Three Ways to Promote Training Through Video

The first time I watched myself on video many years ago I really didn’t like what I saw. I was a graduate teaching assistant, and the coordinator of teaching assistants decided to have our classes video-recorded for our benefit. The intention was to show us how we handled classroom activities and worked with students. I focused on how I looked. Other teaching assistants did the same. This exercise flopped and the coordinator stopped having our classes video-recorded and went back to simply sitting in on a class to give us feedback. I was relieved.

Fast-forward a few years and now I’m attending a workshop for people who want to hone their speaking and presentation skills. Participants were required to practice in front of each other as we worked through the material. Our practice speeches were video recorded, and I received a memory card with my video-recorded speeches after the workshop. I have never looked at those files. The card is buried somewhere in a desk drawer.

Why do we not like to watch ourselves on video? My guess is that we focus entirely too much on our appearance and not enough on the message and how well we communicate it. Here’s my insight about being on camera: You are who you are, and that’s enough. When you show up in person, you may give some thought to your appearance, but you don’t obsess about it. When we reject video because we don’t like to look at ourselves on camera, we miss out on an opportunity to use the medium to communicate a message to a broad range of people in our audience.

I have learned to get over how I look on camera. Perhaps I desensitized myself by recording and watching myself many times. I began to realize that I could use video in different ways to complement in-person training and events that can broaden the reach of the messages I wished to convey to my learners. Here are three ways you, too, can use video to enhance a training program:

Event or Program Promotion. Throughout the year, we provide opportunities for our real estate agents to learn from some of the best in the business through multi-week programs or special events. I do all the usual things to promote the events or training programs: e-mails, posters, training calendar notices, word of mouth, and social media posts. Nothing has gotten the response that a video has. It may be a video of me telling people about the event or program and urging them to register and attend.
Whenever possible, I have the speaker or trainer record a video of him- or herself talking about the topic he or she will present. I share these videos via e-mail and social media. People will click on links to videos in an e-mail. They will watch on social media. It has now become a standard part of my promotion of training programs and events to make and publish a video.

Quick Tips. Sometimes you want to share some information or give people a tip they can use. I began recording “quick tip” videos about a year ago. I focus on topics that I can talk about in approximately two to three minutes. These are typically topics that reinforce topical subjects that have been discussed in the field or give agents advice.
I always give viewers information and then urge them to  take action of some kind. I record quick tips in different places. I also record update videos from conferences to give viewers some of the information I learn from attending. I have created a topic list and follow a pattern, but I generally decide to record in the moment when I feel the need to use video to continue instruction outside the classroom.

Live Video. Going live on camera and broadcasting it via social media sounds nerve-wracking, but it can be a very effective way to get people’s attention and create conversation. I have to admit, I haven’t done this as much as I would like, but I envision using live video as a way to create virtual office hours or showcase a partner through an interview. You can use live video to promote an event also. I used it to talk with a speaker prior to his appearance as a way to generate some interest. The social part of social media means that you should engage with the audience. Live video can help you do that, in real time instead of after the video is posted. The bonus?  Your video continues to live online long after the initial broadcast. Facebook live is the option that comes to mind first, but don’t forget YouTube live, too.

I use my smartphone or laptop to record the videos, and I do very little editing (usually just trimming the beginning and end). I do have a lapel microphone that I use, but sometimes I simply take my earbuds with microphone and lay it in front of me on a desk or table. The sound quality is fine (the microphone is closer to your mouth than the one in the laptop or smartphone). I have learned to accept the verbal blunders I make. I choose to appear authentically on camera instead of rehearsed and polished. I might practice once or twice before I record, but what you see is not highly produced.

My videos provide another way for me to reach my audience beyond the traditional classroom setting. I may not always like to watch myself on video, but I have found that the benefit to recording and sharing videos far outweighs any apprehension I may have had.

Gratitude 2018

We celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday this time of year in the United States. It’s one holiday all Americans can celebrate, regardless of their faith traditions. We come together to express our thanks for the many gifts we have. It’s a wonderful holiday.

I think we are particularly blessed to have a holiday devoted to giving thanks as a way to jolt us out of our usual selfish thoughts and actions. We tend to play one radio station, WIIFM (what’s in it for me) most days of the year. It gets old and stale, and on Thanksgiving we tune in to a less-frequently visited channel to hear something different: the voice of gratitude.

