Training for Emergency and Unlikely Situations

The 404 error
Expect the unexpected

It seems like a dire subject when we think about training for emergency or abnormal situations, but not all training can ever be planned & delivered for completely predictable or ‘safe’ environments or scenarios.

So before we dive into this topic further how can we define ‘safe’?

Safe can have many definitions depending on the industry or the subject that is being instructed upon, but let’s for the sake of the article settle on ‘safe’ being;

“A secure environment where activities can be conducted without risk of disruption & where people have no exposure to any threatening hazards of any sort.”

Let’s just work with it for now!

So . . . When we use a definition such as this, abnormal can technically be anything that falls outside of the above definition and emergencies can not only be disruptive to operations, but also hazardous to the people and material conducting activities.

Training can be Disruptive
Training can be a costly and disruptive process

One thing to think about at this point is that abnormal or emergency situations can typically be regarded as rare. And when we think about rare circumstances our natural tendency is to want to ignore them.

As an example, motorcyclists are encouraged to practice emergency braking techniques often in controlled environments, but how many actually practice? Emergencies likely won’t happen to us, so why bother to keep the skill up to date?

You can see where this is heading, but one point to remember and really take note of is that training is expensive, both as a client, and also as an instructor. So knowing that an abnormal or emergency situation is not just possible but potentially probable and that preparation can be expensive, we are left with two options that we can examine.

  1. Training can be expensive so if a situation is not likely to happen then is it worth covering?
  2. The possibility is known, but we choose not to prepare for it.

One point to make clear now is that abnormal situations vary on an absolute scale between industries and sectors down to certain individuals, but the local scales of the impacts can be large regardless, whether it be a disruption to service or operations leading to some down time through to a situation that can impact on thousands for an extended period.

New York City Blackout, 1977
Some failures will have bigger impacts than others


So what is the cost of training & what is the cost of failure?

This is now venturing into risk management, but training carries two costs. Firstly as a client it is going to cost the upfront value of the training, and also the time that it is going to take to become competent in a skill.

Let’s set time at $100 per hour (Cheap in some circles) and say that a course is going to take 40 hours to complete. As a client you would expect the course to be set at No Less than $4,000 excluding other consumables, and that it will take a week to complete.

If you’re an employer, not only are you going to be staring at $4,000 per trainee, but you’re also going to face 40 hours of disruption while the trainee goes through training and those roles and responsibilities need to be distributed elsewhere.

Naturally if something is unlikely and this can save 10 hours of training then this becomes a corner everyone wants to cut. It gets trainees back into work, clients trained sooner, and costs are reduced.

So this corner cutting can save 10 hours & $1,000 dollars per trainee, but what happens when the training required to handle failure is not delivered?

If an organisation has 20 employees and a manageable failure occurs which disrupts everyone for 2 hours, then the cost of this failure is $4,000 (personnel costs only).

If training could have reduced the impact from 2 hours of downtime to 1 hour, then the extra disruptive training pays for itself after the first failure, and our costs (Theoretically) balance. Each failure in future which becomes better handled actually saves an organisation money. But . . . This is actually not the complete point here. Read on!

So is it about prevention & Risk Management?

Rarely used skills need to be kept up to date for when they may be needed.
Emergency Braking is a skill that must be kept up to date.

Training for abnormal or emergency situations is much less to do with risk management but most importantly more to do with being able to respond and react to the abnormal situation itself—and preventing additional failure once an event has occurred. 

Unlikely situations can be taught, but are seldom remembered when required. How can proper preparation be achieved?

We make the emergency more likely!

The use of exercise or simulator based scenario training is exactly how we prepare for unlikely and emergency situations. Setting up specific training scenarios (where required) is how we create proficiency and skill in people who have to deal with unlikely and emergency scenarios.

Rehearsing specific scenarios is exactly what makes regular people extraordinary in emergency or crisis situations, and this can only be achieved through scenario specific training with repetition.

Soldiers are regular people who have been trained to do extraordinary things.
Training makes regular people extraordinary.

Carefully setting the outcome, creating the situation, and then let the scenario play out. As an instructor in these training situations it can be important not to get involved and simply take notes on what takes place for feedback later. The timely & accurate feedback is what will make your clients and an organisation better where required.

As mentioned training is expensive—particularly on organisations. Staff are out of place, roles & responsibilities need to be distributed to maintain output, and there is also the financial cost. Clients will pay both in dollars and hours, but this final question is not only directed towards employers;

What is the cost of failure?

And to educators running lessons and courses, if you know there is an abnormal situation; What is the cost of ignoring these lessons?

Theory or Revision – When do people learn?

People are not equal! It may seem incorrect to say but we’re not. Adding to that all clients are also … not equal! Clients learn in different ways, and also have different motivations which have drastic impacts on their individual outcomes.

However in this case—client equality and their motivations really don’t matter, because in this post we’re really looking at when most learning occurs, not how!

