Monthly Archives: April 2020

Live! And Online

Please, please stop saying “unprecedented” when referring to this global pandemic! It might be a hot mess or crazy times, highly unusual or extraordinary, but please call it something other than unprecedented. We’ve heard that before. Help me to consider the current situation in a different light and you’ll have my attention.

I’ve had to think of my training business in a different way when it became apparent that the pandemic changed how people need to get training. Online training has existed for some time. There are self-paced, digital courses available in many fields. Anyone visiting the “support” or “help” areas on websites for assistance sees many examples of training tools designed to help an end user navigate the steps necessary to do just about anything. These types of training are necessary to provide, but they don’t make up the majority of the type of training I provide.

So what about synchronous training? You know, live, in person training courses that advance a learner to proficiency in a subject or skill. Is it possible to convert that type of training to an online version? I think so. I believe there is the opportunity to engage students in the online space that is not the same as in a classroom, but can still provide a similar experience.

There is also the need to create online versions of static professional development classes. These are often continuing education courses that professionals need because a state regulatory agency recognizes the need to keep licensees updated in their respective fields. The content may not change often, but it does change over time. With no opportunities to meet in a classroom for the foreseeable future, the professional using existing digital offerings depends on classes that are updated infrequently with no opportunity to interact with the instructor or other students.

Classroom training can be converted to online opportunity. What will attract the person who wants to learn the material? In a word: Interaction. A class offered live, online can have a degree of interaction with the instructor and other participants, depending on the platform used to deliver the class. In addition to interaction, current offerings can also deliver up-to-date material.

Here are five strategies I’ve used to convert my classroom-based classes to the online environment:

  • Change the presentation to fit the online environment: You may need more or less words on the slide, depending on how you normally construct your presentations. Consider using different kinds of graphics to illustrate your points. You might want to use video and animation to break up the monotony of the slide deck.
  • Use breakout rooms: Consider using a platform that gives you the ability to assign participants to breakout rooms where they can discuss topics in small groups. Give them questions or topics to discuss in a handout (either send it to them prior to the class and/or let them download it from the platform). Have one person report out of the group when the participants reconvene.
  • Step up their participation: Use polls to solicit answers to questions or feedback. Use techniques such as “Write this down,” “Raise your hand if . . . ,” “wave if you . . . ,” “Write in the chat box . . . .” Take people off mute if they have questions or comments. If you’re asking them to give feedback in the chat or questions features of the platform, read them and respond. You have to be intentional about involving people online because you won’t be able to judge their reactions to what you’re saying as you would in the classroom.
  • Use your webcam: Yes, it’s disconcerting to think that the participants are seeing you but you are probably not seeing them. Talk to the camera and imagine you’re speaking to one (or more). Use gestures. Be animated. Don’t just read the slides!
  • Give them a break: Depending on the length of the class, consider working in a break. Most people can’t sit and pay attention for more than 90 minutes. If your class is an hour in length, there’s probably no need for a break.

All of these adaptations require work. Reevaluate the content of the class. What is essential? What is fluff? Make a meaningful experience for your participants. Give them a reason to be there with you for a live online class. Make it an extraordinary experience.

What is this feeling?

For those of us who are self-employed, Covid-19 could be a blessing or a curse. I see many entrepreneurs and small business owners pivoting and making changes to bring their businesses to people in other, chiefly online, ways. Necessity is the mother of invention, right? I see the announcements popping up on social media. There are webinars and calls, e-books and videos. But what about those of us who are just starting our businesses? It’s time to do a lot of “business development,” right? In other words, work to find future rather than now opportunities.

I can embrace that idea and have been trying to make contacts and set appointments for that future date when I’ll be able to hold in-person training classes. I am well-versed at presenting webinars and have done a few recently. Unfortunately, webinars haven’t been replacing my other offerings. This means a loss of income in the short term.