A few months ago, I began working with a coach to help me sort out some things in my professional life. I got a homework assignment in our first session: Write in a journal every day, and write down five things each day that I am grateful for. In the beginning, my five things came easily: family, friends, house, clothing, food. After a while, I had to think hard about what I was grateful for. There were days when I wrote “coffee cup” or “comfortable shoes.” Yes, I’m grateful for those things, too. However, I started focussing on the beauty around me and the things I tend to take for granted. My gratitude list metamorphosed into a list of qualities and aspirations as well as physical things.

Thanksgiving begs the question, though. What are you grateful for? What will you give thanks for this year? Do you carry that attitude of thanksgiving with you throughout the year?

My list this Thanksgiving is not a “top five things” I’m grateful for, but the things that I am constantly reminded to give thanks for as the days and months go by.

Heath and wellness. We all know someone who has some kind of health issue. Some may be more serious than others. We may have witnessed a loved one die from cancer or heart disease this year. I am grateful for my health and the people who care for those in need. I decided to commit myself this year to donate platelets at least 19 times. I’ve been donating platelets for around four years, but I’d never tallied more than 12 donations in a year. The need for platelets is constant as they have a shelf life of only five days. I decided to step up the frequency of my donations so that someone in need can benefit from my good health. I’m grateful for the American Red Cross and its employees who take care of me during my donations, too.

Art, Where would we be as a society without human expression in art? Music, dance, visual arts, and writing all enrich my days and give me enormous pleasure. I’ve been fortunate to attend concerts, opera, gallery openings, and dance performances throughout the year. Now it’s time for me to give back a bit. I decided to donate to local arts organizations so that they can continue to make art and to offer children the ability to attend performances. School trips to see shows in our community may be the only opportunity a child has to see professional artists perform for them. Who knows which child will be inspired to become an artist or a lifelong patron of the arts?

My Faith Community. Two years ago, I wrote this about my faith community, Gethsemane Lutheran Church: “I have always attended or belonged to a church, but my faith is challenged and enriched by the people at Gethsemane in very special ways. We join together to live out our faith in the community through service.” I am very lucky to have found a faith community where I am accepted, loved, and challenged to serve others. No matter what faith you adhere to or even if you aren’t religious, a community of people that supports you and works with you for peace and justice is a wonderful thing.

The ability to work. There are days when I’m not so grateful for some of the challenges I face in my job. I know I complain far too often about this situation or that person. I need to remember that I am able to work and do something that I enjoy (on most days!). I am not hampered by a disability or relegated to working in a job that doesn’t pay a living wage. I continue to learn and grow in my chosen field. I have the freedom to explore other opportunities and learn new things. I credit my parents for instilling in me the desire to learn and the determination to keep moving forward.

Nature. My gratitude list on many days includes parts of nature. I am particularly fond of trees, no matter the season (but not very happy about raking leaves). I love the shade in summer, the colors of leaves in autumn, the stark branches against the sky in winter, and the pale green of spring leaves. I’m also partial to flowers, but nothing makes me happier than sunflowers. I love the scent of roses and the sunny faces of daisies. It saddens me to think that we humans have brought about changes in our climate that affect the nature around me. I’m grateful that I am able do my little part to help the earth. This year, we installed solar panels on our house. We do all the other things to help the environment like carry reusable shopping bags, recycle, compost, and reduce our use of disposable goods. There are days when I’m not so sure it helps, but I’ll continue to fight the good fight.

These are just some of the things I’m grateful for. I hope you have the opportunity to take some time this holiday and consider the things you’re grateful for. Think about focussing on gratitude each day throughout the year. Tell someone else about the things you are thankful for. Share your gratitude and see where it leads you!

Seven Tips for Creating Screen Capture Video for Training

I don’t know about you, but I often search for videos to show me how to do something. It could be anything, but often it’s something technology-related. Most recently I needed to download and set up Audacity (a free audio recording software) on my Mac. I consider myself to be somewhat “techie” but this was a challenge for me to get the settings right. What did I do? I searched for a “how to” video on YouTube.

One of the biggest changes in my training world has been the increased need for technology training. There are multiple tools – online and software-based – that real estate agents use in their daily business. The successful agent needs to know how to manipulate data and use online platforms to market to potential clients, create marketing materials, and manage transactions. There are a lot of options out there, and they want to know how to use them quickly and competently.

Hands-on classroom training is good, but it doesn’t help when there’s no class or the agent can’t get to one. Online training fills the gap, but the question remains, how do you demonstrate the tools and motivate the agents to adopt technology in their businesses? Along with the “how,” the trainer needs to sell the “why.”

