Any number of things might go wrong in the course of a training event. One of the most demanding tasks for a facilitator is to know how best to handle the situation when the event is not going according to plan. There are two issues to discuss here:

a. The very thought that things might go wrong will make some facilitators very anxious;

b. Facilitators should consider what contingencies can be prepared in advance of the training session.

1. Dealing with Anxieties

There are two useful ways of dealing with pre-workshop anxieties (and we all have them!):

• Analyse your anxieties and think about how to deal with them: make a note of the worst things that you think might happen during the workshop. Then, for each item on the list, note down two ways in which you could deal with that situation. This should make you feel more confident.

• Accept that you won’t be able to cope with everything perfectly. You don’t have to be perfect. If you feel stressed by the thought of potential crises, or by real training problems, the concept of a “good enough” trainer may be helpful. You are developing your training skills and knowledge every time you facilitate a training session. If the participants seem to be learning something, you are probably doing fine! After the training event (as soon as possible), make a note of the things that you did not do so well, and consider how you might handle them differently if they arise again. This exercise will contribute to your own learning process.

2. Preparing for Contingencies

The following list of tips is taken from Toolkit for Trainers by Tim Pickles (see Annotated Reading List) and may be helpful.

One of the easiest ways of dealing with contingencies in training workshops is to apply the notion that, if what you are now doing is not working, try doing the opposite. For example:

• If a plenary session is not working, break into smaller groups;

• If a practical exercise is not working, change it to a demonstration;

• If a thinking session is not working, move on to a practical activity;

• If a facilitator’s example is not appropriate, seek out a participant’s example.

Another way of planning contingencies is to develop a series of simple exercises or activities that can be relied upon to assist in resolving the most common problems encountered in any group. These can be used as necessary when the problem arises. For example:

• If participants are becoming disengaged from the content, divide them into smaller groups and ask them to apply the material to situations from their own experience;

• If you are unsure what to do next, announce a short break (for refreshments, if there are any) to give yourself more time to think;

• If there seems to be resistance, call for a round where participants express how they are feeling (for a description of this method, see section under Quick

Review Methods in Topic 5);

• If the present session is not working, move to the next part of the programme early;

• If you are running out of material, end the session early rather than create fillers;

• If the group is becoming fragmented, bring participants back together and ask them to work on clarifying the purpose of their work together.

Many of these common contingencies rely upon the use of opposites. They also generate the space for the facilitator to reassert a measure of control or for the participants to express their own difficulties in a legitimate way within a group.