I surprised myself one morning this week by writing the following in my journal: “I think I am grieving for what might have been if this pandemic had not taken hold. It has caused me to consider if I really made the right choice. I feel like I don’t want to go back to where I was, but I don’t see a way forward from where I am now.” If you’re just starting a business when the pandemic hit, your opportunities probably dried up. You are mourning for what might have been. This grief is real. I realized that when, serendipitously, a Twitter notification popped up on my phone that lead me down a social media rabbit hole.

In the process of surveying my Twitter newsfeed I saw a friend’s post where she shared an article from the Harvard Business Review, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief.” In this article, the author interviews David Kessler who co-wrote On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. Kessler pinpointed what I and others are feeling right now: “Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain.” My mind races forward three months, six months. I see my nascent business failing and then extinct before it really had a chance to get off the ground. “Anticipatory grief is the mind going to the future and imagining the worst.”

What is the antidote to this grief? According to Kessler, it’s staying grounded in the present. What can you do now, today to remind yourself that you’re o.k.? In our communities, it can be practicing social distancing. For ourselves, it can be practicing mindfulness of our breath, our physical space, or just washing our hands and staying as healthy as possible.

This article was enlightening and sobering at the same time. Yes, I can give myself permission to focus on the present. I still need a way to earn a living and keep food in the refrigerator. I try to pitch my online offerings to people in a position to hire me. I feel sales-y and somehow inconsiderate. I find myself talking too much on these calls. I know this is the kiss of death (I teach sales skills after all!), but I can’t seem to stop myself. Focussing on what I can do today to advance my business has turned into frustration.

At the same time, I see announcements of webinar offerings by colleagues and competitors. I watch some of these webinars and marvel at how some trainers ever got someone to agree to let them present. I’m a little jealous and mad at myself at the same time. What am I doing wrong?

As more and more trainers race to put their content online in webinars and videos, the market becomes saturated. The audience for all of these online offerings is getting tapped out. How many webinars can you watch in a day or week before you just start deleting the email announcements or scrolling past the posts in your newsfeed. I call this “webinar fatigue.” It’s fine to watch and listen to people telling us what we should do for a while. Then, it turns into nagging and our attention begins to wane. We long for the connection, the dialogue, after a while, and webinars are not a substitute for human interaction.

The best webinar presenters understand this and work hard to create opportunities for connection while presenting. It helps when the presenter is interacting with the audience via the chat or questions function in the platform. Some platforms, like Zoom, give hosts the ability to put people in “breakout rooms” to interact. Sometimes even participants help each other out and start communicating among themselves in the chat. This aggravates some presenters (it’s disrespectful! they aren’t paying attention!) but I see this as a way to create community, even if it is in the context of an online offering.

I suspect that the number of webinar or online offerings will decrease over time and only those that are truly worthwhile, either because of the topic and/or the presenter, will stick around. I can’t worry about that now, however. I need to let go of what I can’t control and focus on what I can do now, today. If you’d like to talk to me about presenting some training, great. I’d love to connect with you. If you’re tired of training options, connect with me anyway. I’m here to help in any way I can.

Goals or Dreams?

There is power in setting goals for oneself, but there’s even more power in understanding and taking the steps needed to achieve a goal. Just setting a goal is the beginning. At that point, it’s a wish, a dream of what could be. Many of us have dreams of fame and fortune or perhaps recognition and status. Dreams are what could be, if only . . . .

If all you want to do is fantasize about what could be, then by all means, keep dreaming. Otherwise, write down your goal. Think about what it will take to achieve it and break it into pieces. What needs to be done first, second, third, and so on. How much time will you devote to the tasks you must perform to reach your goal? Unless you write it down and follow through with your intension, the goal will remain a dream.

I know this because I have been dreaming of writing a book for almost 30 years. When I finished my dissertation, I knew that I wanted to write more. I knew I could do it. I also knew that it took time and effort. Then I started getting sidetracked with work and family. Writing a book seemed frivolous and unnecessary. I was a little scared of the idea, too.