Classroom training has the benefit of giving the trainer face-to-face contact with the learner. When teaching tech tools, I can readily see if someone understands a concept or action and address any questions or difficulties. When using online training to accomplish the same goals, the trainer has to anticipate the questions and issues that pop up and use that knowledge when creating online training.

Screen-capture video offers me the ability to demonstrate the process for using a tool and give tips and recommendations for successful use. I record my screen while talking, then edit the video to add features that help deepen the viewer’s understanding of the tool.

Here are seven things I’ve learned when making screen capture videos for training purposes:

  • Longer is not better! Most people have short attention spans and are unable to digest large quantities of directions at once. In my experience, learners receive and comprehend videos in the two to four minute range best. Remember, I want them to be able to duplicate the processes learned, not just watch a video.
  • Plan your edits in advance. When considering the process you’re recording, think about which steps or areas of the screen need enhancement or callouts. Most editing software (I use Camtasia) will let you zoom and pan on areas of the screen and add callouts like arrows and circles. Plan what parts of the screen need attention and when so that your editing will be a smooth process.
  • Use intro and exit slides for clarification. I learned that it makes for easier viewing to have an introductory slide/picture that gives the topic of the video. Exit images include a recap of the instructions covered in the video or tips for success. I can choose to talk over those slides, if I wish, but typically I do not.
  • Check your sound quality. When I first began to record screen-capture videos, I used the earbuds that came with my smartphone to record the audio portion. This was a cheap solution, but not the best. If I moved my head, the microphone didn’t necessarily follow my mouth. I invested in a decent headset with an adjustable microphone. No matter how I move, the microphone stays with me. I also recommend recording some test videos to check the sound levels and adjusting accordingly.
  • Know what to say when. This sounds self-evident, but you will quickly derail your video if you’re not sure of the process you’re trying to instruct or you get off track. I used to script my videos, but now I write notes and practice before recording. I make sure I can succinctly move from one action to the next while I describe the process. Practice helps!
  • Record in one take. You will not be perfect in your delivery. You will forget a word or stumble over a phrase. The internet will slow down as you’re trying to get something to process on screen. Take your time and edit out the mistakes or gaps. You can record snippets of the entire process and create the complete video out of the pieces, if you want. I know that I will edit the video to add features, so cutting “umms” and “ahhhs” is part of my editing process. I have learned to pause, then start a phrase over if something happens (like forgetting a word). As you listen to yourself in the editing process, you’ll discover what your verbal “tics” are. I tend to say “so” far too much. I’ve learned to lessen the frequency of certain repetitive words when I record now.
  • Make a plan. Many of the online courses I create consist of multiple videos. I make a plan to determine which videos I need to record and in which order they will appear in the course. I don’t need to record them in the same order, but it is helpful in a some cases to progress through aspects of the tool I am featuring in the course in my video recording. This may also seem self-evident that you need to plan out your course elements, but it’s helpful to consider when sitting down to record multiple videos at once.
  • Captions. I have not yet used captions for my videos; however, I am going to begin to do this. Why? Captions enable viewing on social media (such as YouTube or Facebook) without the sound. It also gives hearing-impaired people access to your videos. Some platforms such as YouTube will automatically create a transcription of the audio portion of your video. Camtasia offers a “speech to text” option to create the transcription. With any automatic transcription service, you’ll need to check the accuracy of the text as compared to the video. The next step is to use your video editing tool to add the captions to the video. I’m going to test this process, then decide whether I want to pay someone to create captions for my videos.

I distilled these tips from my experience creating screen-capture video. With some practice and attention, you can create your own videos and edit them to your specifications. The bonus? You get to tell your learners which features are important for their businesses or positions and how to best use the tool.

There’s something new in our fields almost every day that a video can help explain or demonstrate. That means I need to get back to my computer and get back to recording!

How to Use a Video Challenge in Training

What’s the first thing you think when you see yourself on video? (Be honest!) It’s generally not a positive experience and that’s why so many professionals shirk from using video as a way to promote themselves and their businesses. It’s expensive to hire a video production company to make you look good, so why bother?

Video can be a great way to get the word out about your business. It’s also showing you as a human being, someone who’s approachable and relatable. Most social media platforms favor video, too, so it can help boost your visibility online. Who wouldn’t want to have more visibility for their business?

