What happens is the classic triage scenario. There are two (or more) players in the raid who are slowly dying. You have enough time (and maybe mana) to heal up one of them. Which do you pick and why? Assuming they have the same role, do you base your choice on class? Do you shoot for the one who you think is a slightly better player? The one who is closer to the boss than the other? I know that when I started out healing, I was overloaded with way too much stuff. You have to remember that this was during the period where 40 players comprised a raid.
When confronted with too many choices, individuals have a higher chance of doing nothing or taking longer to make a decision (also known as decision paralysis). A classic example is deciding on which flavor of ice cream to get based on the amount of flavors. For instance, a hypothetical consumer is more likely to grab ice cream if offered six flavors as opposed to 40 flavors (and one of those flavors had better be Oreo). People who are given the sample selection of 40 typically take a lot longer to decide on what flavors to go for because there are so many options and the brain is trying to process and decide which one to get. On the other hand, people exposed to just six flavors have a higher chance of actually making a purchase.
So how does this apply to healing exactly?
When a new player (or healer) graduates from healing in 5-player dungeons to 10- or 25-player dungeons, things get a little more complicated. There are more targets to choose from. Newer healers often feel as if though they are falling behind in their assignments. Once that new healer is done healing one person, there are another six players who need their attention. I get a little frazzled sometimes wondering who to heal next.
Not sure what I mean?
The closest scenario to that would be healing in Alterac Valley while being the only healer inside (or at least, the only healer where all the major action is). Everyone is scattered all across the zone and there is not a chance that all of them can be saved. Is raid healing anything like this? True, it does not have that level of intensity (although hard modes would be a different matter -- but I'm trying to focus on the newbie healers here).
Making the decision process easier
The best idea I can come up with to help is that when you're making healing decisions, have a set of guidelines (or a schema) to follow.
Weakest players take priority. Yeah, I know this goes without saying. You have health bars from your raid frames and you should be able to assess which players are the weakest. I personally like to have both health bars and the actual current health/maximum health displayed. I had a discussion about this with some of my healers the other day. To my surprise, they either showed percents or relied on the bars themselves without showing absolute health. However, 10% health for a tank is different than 10% health for a mage. A tank might be able to survive a tick or two from some raid-damaging aura, but not a softer target such as that mage.
Are there multiple players at low health? Then hit them all at the same time! As you gain more practice healing, you'll start to notice different patterns. You'll start to effortlessly switch between a single heal and an AoE heal. It gets to a point where you don't even think about it anymore and can simply react to it.
Still stuck on raid healing? Frozen and can't make a choice? Just heal someone. Anyone! It doesn't matter at this point, so long as you keep working that global cooldown and as long as you still have the mana to do it. Mana management isn't something to be worried about until the late stages of an encounter, anyway (unless your gear isn't giving you much help either). You're better off losing one player than losing two or more.
If you want to add an extra layer of depth and organization, you can speak with your other fellow raid healers and just tell them what you're doing. In my experience, I've found asking questions such "Who is healing who?" to be ineffective. Rarely anyone speaks up because no one wants to make that first move. What I've found to work is just straight up telling other players what you're doing. For example, you can say you'll cover the melee or that you'll cover groups 3 and 4. Only do this if you haven't been given any instructions that are more detailed than "heal the raid."
Yeah, being told to raid heal and expected to keep everyone alive is a mess. Ultimately, do the things that will give you the best chance of survival.
Want some more advice for working with the healers in your guild? Raid Rx has you covered with all there is to know! Need raid or guild healing advice? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter and you could see a future post addressing your question. Looking for less healer-centric raiding advice? Take a look at our raiding column, Ready Check.