I thought of all the “what ifs” I could conjure up. What if I fail? was the biggest, hairiest “what if” of them all. If there’s anything I (and a lot of other people) don’t like, it’s the thought of failing at something. It’s not the actual failure that stops me. I avoid failure whenever possible because I can’t stand the thought of attempting something and failing at it. Instead, I just don’t do it. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this tactic. I am a perfectionist, and this perfectionism has kept me from trying things if I don’t know the outcome in advance.

How does this relate to goal-setting and achieving goals? You can set goals for yourself, but if you don’t take the steps needed to achieve those goals, they remain dreams, unfulfilled and untested. At some point, you need to let go of the rope keeping you tethered to the dream and start working. Yes, it can be difficult. Yes, you might stumble and even fail. But if it’s something you really want, how will you know you can get it if you don’t try?

Some people love the challenge of the journey, some like the destination. It really doesn’t matter which you prefer. It helps to have someone or something to help you get where you want to go. You might choose to have a navigator or coach to accompany you to keep you on the right road and on track. You might work with someone to go through a goal-setting exercise that helps you map out the process for achieving your goal. You then have something to refer to often as you work. How you get there is your choice; getting help is not a weakness.

If there’s anything this “stay at home” time has done for me, it has given me the time to consider what I really want to do with my time and talents. The book is still singing its siren song to me. I’ve listened and felt the fear of crashing on the rocks. This time, though, the fear is of not writing the book. What or who will I be if I don’t move forward with my dream? I considered that, then got some help. I committed my goal of writing this book to paper and plotted the steps I need to take to finish. I signed up for an online course to help me focus my work. I want to publish the book, so just typing it on my computer, while a start, is not enough. I need to learn how to work through the process, too.

This is my example of setting a goal and creating the process for achieving it. Whatever it is that you want or need to achieve, it’s still work. You must determine if the reward of accomplishing the goal is great enough to sustain you through the work of completing the necessary steps. If goals are given to you as part of your job, can you align your individual goals with the job and get it done? I don’t have clear answers for that question. Each person needs to determine how to respond to the necessity to accomplish someone else’s goals. (In the workplace, good leaders bring people along on the path to the organization’s goals. In my opinion, imposing goals on staff without buy-in leads to dissonance and dissatisfaction.)

For many people, goal setting seems like second nature. We do it regularly. We are taught to plan for the future. End-of-year meetings in businesses are filled with planning for the next year. Why not take the time at each opportunity of a new task or project to really plan the process and work steadily toward achieving the goal or completing the project? Such planning brings clarity, stokes enthusiasm for the project, and can turn dreams into achievable goals.

Thoughts On Work And Life

What a strange place we’re in! It is as if we are collectively holding our breath as we wait for something new – or maybe the other shoe to drop. We fear getting sick but seemed resigned to what seems like the inevitable. We take precautions and stay away from others. We live in our restricted and restrictive spaces, connected through our computers and smartphones. How long can we continue to talk to disembodied voices or pictures with sound before we forget what it’s like to be in the presence of others?

We make jokes about dressing from the waist up for video conferencing, and it’s a funny thought to wear sweat pants with a dress shirt and jacket. To me, it’s a physical representation of our disjointed lives. We’re at home and we’re at work. We are searching for a new normal in the midst of “stay at home” and social distancing.”

Many have the ability to work from home and manage the job and family in the same place. Of course, other issues arise when the family competes for space and internet bandwidth. Others do not have this luxury. They work in grocery stores, pharmacies, and warehouses. These workers still need child care and transportation. I worry that the “new normal” for these people has added more stress to what was already a difficult juggling act.

What I think this situation may force us to realize is how much we view ourselves from the perspective of our jobs and professions. “What do you do?” has become “What are you” in the work world. Without a specific place to embody that role, what are we? People who worked remotely prior to the pandemic may have already answered this question. For women, and especially mothers who work outside the home, having a clear line between who we are at home and who we are at work was helpful. What do you do when the workplace is home? I don’t have children at home now and it’s still difficult to get my husband to respect my work space and time.

