When You Make a Mistake

Some time ago, I read an amusing article from a travel magazine on “What To Do When You Have a Car Accident in Italy.” Not if, but when — the author guaranteed it would happen.

I can similarly guarantee you will make a mistake when leading a training class. Believe me, I know this from bitter experience. I’ve misspoken, I’ve pulled down the wrong menu, I’ve used the wrong sample file, I’ve missed a key step in the exercise, and I’ve written some amazingly bad code in front of the class.

When these things happen, here’s what I recommend you do:

1. Stop. Take a moment to assess the situation. Training isn’t radio or television: a moment of “dead air” isn’t the end of the world. The silence may feel a little uncomfortable, but your class probably already knows something is wrong.

2. Apologize. In some ways, it’s not really necessary to apologize for being human, but we want the class to know that you know something is wrong. I usually say something like “Arggh! I’m sorry, I really made hash of this example. Let me try that again.”

3. Back up and start over. See what I did in the last paragraph? I essentially invited the class to unlearn my incorrect work, thereby letting them learn the correct procedure. “Pull down this menu, and use this command…”

4. Let it go and move on. That wasn’t your first mistake, it won’t be your last mistake, you’re a good instructor, your mother still loves you. Your students aren’t looking for perfection from you; they’re looking for solutions to business or technical problems. It may have taken two tries, but you gave them what they needed. You succeeded.

In future blog posts, I’ll give you examples of how to do it and how not to do it, both example from real life. Don’t worry, I won’t name names.

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One thought on “When You Make a Mistake

  1. Pingback: Fox Valley Computing | How Not To Do It

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