Although making mistakes when delivering training can be discouraging or even embarrassing, mistakes can offer an opportunity for improving future training. One writer refers to the contemplation of mistakes made after a project comically as a project post-mortem (Greer, 2010). In Michael Greer’s book, The Project Management Minimalist: Just Enough PM to Rock Your Projects (2010), the author describes the need for project managers and team members to take a stock of the mistakes and lessons to be learned at the end of a project. He offers some reflective questions you can use to examine where a project went wrong and how it can be improved in the future.
On one occasion, I was presenting as a Subject Matter Expert on the topic of vocational rehabilitation counselors using client transferable skills to help their clients with identifying potential career changes. I agreed to deliver this training at a professional conference in two sessions, one morning and one afternoon. The morning training went smoothly. In considering some of Michael Greer’s project post-mortem questions, we were proud of the training. As a team, we communicated clearly, our transitions between presenters went smoothly, our technology worked, our media was well-received, we had a good participate engagement, and, as a bonus, our participants were entertained. We used the fictional character Hannibal Lecter (Orion Picture, 1990), AKA, “Hannibal the Cannibal,” as an example of a client who was unable to work in their previous occupation as a medical doctor due to their disabilities. We discussed strategies and practices Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors could use to help Dr. Lecter use his skills as a medical doctor to transition to the field of culinary arts. At the conclusion of the training, we as the presenters ended the session by putting on the iconic face mask that Hannibal wears and then making the slurping noise he makes in Silence of Lambs when describing how he ate a someone’s liver, “with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” It was a little edgy and irreverent for a professional conference, but it worked…at least it did during the first session.
The same training during the afternoon session, right after lunch, had a very different response. Afternoon sessions are usually a little more difficult because participants are more tired and distracted, especially after a big meal. Our communication wasn’t as smooth, many of the jokes fell flat eliciting some awkward laughter, and one of our presenters went rogue, going off on a tangent about castrating cows. This further distracted our audience, making it difficult to get the training back on track.
In hindsight, there may not have been much we could do, other than practice more. After all, I and the other three presenters were not professional trainers or instructional designers at the time. We were subject matter experts talking about a specific topic in our field that we knew a lot about. The content we selected may have been on the edge of professionalism, making effective delivery of the content so much more critical than if we had selected a little more subtle example of a fictional case study. With more practice, we probably could have perfected our delivery of the training and kept Dr. Lecter as the case study, but we would have had a little more experience with where to ride the line between professional and unprofessional. Having a project manager for this small training would have helped with defining the boundaries for what stories were shared to prevent one of the presenters from going rogue again. Also, rehearsal and doing a post-mortem after the second training session would have been helpful if we were going to deliver the training again. Had we been presenting this training again, we would have accessed the first and second session’s feedback in order to pinpoint what worked and what didn’t work.
Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Walden University, LLC. (Download and save this e-book.)
Orion Pictures Corp. (1990). The silence of the lambs. United States.