But is who we are defined by others or the space we inhabit? Our individual identities are our own making. If we allow others to define who we are or identify our roles and the places in which we perform those roles as what we are, then we relinquish our autonomy. Why does this matter now? I see people running to redefine their lives because the pandemic has stripped them of their identity as they defined it.

Fear has taken hold of the world. Yes, we will get through this, but at what cost to our psyches? I realize that we, as humans, have the ability to reinvent ourselves many times over during our lives. If we are forced to reinvent ourselves because of an outside/external situation, why do we do it? Because we feel we can learn something new and grow or because one door was closed to us and we are forced to open another one?

I am just beginning to formulate tentative answers to these questions. I feel compelled to provide opportunities to people if they want to learn something new, but I also find myself in the same situation as someone trying to launch a new business. Should I pivot and do something different? What can I offer people to help them get through this?

I worry that our sense of community has been seriously injured also. I mourn the loss of the in-person training sessions I offer because they provide me with a community of learners. Together we approach the material and discover its meaning and/or application. Those learners may be present on the other end of a webinar, but it’s not quite the same as being face-to-face in a room. I do what I can to create connection and participation in live, online training sessions. Analytics are sometimes my only resource to determine if they felt connected and interested.

I hope that we can learn to live together again when we emerge from this pandemic. I think the scars of this disease on our communities will take a long time to fade. My task seems simple, yet profound: to bring people together in communities of learning. In doing this, I play my part in our collective healing.

The Blank Page

I sat down today for the first time in 10 days to write in my journal. What used to be a firm morning routine of reading and writing with my cup of coffee before the newspaper and radio invaded my brain was swept aside by “stay at home” orders and “social distancing.” My routine had a rhythm of getting up at a certain time based on when my spouse went to work. Now he’s home all day. The routine got disrupted and I let the upheaval continue too long.

In much the same way, my training schedule and opportunities have been disrupted. I can’t count on in-person training to fill my schedule. Instead, my classes have moved to online offerings. There are always the basics to teach; however, in exceptional times, we trainers need to have exceptional content that speaks to our students now. I have to ask myself: What do real estate agents want to learn, and what do they need to learn now.

When the world changes daily (or hourly), it’s hard to tell people to do something when the result may not be allowed or applicable in just a short time. The uncertainty surrounding us all creates doubts about what we can teach people. Will it still be true in two or three weeks? Who will this resonate with if . . . ?

I work in the real estate business. I train people to be better, more productive real estate agents. Here’s what I know to be true: real estate agents are relatable people. They want to help people and grow their businesses. Consumers look to them for advice and assistance. Agents form close personal relationships with people as they walk through the buying or selling process. This is something the big real estate search engines can’t do, despite their presence in the market. Training should reflect what agents need to know to reach consumers and prove their value proposition.

There’s little or no opportunity for influencing people in person right now. We must provide training online. This scares some trainers, I’m sure, but it’s time to learn the tools if you haven’t already. There are different ways to conduct training virtually. In addition to Learning Management Systems that provide on demand training, we can conduct live webinars and even utilize Facebook or YouTube live to engage our followers on social channels. We can create training content such as video quick tips. These static videos become “evergreen” content online that we can continue to use in the future.

Beyond these somewhat traditional means of training virtually, we can reach out to students via phone, text, and email with “micro-learning” opportunities. If you utilize a platform that gives you the ability to send mass emails or text messages, you can send a group of people a mini lesson with a short assignment. Have participants upload their completed assignment or results to a closed Facebook group to create conversation and the ability for you to give feedback.

The opportunities are there and depend only on your willingness to be creative with training now. You may need to create new content for delivery through different means than you have in the past. You may need to learn something new yourself to be able to deliver training in a new way. Keep moving forward with your ideas and plans despite the temptation to throw your hands up and give in to the disruption. Your people need you.

Fill up the blank page.