The mid-lag is that vulnerable period in the middle of a training event when attendees are most likely to drop out.

You know the moment. It's the instant you realize that you have lost interest. It can be in the middle of a book, movie, or, yes, a training course. You're “in the weeds.” You've lost track of the message and its meaning. In short, you're caught in the “mid-lag.”

The mid-lag is that vulnerable period in the middle of a training event. Heavy with content, it's when attendees are most likely to head to the phones, tap on their pagers, respond to e-mail, daydream, or log off the webinar. And once they're gone, rarely can anything bring them back to the topic at hand.

One Common Complaint

Over the past few months, my company has been researching the status of training in North America. We have interviewed managers in companies ranging from large conglomerates to small channel enterprises. Job titles vary from executive to developer and include functions such as sales, marketing, information technology, product development, and finance.

Across the board, we have found that managers have one common training complaint that has nothing to do with resources, training goals, experience, or whether training events are sponsored internally or externally. Their complaint is that courses are difficult to get through. Regardless of content, after a certain point, it is simply too difficult to pay attention.

Better than Toothpicks

To keep people in the room and involved is not easy, but neither is it impossible. It takes foresight, some creativity, and a few deliberate steps. Here are five actions you can take to avoid the dreaded mid-lag.

  • Review the middle sections of your course. If you're still reading this article, you feel there will be some value to you and your work. If at any moment you sense that I will drone on about the statistical analysis of the aforementioned research (Don't worry, I won't), you'll be flipping the pages in a nanosecond.

  • Introduce changes to those middle “heavy” areas. Can you change the pace? Is there room for a new presentation style? What are the types and frequency of trainee interactions? All these adjustments can break through that mid-lag by keeping things interesting.

  • Know your audience. Missing this basic design parameter can doom a course from the first slide. What interests these particular people and keeps their attention? Is it hands-on practice with scripting tools or role playing? Introducing activities and methods that they find exhilarating will go a long in way in avoiding the slump.

  • Whether it's in person or online, make eye contact often. Draw your learners in with a challenge. Poll the audience, field a few questions, and offer personal attention. If people feel that their presence and opinions will be missed, they are more likely to stay with you.

  • Keep attendees wondering “What's next?” Shake things up a little. Ask a provocative question. Restart the course at the midpoint by polling the class on progress and wishes. Once in a while, take the pulse of the class and, if necessary, make a mid-course correction.

How Much Does Attention Cost?

Paying attention represents a personal decision to invest time and energy in learning. To improve your events, don't force your trainees to tough it out. Design your course so that it's worth their personal investment. Include methods and approaches that earn their attention every step of the way. Offer educational value that is varied, enjoyable, and sometimes surprising. Because if you don't, you may just find yourself alone, stuck in the middle of nowhere.

Janette Racicot is president of Racicot & Associates, which specializes in helping companies improve their high-visibility, in-person, and online training events. Call her at (617) 484-3201, or send e-mail to