Timing Is Everything

If your training sessions consistently go into overtime, here are some tips to keep in mind.

Aghhh! It happened again today, and I just wanted to run screaming out of the room. Trainers, don’t try to put 10 pounds of stuff in a 5-pound bag. No matter how fast you talk, you simply can’t fit that four-hour training session into a 30-minute time slot. Curb yourself. Resist the urge to even try.

It was the monthly luncheon meeting of the not-to- be named professional association, and 140 of us were tucked into a room designed to comfortably accommodate about a hundred. You know the drill. Lunch is served while the participants network. Participants sit at round tables for 10 and try to remember if their bread plate is on the left or the right. Various association officers make reports and updates while the hotel staff tries to minimize the clanking of dishes and silverware.

At precisely 12:30, the featured speaker— in this case, the featured trainer, the one we’d all come to hear—took the stage. We expected she would conclude promptly at 1 so we could get back to our offices for various afternoon appointments and such.

I knew we were in trouble when I looked at the PowerPoint handout. Twenty slides. Uh oh. And several of them indicated activities. Not good for a 30-minute time frame. Then our trainer perkily announced she would be going 15 minutes over the allotted time and sure hoped nobody would mind. She started off by spending 10 minutes telling us what we would be learning (overkill for a 30-minute session). And she explained to us that in addition to her lecture (using the 20 PowerPoint slides), we each would complete a survey, pick a buddy and make a plan, and have open questions and answers. It was truly the training Twilight Zone.

I hate to walk out of a session. It’s rude, and I would not want to offend a fellow trainer. And I know I would feel bad if someone walked out of a training session I was conducting. Besides, I generally find I can learn something even in a not-so-good training session. Worst-case scenario, I might wait until a break and slip out unnoticed. But this was just too much. And I had to be back at the office at 1:30. I gathered my stuff and left. There was a little logjam at the back door as other people left, as well.

Staying within the stated time limit is such a basic training rule and such an easy thing to do that I am astounded at the frequency with which trainers abuse it. Is it the result of poor planning? Is it because some trainers believe the information they have to impart is so important that it transcends normal time schedules? I don’t know. I think this trainer let her passion for the subject override her reason and good judgment.


If you have trouble timing your training sessions, you might want to consider these tips:

  • Don’t race through your presentation and cram in more information than can reasonably be covered in your given time frame. By racing through it, you minimize the importance of your material and make your message impotent.
  • If you’re using PowerPoint, don’t prepare more slides than you can comfortably cover in the time you’ve been given. If you spend five minutes on each slide, you should have no more than five slides for a 30-minute presentation. That gives you an additional five minutes for Q&A.
  • Pace yourself evenly. When you start off at a normal pace and then quickly click through the slides at the end, mumbling something about them not being important anyway, you look unorganized, unprepared, and amateurish.
  • If you don’t have time for the whole enchilada, then put the information you plan to deliver into perspective and just focus on a “chunk.” If you cannot extract a meaningful chunk, and you cannot get the time you need to properly deliver all of the information, you should decline the gig.
  • If you’re not experienced and accurate at estimating how much time your presentation will take, then do a run-through and time yourself.

Use these tips and conclude on time. It’s disrespectful to your participants to do otherwise.

Janice Love, SPHR, currently serves as vice president of Human Resources and Training for Sandia Laboratory Federal Credit Union (SLFCU) in Albuquerque, NM. She previously was Employee Training Program manager at the U.S. Department of Energy Nonproliferation and National Security Institute. Love is a member of the Society for Human Resources Management and the New Mexico Human Resources Management Association.