Category Archives: Professional Development

7 Tools To Build Your Training Materials

I get emails every day from companies promising me that they can produce wonderful, beautiful training materials for me – for a fee, of course. I suppose there are trainers out there who don’t want to bother with making their own materials, and maybe you’re one of them. I am not. Perhaps it’s the control freak in me coming out, but I prefer to do it myself.

When you’re a department of one with little resources, you learn how to put things together on your own. I’ve been creating PowerPoint presentations and course manuals for years. As more course content went online, I learned to create and edit videos. I also learned to make my own promotional materials instead of waiting for the marketing department to do it for me. Does this all take time? Yes, it does. But as you become more proficient with the tools, you can create materials quickly, efficiently, and you can keep the look and tone of the content consistent, regardless of the type.

Here are the tools that I use most often:

  • Google Slides/Google Docs: Many people use Microsoft products such as PowerPoint and Word to create presentations and documents. I, too, used these programs almost exclusively until I learned the benefits of Google Slides and Docs. First, I don’t need to remember to hit save while I’m working on a project. (How many times have you inadvertently closed something before saving? Or perhaps your computer crashed unexpectedly?) The Google programs automatically save changes to your work to your Google Drive. The other aspect of Slides and Docs that I really like is the ability to share editing responsibility with other team members. You can also share presentations and documents with others for review. You have much of the same functionality as you do in PowerPoint or Word, and if you want to, you can download your presentations and documents in those formats.
  • Canva:  I’ve written about Canva previously (I’m a fan). Not only can I create eye-catching designs for a multitude of purposes, I have access to more templates than I can count for many different purposes: presentations, social media posts, documents, website, and more. Canva makes it easy to create visuals for presentations and documents. If you upgrade to the Pro version, you get access to many more photographs and templates, as well as the ability to save your brand colors and fonts. I create all of my images for this blog/website, social media, and presentations with Canva. It’s easy to use and convenient to have everything in one place.
  • Camtasia: It’s fairly easy to make screen capture videos on a Mac or PC, but if you want to use those videos as part of online training, you’re probably going to want to edit them. You may want to zoom in to specific places on the screen, add callouts or animations, or add music or voice-over tracks. I have found Camtasia easy to work with, and it produces good results. Some of its features can be achieved with iMovie, but Camtasia does give you the ability to produce your final video in a variety of formats including those needed for some online learning platforms. To me, it’s worth the cost of the license.
  • Laptop Stand: I acquired a laptop stand several years ago as a way to help myself sit up straight while typing and viewing the screen on my laptop. Not only do I no long hunch over my laptop, I also discovered that I look at the camera at eye level when presenting webinars without sacrificing my ability to use the keypad. The bonus feature of the stand I purchased is that is it convertible. I can create a “standing desk” with it and stand up to present also. Save your back and neck and give yourself an eye-level camera angle at the same time with a laptop stand.
  • Microphone: Most laptops have built-in microphones somewhere on the side or back of the computer. Most of us will get better sound if we plug in a microphone and use it to capture our voices when presenting during webinars or making videos. This is also true if we use our smart phones to create videos for training. There are a number of different microphones you can purchase. I have both a lapel mike and a standing microphone. I also have a headset with microphone that I use for webinars if I am not on camera.
  • Smart Phone Tripod: You can shoot good videos using your smart phone, but you’re probably going to want to use a tripod to keep the image stable and lined up correctly. You can find cell phone tripod adaptors that fit on a standard tripod or you can purchase a tripod specifically for use with a smart phone. I found one that has a removable smart phone adaptor and bendable legs. I can use the adaptor with a standard tripod or use the bendable legs to place my tripod on sign posts, benches, and railings. My camera stays in place once positioned.
  • Zoom: There are plenty of video conferencing and webinar platforms out there. I mention Zoom because of three main things: The video quality is better than most platforms, it’s easy to place participants into “breakout rooms” for small group discussions or work, and it can be integrated with Facebook Live for streaming to a broader audience. Zoom Meetings gives you the ability to look at all of your participants, too. You can record webinars or meetings and repurpose the video. Whatever platform you decide to use for live, online training, be sure to learn the options and determine how you can best utilize them for engaging online sessions.

