Mindfulness and Training: Take a Breath
By Andrew Mullaney, Curriculum Developer/Trainer, City University of New York School of Professional Studies
It’s happened many times before. We are cruising along in a training session, delivering content at a good pace, covering what we believe are all of the important points necessary for our participants. Then the training ends and the evaluation results come in. They are less than stellar. We become deflated by these underachieving evaluation results. Our professional internal discussion then becomes something along the lines of: “I thought they were getting it. I thought we were all on the same page.” Or “Next time, I’ll make sure they get it.”
So how does the professional trainer bolster transfer of learning during a training session? How do we make sure “they get it”? From a training delivery standpoint, one way is to apply the age-old technique of mindfulness during a training session.
A goal of the ancient technique of Vipassana meditation, mindfulness is developed during practice by focusing on one’s breath. By slowing down and focusing specifically on the breath, the mind is quieted, and self-observation is deepened. As a result, a person gains a deeper awareness of the reality of things as they truly are, becoming a mindful observer to his or her own thoughts and actions as they occur.
How does this new age practice (or not so new age practice anymore) of mindfulness relate to transfer of learning? Well, when an instructor slows down during delivery and observes the current moment, it brings the proceedings into focus, allowing the instructor to better gauge his or her effectiveness. By keeping an eye mindfully on the current proceedings, we can evaluate whether or not participants understand what is being presented to them at that moment. This calm assessment of things unfolding allows us to assess the current course of delivery, and alter course if need be. This is especially beneficial to those of us tasked with delivering the same training sessions multiple times to multiple audiences.
How to Cultivate Mindfulness as Trainers
A daily meditation practice is a good way to start. But for those of us with not much time for quiet sitting, here are three mindfulness strategies that can easily be deployed during delivery:
- Stop and breathe: This is the basic tenet for developing mindfulness and one you probably will need to practice before it becomes second nature. At some point during the training, stop and take a few breaths in and out. Don’t try to control your breath, just be aware of your breathing process. Once you have the inward focus sharpened, turn that focus outward to the surroundings to observe the moment.
- Scan the audience (for those doing Webinars, stop and listen): Once your attention is turned outward, look physically at the group you are addressing. Don’t be afraid to look into their eyes. It may uncover moments of uncertainty and hesitancy on the part of the trainees. It’s important to note that too much eye contact may make certain individuals uncomfortable, so try to avoid staring. Simply scan the group and observe their reactions at certain points during the proceedings.
- Focus on the need to know: During delivery, make a mental note to focus on the most important factors of the content. Keep a mindful eye on the nice to know vs. the need to know elements within the presentation. Often as trainers, we attempt to cover all of the content in front of us. Reflect on what it is you think your learners need to know, and keep the lesser details in the background.
When it comes to transfer of learning, most professional trainers rely on the world of evaluations to distinguish results, but there is a way to bolster transfer of learning for participants during training. The key here is cultivating mindfulness in our routine. Approaching any task mindfully takes practice, but developing professional awareness with work-related matters is especially difficult. In the training room, a mindful approach can accomplish a lot. When we slow down and observe the current moment, it brings the proceedings much more into focus, allowing us a window in which to view our own effectiveness. Our participants will benefit by our increased focus and increased attention to their needs. So next time, pause, breathe, and look around. You’ll be thankful you did.
Andrew Mullaney is a curriculum developer and trainer at the City University of New York School of Professional Studies.