If you’re looking at instructing as part of your business or start-up, being an effective instructor is a must. No entrepreneur or start-up business owner wants to instruct a lesson or hold a course where the clients come away with very little knowledge at the end.

Not only do you want to deliver an excellent teaching product, you want your clients to recommend you to others. Makes sense right?

So When do people learn?

So having pointed out the obvious, let’s go a little deeper, because one thing that we need to be aware of here is that teaching and learning are two very different things.

“Teaching” is done by an “Instructor”. “Learning” is done by the “Client!”

So as an Instructor how are you going to achieve the most potent learning experience for your client?

Is your client going to learn during the ‘teaching’ or are they going to learn later when they ‘revise’ previously delivered material? Wherever they will learn is going to dictate how you create your lesson or course!

Revision is Student Driven to re-enforce earlier learning

I’ll give you the answer at the end of this post and the truth is shocking!

On many courses that I have attended throughout my working life, I have been taught one subject, revised and then assessed the next day to prove competence. As an instructor you’re going to face the same challenge. You will need to teach and have a client either prove competence with little to no application or be able to apply those skills later.

Time is the biggest restriction you can have.

The situation reverses as a manager or an educator within an organization. You can spend far more time teaching and seemingly not see competence in the person being taught.

So … what is more effective? Teaching lessons? Revision lessons? When do clients finally learn?

Unfortunately the answer isn’t within either of the major lesson types above. Simply speaking teaching lessons have to be delivered so that new skills can be taught. Revision lessons are there to re-enforce prior learning.

Between the two however, revision is more often than not more effective at developing the skill level of a trainee or a client.

How much we remember

Why? Depending on how material is delivered the audience will forget up to 95% of taught content. (Makes you wonder how we learn anything) However revision lessons not only re-engage with the remembered material but also trigger the activation of ‘forgotten’ material from previously.

Especially if the revision is practical the information retention can be as high as 75% . . . a far cry from 5%.

So using the logic and the stats from above, revision lessons are the way to go! Absolutely however you cannot revise a subject that has not been taught!


Experience through application is where your client will learn the most.

So our answer now looks pretty clear. Quickly teach a subject with high audience engagement and get straight into revising the subject material. This is how we attain maximum learning . . . right?

The Shocking Truth.

When it comes to designing a course there really isn’t a specific formula that you can use to achieve a maximum outcome. All subjects are different and need a differing approach.

But the real shock here is that your audience will not learn the most from you during either teaching or revision. Your client will learn the most about a subject on their own long after the teaching has been done.

When a client enters or is forced to enter a period of application without support, they will learn the most at the fastest rate. It’s during the time of application that a client will learn >100% of what you would have been capable of teaching. They will learn things through experience that you may not have had as part of your training itself.

An unfortunate truth to being an instructor is that you cannot achieve proficiency in your client. You can only give the knowledge for a client to become competent in a skill but you cannot give them experience. Experience through application is where your client will learn the most. Our job as instructors is to prepare them to be independent.

How can you prepare your Presentation? – Part 3 – Scripting

Now in the final installment of this article we’re going to look at the most polarizing method to prepare any presentation, particularly for teaching. Scripting a training presentation.

And yes it is exactly what it sounds like. Writing a script—each and every word that you will deliver in a presentation or in this case your lesson.

There is an opportunity to script some training presentations

By this definition this is an ‘extreme’ form of presentation preparation.  It’s a method that demands that you either fully commit to being in (and you say everything you have written) or that you don’t write a single phrase and you choose to follow an organic or queued approach. No in between!

Under normal circumstances scripting is just one of those things you just . . . Don’t . . . do. And when I say that I mean—ever!  In all of the time that I have ever been delivering training, I have never used a script . . . not once!

Being an awesome instructor means knowing your stuff; so your knowledge simply makes scripting redundant. You simply don’t need one!

Besides, imagine having an audience and rather than communicating with them completely—instead you spend your time reading from a script, or spitting out a bunch of words that you hope to remember from earlier.

Chances are it’s not a pretty mental picture. If you have an audience a script is the worst thing you can bring to the lesson.

But . . . What if there was a reason to have one?

Scripting can create doubt with your audience.
Using a script in front of an audience can create doubt

It’s the 21st century, and teaching is not just something that happens face to face any longer. We are now in the digital age, and trainees, students and clients don’t . . . need to be in class at any specific time.

Teaching has changed – In fact a lesson can be delivered at one time, and received at another completely.

Scripts are useful—When it comes to recording your training. And they are useful for two key reasons. The first reason is all about this exact topic . . . preparation. Excessive preparation! The ‘scripting’ of each and every single word that you’re going to say, and there is benefit.

Particularly when recording, a script will provide the opportunity to seamlessly put together your lesson with everything you need to communicate without all of the nuances that we all have, that only come out when we speak naturally.

Secondly, scripting provides one massive final benefit when it comes to recording lessons. A script acts as version control when it comes time to update your lessons from one version to the next. The script is the written record, of what you have presented.

The script is easy to update and edit as required and when it comes to version control, a script is the most valuable method you can use to prepare any lesson you can deliver.