In most cases, there are online resources you can use to familiarize yourself with these tools. Learn how to use them effectively and efficiently so you can create training materials whenever you need them. What tools do you like? Leave your suggestions in the comments!

5 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Training

During my years as a training director, I learned that everyone in the organization knows how training should happen. I listened to a myriad of opinions about what we should train, when, and where. Don’t get me wrong–there were good ideas, too. I happen to believe that the training department should partner with managers to learn about needs and direction of the program. I learned that along with that comes several misconceptions about what “training” is and how to do it effectively. Here are five things everyone gets wrong about training:

  • Anyone can train. Subject matter experts are just that: Experts in the subject matter they perform. Sometimes subject matter experts (lovingly referred to as “SMEs” in the training field) are good presenters, sometimes not. If confronted with the idea that Bob the mortgage loan originator can teach a class on mortgages, my duty was to confirm that Bob could, indeed, teach the content. Not everyone can teach or train. When I evaluate a prospective trainer, it’s to determine whether the person wants to present in front of people and if yes, how can I best help them to accomplish that without sacrificing the standards of the program. There are alternatives to getting the material into the hands of learners such as interviews, podcasts, videos, and articles.
  • Give them a handout. Somehow, having a handout legitimizes the training class. It should have as much information on it as possible so that when someone leaves the class with the handout, they will be able to remember the information presented. Such handouts, in my opinion, are wastes of time. If the participant can get just as much out of a handout after the class as they can participating in the class, why bother attending? The best handouts are those that require the participant to pay attention to what’s going on in the class to be able to follow along on the handout. The handout could have sentences that need to be completed, prompts to write down a number of points that were made, or illustrations that the participant could describe. The handout could be a simple piece of paper for the participant to take notes. The handout shouldn’t replace the content of the class.
  • Give them the slide deck. This is a kin of the handout and sometimes even a substitute for it. Giving participants a copy of the slide deck may seem a plausible way to help them remember content, but only if the trainer is reproducing a high volume of class content on the slides. I prefer to make my slides primarily visual aids for the presentation and limit the number of bullet points on them. A copy of the slide deck might not get the participant very far in their recollection of the session if they are relying on the deck having all the information. There are times, however, when providing the slide deck in handout form can be useful for participants. Give it to them when appropriate.
  • Training has to be in person. This admonition is fading away as more and more companies are looking for ways to train their staff remotely. It is very common, though, to hear managers declare that people need to go to training (read: to a specific place at a specific time to take part in a class with a live instructor). With people accustomed to watching videos online and taking tests and quizzes via social media, the need to be in a physical classroom has diminished. We are finding ways to train people virtually, either live, in person or through learning management platforms that provide on demand training. There is a benefit to having a community of learners for social learning. That community can be assembled in the online space, too.
  • You don’t need training if you’re experienced. It’s surprising that people believe we can stop learning once we’ve achieved a particular level of competence in our fields. With rapid changes in technology and how it’s applied to different professions, training to use these tools is essential. Even if you have “learned it all,” you forget or don’t use information or techniques as consistently as you think. Often we need to keep learning to advance our careers. Exempting experienced people from training does not benefit them. Training needs to adapt and be flexible enough to allow for participants at different stages of their careers and their changing needs.

Everyone has an opinion about training. When you’re the trainer, you need to listen to them and then separate the valid recommendations and ideas from those that are less helpful. You may be called upon to justify your decisions, and that becomes a training opportunity, too. If you’re a trusted partner, others will welcome the chance to understand why you do what you do.

5 Tips To Get The Most Out Of An Online Community

We are all spending a lot more time online these days. It’s easy to find an hour has gone by and all I’ve done is watch some videos and read a couple of articles. This may seem like a waste of time, but I schedule my online “research.” I want to continue to learn new approaches and discover best practices for my use. This means using the resources I have available to me through online networking and social learning platforms.