The problems arise when you try to figure out how to use video without hiring the production company or buying the fancy equipment. Most of us have the tools in our pockets, yet we fail to understand how we can use them to our advantage. I was in that situation last year. I wanted to learn how to create videos that looked decent but didn’t cost much but my time and effort (no money in the budget for the production company!). I learned about Niamh Arthur’s 30 day video challenge and decided to take the plunge. I knew I needed to learn the techniques before I could adapt and teach them for my audience of real estate agents.

Once I learned how to use my smartphone and laptop to create some decent videos, I started creating “quick tips” for consumption by agents and anyone else interested in learning the practice of real estate sales. These videos serve to teach aspects of a real estate business and to demonstrate that it’s not so difficult to make great-looking and -sounding videos with minimal equipment and skill.

How can you get independent contractors (in this case, real estate agents) to use video for their businesses so they capture more prospects and clients? I decided to use a video challenge to teach the techniques and get them used to creating video.

My first task was to decide how long this challenge would be. Considering the sometimes short attention spans of my audience and the demands on their time that a real estate business makes, I decided make the challenge three weeks long and have the agents record 15 videos. This allows for “catch up” time on the weekends when there would be no videos to record if the participant had recorded the weekday videos. There was no requirement to record each day. Instead, participants could record as many videos on a given day as they needed to to catch up to the group if they were behind.

Next, I had to decide the topics for each of the videos. Most days, the participants had to record a video that was relevant to their businesses. However, it is important to have several topics that are more general (tell about yourself, what’s one thing you can’t live without for your business, etc.). These topics are designed to get participants talking on camera instead of worrying about saying the right thing to a potential client. I devised a topic list and a schedule to organize the challenge in a meaningful way.

With the topics developed, it was time to record the prompt videos. Each day, participants would get an e-mail with a link to the video for the day. These videos were posted as “unlisted” on my YouTube channel so that only those with the link would be able to view them. I considered how to record the videos and decided to “batch” record them. In other words, I prepared my topics, made notes, set up my equipment in an office, and recorded all 15 prompt videos, three “weekend edition” videos, and introductory and conclusion videos in one day. Two of the videos required additional screen-capture video and editing because they taught the fine points of posting video on YouTube and Facebook, and creating playlists. One video was shot outdoors to demonstrate how moving your location can spike interest. Because I recorded them in one day, I changed tops and accessories to give the illusion that they were recorded on different days.

With recording out of the way, the next steps focussed on completing any editing, posting the videos to a YouTube “unlisted” playlist, and creating the e-mail campaign in my CRM to have the instructional e-mails delivered on schedule. Participants were given instructions in each e-mail about how to post their videos and to watch other participants’ videos and give feedback. I created a closed Facebook group where participants could post the YouTube links and watch each others’ videos.

One important step not to forget is to promote the challenge to potential participants. I used video here, too. I created a video to explain what the challenge was and how it could help an agent’s business to learn how to create videos. I shared that video through e-mail, company newsletter, and my Facebook business page. Agents were prompted to pre-register for the challenge, but they could join at any time as long as they understood they would have to record several videos to catch up with the rest of the group.

It’s important to remain flexible with people who are participating in this type of activity for their own benefit. There were no assessments and no consequences for not completing the challenge. I did have a benefit to completing the challenge to help convince participants to complete and post all 15 videos. I held a live webinar that was open only to those who completed the challenge by a certain date. During the webinar, I taught additional techniques and gave away prizes such as smartphone tripods and clip-on microphones. The webinar was recorded and made available to the participants who couldn’t attend it live.

Once you have created the challenge prompt videos, campaign e-mails, and Facebook group, you can present the challenge multiple times to different groups. The key is promoting the challenge to attract the most participants possible. In very large challenges, the participants are placed in smaller groups to facilitate feedback and camaraderie. My group was small, so all were able to watch each other’s videos and provide feedback.

I gave positive feedback as often as possible and corrected glaring mistakes as gently as I could. Most participants got the hang of recording their videos within a few days and went on to create useful videos in the course of the challenge. I specifically designed several of the prompts to be topics they could use for their businesses immediately, if they chose to do so.

A video challenge can give learners a hands-on approach to learning how to create and use video for their businesses. Success is measured not by the quality of each video, but by the progression of the acquisition of skills and the completion of the challenge.

