One Brain, Three Tasks

April 10, 2020   Martin Jones
An instructor's brain does three things while teaching.

When you first start training, your brain probably does just one thing — deliver the training. If you only occasionally deliver training, that’s sufficient. But, if you train often enough, you can expect your brain to potentially perform a total of three tasks.

Before considering the three tasks, it’s worth noting that your brain, while teaching, is working faster and with more focus than normal. It’s akin to a flow state.

The three tasks are: delivery, meta-delivery, and exploration.


You’re paid to deliver training, so it’s no surprise that delivery is one of the tasks. This is all about telling the stories, answering questions, and reacting to the attendees.

Once you have built up competence and confidence, delivery becomes easier. It’s still challenging, it remains fun, but some of the energy the brain had to devote to it previously can now be directed elsewhere. I guess it might be possible to just dial down the energy, but that may mean missing out on having the brain in the special state.

At some point, your delivery skills will move from conscious competence in the four stages of competence model to unconscious competence. Once that has happened, your brain may add in the other tasks.


These are things that you do to improve the current delivery. As part of regular delivery, you might be keeping track of time, so you know that you have ten minutes left for the current topic. Whereas in meta-delivery you might have realized that this group will not be able to cover some of the later material and are deciding, on-the-fly, what to move where and when to make sure that the topics can be covered.

Meta delivery also covers watching the attendees as you teach to try to work out what works for them as a learner. This isn’t merely reacting to them; it’s deliberate observation.

If you use humour while teaching, meta-delivery can involve taking a joke that started within this group and working out where it can be re-introduced later on. Get this right, and there can be a grand punch-line that you have steered the group towards over multiple days, or even weeks. Understanding the audience is essential here.

Sometimes you might miss teaching something, or teach it poorly. You can address it soon after you discover it. That would be good delivery. Or, you could determine how best to fix it and maybe spread the fix so that it happens over multiple topics. The aim is not to hide the mistake; that probably should be acknowledged. Instead, the error might be converted into a teaching opportunity that can referenced from multiple places.


Exploration is thinking about the future by exploring possible new ways of teaching a topic and imagining how it would work with the current audience. You can learn from these experiments to refine your delivery of a topic.

Exploration is also about ‘battle-training’. If you want to know what you are and are not capable of as a trainer, then that has to be tested while your brain is in a training state. You pose questions in your mind that are far harder than an attendee normally asks. This is just your brain probing the depths of knowledge and your ability to generate correct answers from facts. If you can’t answer it, then you know that there is a weakness that needs to be addressed.

There is a caveat to ‘battle-training’: it must stay in your head! I sometimes make the mistake of thinking of a real stinker of a question while training, and before I know it, the question has slipped over into the part of the brain that’s doing the delivery — I have posed it as a question to the audience! That’s one way to test yourself, but not recommended.


A trainer that is sufficiently experienced in delivery will be able to perform meta-delivery and exploration concurrent to delivery.