How can you prepare your Presentation? – Part 2 – Detours & Diversions

Previously we looked at presenting from experience, now we’re going to see how to make sure we can Control a training presentation from the planning stage.

But we can’t always just go from experience, or we can’t always have the audience drive the training during discovery. Sometimes when it comes to new teaching we need to bring something more than ourselves to the class.

Sometimes there are concepts that are too complex to simply ‘talk’ about, or explain through with the use of a metaphor.

These more complex ideas need more than words, and often require the use of pictures, or other graphics or some other form of training aid.

Now imagine that you have a detailed picture, simple graphics or some other appropriate representation of a concept. Is the representation enough to explain itself? More often that not, it won’t. If they did, an instructor wouldn’t be needed.

Enter . . . the Queue.

The incomplete prompting point which leads to further expansion.

These typically find the most use, when more than a few points need to be remembered  in careful sequential structure, or when lots of small points need to be raised. Each point is easy to discuss but queues are used to maintain structure and sequence during training rather than be useful in their own right. The major point to be careful off from experience is to make sure that each queue has a stop point.

Queue cards can keep you on track
Queue cards can help plan and keep you on track

What is a stop point? This is the final piece of information that ‘completes’ that queue, before you look to the next queue.

Why do we need the stop point? Sometimes a queue can not only remind of where you are, but can lead to a flowing avalanche of information. Without a stop point to remind yourself ‘where to stop’ you can accidentally achieve flow and derail your entire presentation by getting out of synchronisation with your training aids. I’ve had this happen and the results are spectacularly bad!

There are also times when your teaching subject is naturally going to raise a lot of questions from your audience.

Detours & Diversions; The forks in the road. 

Some subjects especially ‘conditional’ or ‘grey’ matter can cause your audience to spend more time thinking about asking branching questions or ‘detours’ rather than focus on the subject being taught.

These are exactly what they sound like; detours that naturally want to take training away from the pre-determined lesson plan.

Your lessons may run into upcoming detours

When you deliver ‘grey’ or ‘conditional’ matter organically with high audience engagement, then detours are relatively easy to handle. The audience can ask an expected question and you can answer it quickly or it can be postponed to another time when it will be covered in more depth.

Control a training presentation is what its all about.

However there are times when a question is so obvious that it has to be handled either before the audience has a chance to ask it and take up time with discussion or;

An answer needs to be on standby as you attempt to skirt around the question in the hope of saving your time for the training itself. Either way detours are questions that you will need to prepare for with some subject matter.

In the next and final installment we look at how to and when to use scripting for presentation preparation

How can you prepare your Presentation? – Part 1 – Queues & Prompts

More often than not there is more than one way to get something done. Preparing a training presentation is no different.

I start with the lesson plan so that I know what is going to be covered.  Then it’s time to think about the audience and where I’m going to give the training. Finally then I’ll be able to think about what I’m going to put in front of the people I’m teaching.

It’s a flow. A process! If one thing changes during planning then so does the final product, and training is a product.

One subject, can be delivered numerous different ways to achieve slightly different outcomes. Whether it be to teach for the first time, revise, or to discover amongst an audience who already have some form of subject awareness.

Go with the Flow

Now, there are going to be times when you’ll be able to deliver your training without any formal presentation. These sessions are great, because they demands flow & presence while being fluid enough to adapt to your audience in real time.

These are what I like to call the ‘organic’ presentation,or ‘organic’ teaching. These also can come across like you’re; making it up as you go, because in effect during the delivery of the training, that’s what it looks like is happening.

However from a preparation point of view, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact when training like this comes off so seamlessly to make it appear like you’re making it up as you go, then that’s the ultimate compliment, especially when your audience comes away with having learn’t the training objectives.

But thinking that an instructor is making it up as they go is as wrong as you can be. These lessons are not just prepared or rehearsed, but the subject matter is so well known that only a seasoned subject matter expert in the material can even truly attempt to deliver a training in this manner often after having delivered these individual lessons previously.

The Ability to teach from experience
Teaching from Experience

So just do it from experience!

So if these lessons require so much skill and can only be done by true ‘subject matter experts’ then surely the ‘organic’ design and delivery are the way to go right?

Hold on for a second before you pass that conclusion. A delivery style, just like a lesson type and all of the other variables that go into teaching are part of a great big toolkit to the instructor. Organic preparation and delivery is all good, but its only a single method and it has weaknesses.

So what are they?

Organic approaches naturally tend to be geared toward a higher ‘caliber’ of trainee. How so?

Without a presentation and perhaps only few training aids, organically delivered lessons which are delivered almost entirely from experience can come out with great depth of information and they can be delivered too quickly. Without self-control and a high degree of audience engagement instructors can go too far too quickly and leave the audience behind.

These teaching lessons can also sometimes begin to blur the lines between teaching and coaching, and when an instructor asks too many questions too quickly the student can definitely become saturated.

Not ideal.

In the next installment we look at how to prepare for distracting questions