Three Ways to Use Video in Training

Everybody seems to be on the video bandwagon these days – or are they? While it is generally accepted that video is a great marketing tool, training professionals are reluctant to use self-produced video in informal or formal training situations. Maybe they think they aren’t photogenic or don’t really know if their video will work they way they want it to. Whatever the excuse, there are just as many reasons to use video for training – and not just in your LMS.

I started using screen-capture video several years ago to give real estate agents demonstrations of how to use various technology tools as a way to bridge the gap between in-person training and live webinars. Since then, my video repertoire has increased, and I use video in three distinct ways to enhance learning.

For technology training, screen-capture video is very helpful. I use Camtasia to record and produce my videos; however, there are other programs that you can use. If you have a Mac, you have built-in screen-capture video recording capability and iMovie to edit the video. Length of video depends, but generally I try to keep these to less than five minutes. It’s difficult to absorb complex actions in longer videos and be able to duplicate those actions if the video runs too long. I produce the video and add zoom in, callouts, and other animations to draw attention to important functions.

When I first started producing screen-capture videos, I scripted everything and tried to record them in one take. Sometimes I was successful, but often I had to rerecord multiple times to get it “just right.” I take a different approach now. Since I’m going to edit the video anyway, I simply pause, count out loud, and pick up where I need to. This makes it easy for me to cut the mistakes and find the correct spot to continue.

About a year and a half ago, I decided I needed to learn to make videos of myself talking. At first, I was apprehensive (who would want to look at me talking?), but I realized that this could be an effective way to communicate material to a wider audience than those who show up for live training. I happened to stumble upon a video challenge run by Niamh Arthur of Light It Up Marketing. I took the 30-day challenge, created 22 videos in 30 days and learned how to create my own videos using the equipment I already had: a smartphone, computer, and me.

Since that initial challenge (I did it again in the spring of 2018), I have acquired a smartphone tripod and another microphone, but essentially the process has remained the same. I created a list of topics that I wanted to present. I choose a topic from the list and give it some thought. I find a place to record. This could be somewhere outdoors or indoors, but always with sufficient sunlight (I don’t use artificial light except when absolutely necessary). I set up my smartphone and record. Most of my videos are done in one take, sometimes two. I worry less about messing up the words than being authentic and speaking to my audience. The only editing I do is to trim the beginning and the end of the video to cut any unwanted motion.

What kinds of topics do I record in these videos? I focus on anything that might relate to real estate agents’ business: sales skills such as prospecting, presentations, business planning, working with buyers and sellers, and time management. These videos are typically two to three minutes in length. I labeled them “Real Estate Quick Tips” and share them via social media and e-mail.

The third type of video I use is that which is recorded in live, in-person training sessions. When learning skills such as negotiations, contract presentation, and client interviews, it’s often helpful for a salesperson to see what he/she looks like and says. We do role play in classes, and to add another layer to role playing, I have agents form groups of three: one person plays the agent, one person plays the client, and the third person records the role play on their smartphone or tablet.

The recording is shared immediately as the third person gives feedback to the agent. This may be difficult for the agent to watch, but very instructive. There is no judgement – all participants must take their turn and be recorded and receive feedback. The videos are shared with the participants and it is up to them to keep or discard them. I credit David Knox for this technique which he labeled “iPractice.”

One thing to keep in mind is that video assets, when shared on social media, can live on long after the initial training has occurred. I include a call to action on my quick tip videos to prompt people to subscribe to my YouTube channel and give them the ability to sign up for the playlist at the end of the video. I also share videos on my Facebook Business page for increased visibility. The screen-capture videos are also posted to our company intranet site for easy reference, and I have used videos to create online classes for agents to take on demand. One video can easily be used in three places to lengthen the life of the training. (Videos recorded in training for the purpose of feedback are never shared online and serve only to help participants develop their skills.)

Video can be a great way to teach adult learners various skills needed for them to do their jobs well. It can also be a great way to promote the efficiency and efficacy of the training department. If you haven’t tried creating video yourself, what’s holding you back? If you have created videos for training purposes, how do you use them?

Perfection Paralysis

“Practice makes Perfect.”

“If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.”

These were two of my mother’s favorite sayings. The first one appeared when I didn’t want to practice for my piano lessons. I knew I was a decent piano player, but I was never going to be “perfect.” My ten-year-old brain’s reasoning surmised: “So why spend all that time practicing?”

The second of my mother’s favorite sayings could be heard when her children were saying nasty things to one another. At that tender age, I heard it to also mean that if you did’t pick your words well and couldn’t speak eloquently, be quiet.

