or do something to shake things up, like a quick check your knowledge with candy rewards. Just make sure you’re aware of what’s happening so that you can take action BEFORE the tantrum starts.
Lesson 3: Know the tipping point. Zoe’s tipping point between angel and demon is a half hour before bedtime. Our best bet is to end all activity an hour before bedtime so that we can get home and settle before she falls apart. Your participants have a tipping point, too. Some are obvious: before lunch and at the end of the day. Plan your training to accommodate lower or distracted energy during these times. In a corporate environment, you might find people more distracted and talkative first thing in the morning and after lunch. Plan for activities that match that energy.
Lesson 4: There’s hope in the midst of a tantrum. Zoe has a tantrum because some problem feels too big to handle, and throwing herself on the floor feels like the best solution. I intercede by helping her solve whatever the problem is. Sometimes the only solution is to pick up my little angel off the floor, put her in the car, and take her home to bed. Fortunately, corporate training participant tantrums don’t require a lot of picking up participants off the floor. Usually these tantrums manifest as a twitchy, restless, clock-watching lack of participation. And just like with a kindergartner, you need to stop whatever you’re doing and address the issue. Are they tired? Give them a break. Are they hungry? Give them a snack, or break for lunch. Are they angry, confused, or disappointed? Help them understand. Give them what they need, and then get the class back on track. And keep a better eye on things so they don’t devolve into tantrums again!
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