Scary learning and development situations, like monsters under our bed, simply don’t exist, right? I mean, compared to other professions, (law enforcement, snake wrangler, dinner buffet worker, etc.) we rarely find ourselves enveloped in fear or exposed to real danger. But when we do, we prefer to make the experiences memorable. Here are some fearful situations* experienced by this learning and development professional, in no particular order.
His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti
~Marshall Mathers III
The big bad wolf of delivering training is the fear of public speaking. People struggle to believe how nervous we may get before doing a presentation or speech. Will they laugh at my jokes? Will I freeze or get tongue-tied? Will I bore them? Be it a crowd of fifty or five hundred, feelings of dread or angst can overcome even the most experienced speaker. So it’s especially irritating when those unlikely fears come true.
After delivering a presentation to a group of C-Level executives, upper management and key stakeholders at a corporate retreat, I sat down at my table to enjoy the bland chicken and soft vegetables. Some thirty or so minutes later, I was asked from the front of the room to extemporaneously address the group once more. Huh? What?
I don’t even remember what they asked me to say. All I know is years of practice and improv decided to sit this one out. So I push back from the table, pretty sure I’ve got strings of green produce stuck in my teeth and absolutely sure my stomach is losing a deathmatch to the dairy sauce drowning the chicken, take a sip of water and eloquently blurt out: “Um, yeah, err, blurp.”
A few, seemingly endless, moments later, I go on autopilot and cobble together several intelligible sentences in a row. They clap and I return to my seat, covered in sweat. To this day I hope it was something reasonably close to what they wanted to hear. For all I remember, I could have recited the ceramic elephant scene from “Breakfast Cub.”
Is everybody having a good time?
The fear of silence can be downright scary. Especially when we expect a response. While emceeing an event to honor high school students, a throwaway line during the ceremony caused a moment of awkwardness. The room held about 300 students and educators. About halfway through, one high school stood out with its “Titanic at the Oscars” impression. They were lapping the field with awards. This, of course, was noticed by the other teenagers in the room, all of whom left band practice, Spanish club or some other fun thing to do, to attend. So after yet another award to school “Micheal Jackson at the 1984 Grammys,” I step to the mike and ignorantly said: “Is everybody having a good time?” Crickets. No, what’s quieter than crickets? That. Several moments of that. Then a single table pierced the silence and amped the awkwardness as they all yelled back in unison.
Followed by several more tables of “Not really.” And groans. And finally, one table goes: “Well, yeah!”
Fear of failure stifles many organizations and Learning and Development teams are not immune. When something goes wrong, training is often called into question. Public relation mishaps are often followed by hastily written statements that proclaim “We’ve identified the underlying issue and will provide more training in the future to make sure it doesn’t happen again.” That’s where we come in. From both upper management and potential attendees, new course design and implementation may have tremendous pressure to succeed.
One of my earliest training sessions was for call center sales managers struggling with team revenue performance. I was tasked with improving their performance by showing them ways to motivate their teams and implement stronger accountability. We needed to see marked improvement by the end of the quarter. The agenda included group role plays, case studies, and some video. Simple, right? Not if the video was Glengarry Glen Ross.
After my counseling session with HR that explained language used in that movie is not allowed in the workplace (Although any management meeting back then was sure to include a few profanities, I digress), I realized the horror of my design.
What are some scary L & D situations you’ve experienced? What other phobias pop up from time to time? Leave a comment below and you’ll be entered in my monthly raffle.
*None of the situations described in this post were seriously traumatic. Phobias are real and can be crippling. Consider speaking to a professional in overcoming anxiety if you want help.