Fast forward a few years. With maturity comes insight. I realized at some point that practice has benefits other than perfection. In fact, the saying should read: “Practice make competent.”

When we teach others a functional skill, we are working to get them to a level of competency so they can perform a task. We expect correctness, not perfection.

Much of training in a business consists of teaching people how to do something. If we force the issue that an employee or associate needs to do something error-free, we end up with frustration and disappointment. Sometimes good enough is good enough.

This is not to say that compliance training is unimportant or can be glossed over. When we teach for compliance, we expect associates to leave training with the tools they need to do their jobs competently and in compliance with the law. Perfection is not the issue here. Associates must understand and be aware of their words and actions.

We train people to lead in the organization by communicating effectively and being good listeners. No one is served if everyone keeps their ideas to themselves and does not express thoughts and opinions. Many of us have experienced the leader who shuts down associates in meetings in favor of his or her ideas. Done frequently enough, this results in associates not saying anything at all for fear of saying something wrong.

Self-censorship puts a stop to advancing the organization. What happens is that the lack of different viewpoints or ideas leads to staleness. Diversity of opinion offers fresh looks at a situation or problem. Everyone benefits when associates are encouraged to offer their ideas and solutions.

What can trainers do? Create a climate where people accept their mistakes and share ideas. Encourage differing viewpoints. Promote and listen to discussions. Help associates understand how they can better themselves. Embrace diversity. If we insist on perfection in actions and words in the workplace, we’ll experience a paralyzed workforce with little impetus to move forward in their work.

Perfectionism stops a lot of creativity.

Too Old?

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

How often do we buy into this old saying? It seems to embody the notion that when people get to a certain age, they can stop learning. Yes, I know, the saying talks about dogs. But is that all it’s really saying to us?

We do get stuck in our ways and prefer not to learn new methods or approaches to our work or daily routine. The familiar is comforting and rewards us with a feeling of safety in the knowledge that we can do it – whatever “it” is.

Why do we buy into the notion that you can’ t teach “old dogs” new things? Moving out of our comfort zones is difficult. I’m not talking about taking a new route to the grocery store or getting up earlier than usual. I’m talking about the gut-wrenching agony of facing what you know must change and doing it. It means taking the leap into the unknown. Change is good, but it’s still hard (and sometimes scary).

I see people regularly who are beginning a new career and learning everything that comes with new places, people, responsibilities, and tools to do the work. I have become a good judge of which people will step out of their comfort zones and succeed and which ones will retreat to the familiar. For some, this embrace of a new, unfamiliar profession is very frightening. They may know that what they’ve embarked upon requires them to learn new things, but they don’t always want to. It’s easier to fall back on what you’ve done before.

My job requires me to “teach old dogs new tricks” and reassure them about their capabilities. They think they can’t learn something new – meaning they aren’t well-enough equipped to learn – and vulnerable to doubt. I teach, I cajole, I encourage, I help, and I give them a dose of reality before they walk out the door of my classroom.

You see, regardless whether someone can learn “new tricks” or not, he/she needs to want to learn and be willing to keep learning. Our brains do not turn off when we hit a certain age. We cannot say we’ve learned everything we need to know and coast until our lives come to an end. If we choose a new profession, we can be assured that we’ll need to learn new things to be successful in that role.

I prefer to continue to learn. I recognize that I’m a bit different than many people. Nothing excites me more than the prospect of gaining knowledge and skills to accomplish something interesting. It’s not always easy, and I don’t always do everything perfectly, but I do get satisfaction from the process of learning.

I am not immune to the fear of getting out of my comfort zone though. Because of this, I understand well how new learners want to protect themselves and not step out into the unknown. I believe that all instructors need to understand this fear and help learners step out and try new things regardless. We are definitely not too old to learn “new tricks.”

Do one thing every day that scares you.” Eleanor Roosevelt.

Distractions

There are distractions around us every day. Trying to conduct a training class with distractions in and around you is challenging.

There’s the property maintenance crew running the lawn mowers outside the window. Or the training class is in the middle of an office thoroughfare with people walking back and forth, having conversations in the process. Then there’s equipment that fails or lack of promised supplies.

These and more present themselves during training, and as trainers, we have to figure out how to keep the class focussed. Sometimes it’s enough to have people work in pairs or small groups and let them complete a task, then bring the group together for discussion.

To have participants in the class who take you off track is most challenging. They come in at least three “flavors.”

  • The grandstander wants all the attention, all the time. This person regularly interrupts the class to ask irrelevant questions, give a lengthy opinion of the topic we already covered, or ask personal questions. The grandstander thrives on questions and comments from other participants and will hold court at the drop of a hat.
  • The sub-trainer feels the need to explain everything covered to participants around him/her. This person wants to demonstrate that he/she knows just as much as the trainer and really doesn’t need to be in the class.
  • The CEO takes calls in the middle of a class and has to run out of the room multiple times to talk, missing pieces of information in class. Upon return, this person asks for clarification of points covered while he/she was out of the room. Everyone experiences a double distraction: once when the person leaves the room (often stumbling over desks and chairs in the process) and again when they return.

There are probably more types of distractions or disruptions that occur during a training class. How can a trainer deal with the frustration that he/she inevitably feels when experiencing such disruptions?

  • Be cool. It sounds easy, but it takes practice. The less likely you are to blow your top in front of a room full of professional development participants, the more likely you’ll get the material across to them in a way that causes it to stick.
  • Smile, nod, and put off the question. Sometimes you have to interrupt the questioner, but if it’s truly something that needs to be taken care of outside of the current session, the participants will be happy you stop this before it takes over the class.
  • Set the stage. Tell participants what you expect when you start the class. If you are o.k. with them leaving the room to take calls, tell them so but warn them not to disrupt others in the process. If you really don’t want people to take calls, tell them to put their phones away and turn them off. One successful technique is to tell participants what to do: Create a voicemail greeting for just that day telling callers when you’ll get back to them and setting up an e-mail out-of-office message that says essentially the same.
  • Let participants help. Use “teach-backs” or other methods to have participants teach each other the material you have presented. This gives them the opportunity to demonstrate competence and to reinforce each other’s learning.

Disruptions and distractions are common in busy places. With a little practice, a trainer can minimize those that come from the participants (and work on moving the training class to a quieter venue!).

Monday, Monday

Mondays toward the end of a month mean teaching tech training classes. I have the pleasure of teaching agents new to our brokerage how to use the tools we provide for their real estate business.

This seems like a noble cause, and honestly, I do enjoy being able to help the agents learn what the tools can do for them. There are days, though that try my patience. Today was one of those days.

Five minutes before class, there was only one person in the room besides me. There were eight names on the list of registrations. My first thought was that perhaps they decided to skip class to see the solar eclipse. Over the next five minutes, people wandered into the room. One man showed up without a laptop. This class is hands-on training, and agents are prompted upon registration and reminded the day before class to bring a laptop with them. He asked me if he should have a computer. I said yes. I know from experience that those who come without a computer end up staring into space and not getting much out of the class. He departed to retrieve his laptop and arrived at class an hour late. He struggled to catch up with the other participants.

Note to self: Be more explicit with the reminders about bringing a laptop to class.

Sometimes participants are worried that I won’t cover something that they have a burning desire to know about. I always start the class by telling them what the agenda is and how we will accomplish each item on it. That doesn’t stop them from asking me about things I will cover in the minutes to come. This happened repeatedly today. Despite my best efforts to reassure them, I continued to get “how do I” questions that I would cover in short order. Two things about this: It causes me to constantly say “We’ll get to that” (which sounds like a cop-out) and it heightens the level of frustration the agents feel. Neither is a good option.

Note: Prepare an outline and give it to the agents to follow through the class.

Complicated topics require extra preparation and targeted delivery in class. I try to break down the process and explain carefully what the steps are as I demonstrate them. I repeat myself and the demonstration often, and prompt agents to work along with me through the process. Most of the participants stay on track and can follow. A few are unable to keep up and all of a sudden I get the dreaded “where are we?” question. I then must stop the class and assist the person who has gotten off track. It can be as simple as helping them with a click or two to get to where they need to be. Sometimes it requires troubleshooting a range of issues from browser type to restarting the computer to Install updates that the person inadvertently clicked on. It takes time to get back to where we were. It’s frustrating for the participants who work diligently to keep up. It’s frustrating for me to have to stop and start multiple times because some participants are somehow unable to follow directions or pay attention for a period of time.

Note: Break down the process into shorter, more digestible chunks and check in with all participants on a regular basis to make sure they are able to follow along.

When you get to the end of a long day of training, both the participants and trainer are tired and ready for a break. I try to summarize the actions I covered and what they should have learned over the course of the day. It never fails that someone claims he/she doesn’t know what to do or how to do it because they “just don’t get it.” My attempts to calm the frustrations and explain that all participants will want to practice with various tools can fall flat. Such was the case with one man today. He just couldn’t understand the process of setting up a signing session for his client to sign documents electronically. What finally came up was a general angst about not knowing which documents are needed for different situations. Although I could answer his questions, he was convinced there was nothing that could help him (there is/are–he just decided that there wasn’t). I fought hard to not lose my temper or get sarcastic with the agent. My tolerance for this kind of response at the end of the day is nil.

Note: Devise a way to communicate expectations for agents so that they understand the scope of what is covered in the class and where to go for additional help.

Tomorrow is another day of tech training. If I had my way, I would break down these two full days into several shorter sessions. The reality is that everyone (managers and agents alike) want to get through the introductory training as quickly as possible. Ideally, agents would go online for much of the compliance and basic tools training before coming to a class. In class we would focus on application of the tools in selected situations. I have moved the syllabus of this sequence to a more situation-based approach. The next step is to create the online modules to take the place of some in-class time.

Note: Create more online modules and rework the class outline to incorporate them into the sequence. Schedule less time in class. Communicate the rationale for this mode of delivery and get agents and managers to buy into the changes.

A good night’s sleep does wonders for my ability to handle even the most frustrating situations in tech training. Sometimes that’s all I can do to prepare myself for the next day’s adventures!

Get It Done!

I am the consummate procrastinator. If there’s a project or task to get done, I’ll find a way to procrastinate and put it off until it must absolutely get done. Sometimes I hurt myself by putting things off too long. Here are some techniques I use to combat procrastinate and get things done.

Lists. I make lists–a lot. I create a list of my top five or six tasks for the next day before I wrap up my work. If I can put it down on paper (or in my phone) it gets it out of my head and becomes more likely that I will actually accomplish what I want or need to get done. There’s something very satisfying, too, about drawing a line through a task you’ve completed (or tapping the button that says “completed” on your phone). I know people who create their lists in a notebook and keep a record of all the things they’ve finished over time. I’m not that organized and prefer to use notepads I accumulate from attending conferences and expos.

Chunk it down. I learned this trick when I was working on my dissertation. The entire project looked huge and the prospect of working on something so large became a block. I put off starting the writing because I couldn’t conceive how to finish. Someone told me to take pieces and work on just that part for a while. When I did that, I started completing chapters. Soon, the chapters took shape and I was able to connect them and shape the entire project. “Chunking it down” gave me the ability to focus and finish. Now, I do this with larger projects on a regular basis. I break it down into parts, focus on the parts, then assemble the final work. I’m more likely to finish a small piece in a timely fashion.

Consider the end result. It’s easy to procrastinate when you don’t have a vision of where you’re going with something. I like to know what the planned outcome of a project is before I start working on the component parts of it. Sometimes it’s just a matter of considering the objectives or determining the preferred result. Whatever the end may be, starting is easier when you have a goal. This applies to just about any endeavor you undertake! I trained for marathons and half marathons one week at a time. The goal was to finish the race, and I kept this in mind as I trained.

Set a timer. If the prospect of working on a project for a long period of time (especially when it’s something you don’t like doing, but must) keeps you from starting, set a timer and tell yourself you’re going to work on X for Y minutes. When the timer goes off, give yourself permission to do something else. Come back to the project and set the timer again. Work on it for a number of minutes, then stop. This might seem counterintuitive (work on it until it’s done!), but by giving yourself permission to step away from a task that you don’t like makes getting it done a bit easier. I use this when cleaning my house. I really dislike cleaning. I manage to get it done with the timer.

Take a walk. Get out of the office and take a walk now and then. You’d be surprised what five minutes away from your desk will do to your attitude and ability to focus. Too often we chain ourselves to the desk thinking that’s the only way to get something done. We end up spinning our wheels and spending more time checking e-mails or looking at cat videos on Facebook. Walking away from your work at regular intervals can help you get it done. I make a point of getting up once an hour and either walking around inside the building or heading outside for a walk around the block. I’ve even done this when working at home. I come back to my desk energized and ready to get things done.

Sometimes you just need time to think and absorb the material you’re working on. Don’t forfeit contemplation in an attempt to speed up the process. Some projects are complex and need time to develop. Try any of these techniques next time you find yourself avoiding the work that needs to get done. Hopefully you’ll be able to accomplish what you thought you couldn’t and stop beating yourself up for procrastinating. That in itself will be an accomplishment!