Long before the pandemic I discovered that there are online communities of professionals who gather to learn and exchange ideas regularly. At one time, LinkedIn Groups functioned as great resources for information and exchange of ideas. Unfortunately, most of the posts in these groups do not get seen unless the member purposely goes to the group page. Just as any other social media platform, engagement dictates whether group members will see any content posted.

Other types of online communities include member-only platforms. Some require that you pay a fee to join, others have no fee. I joined Training Magazine’s online community, Training Magazine Network, several years ago to get resources and tips when I was researching Learning Management Systems. I stayed involved because I found that the multitude of topics covered in live and recorded webinars, e-books, and information on the site made it a good compliment to other industry-specific resources. I also enjoyed the interaction with other attendees on live webinars. Training Magazine Network also offers a place on the platform where I can record my insights as I watch a webinar, share my insights, and read others’ comments. This is all part of a social learning platform.

You can become a member of an online community and never watch, read, or comment on the content. For the best return on the investment of your time and attention (and perhaps money), I offer these tips:

  • Watch webinars live: Not another webinar, right?! I have learned about many training topics on webinars, and I’ve learned best practices for presenting a webinar just by observing a live webinar. If you watch the webinar live, you can also participate in the conversation in the chat. There are other professionals watching who contribute to the conversation. The webinar presenter will often use the chat to gauge interest and engagement, or a least to field questions. For best results, watch webinars live and be engaged!
  • Connect with other members, on- and off-line: Sometimes you meet someone on one of those webinars you watch and end up having conversations with them, connecting with them on LinkedIn, and even collaborating on a project. This only happens if you pay attention, strike up a conversation, and respond when someone invites you to connect with them. You never know where that connection could lead.
  • Participate in interest groups: Some networking or social learning platforms create opportunities for you to participate in small groups. Depending on the group, this may be for a finite period of time or an ongoing discussion. I find myself enriched by the conversations in the groups I have joined. You might discover that you create connections with the others in your group that last beyond the group’s dissolution.
  • Learn something new: As a training professional, I understand well the need to learn new things, but when was the last time you challenged yourself to learn something new? An online platform may give you the opportunity to stretch yourself and move out of your comfort zone. Think outside the box when contemplating which webinar to watch or what group to join. Consider topics you’ve always wanted to know about, but didn’t think relevant enough.
  • Contribute: It’s easy to sit back and watch a few webinars or videos, read a couple articles, and then move on. Sometimes you read something that makes you mad or resonates with you. If the platform gives you the ability to leave comments or engage with the author through a chat function, consider continuing the conversation. If you’re watching a webinar, use the chat function to contribute. Ask questions. Help someone else understand something. Contribute to the discussion. You’ll find your experience enriched in the end.

You only get out of it what you put in.

Make the most of online resources to help you with your professional development and to learn about tools that could help your department (even a department of one). Join an online networking group to find connections with other professionals. You may just find your new favorite place to hang out online.

Repurpose Your Content

Once upon a time, to teach meant that you stood or sat in a classroom in front of people and engaged in activities designed to help those people learn something. You might have lectured or presented concepts, theories, or formulas. You might have demonstrated how to perform an activity or experiment. You might have engaged the people in the classroom in a discussion about a topic or a reading. When the time for the class was up, you left the room and interacted with the people only if they had questions or needs, and they most likely came to you during specific times when you were available for consultation.

The content for these classes was in a notebook or file folder, prepared and maintained by you, the instructor. If you shared anything, it was in the form of paper handouts. Sometimes you prepared manuals for distribution to the participants in your classes. In some cases, you may have added audio cassettes or CDs for participants to use when reviewing the lessons. Each person had their own set of materials for their own use.

Times have changed, haven’t they? We are less likely to be in a classroom these days, and the materials we provide may be documents, videos, or audio files stored on a website that participants in training access on their own, according to their needs. The ability to provide new materials and make changes to previous versions has also made updating course content faster (and easier, in my opinion). We are connected to students in a variety of ways: Email, text message, social media, and learning management systems, to name a few.

I believe that the nature of teaching and learning has also changed. We still conduct formal training sessions to present material and give students the opportunity to ask questions and practice; however, there are also informal, social learning opportunities as well. The content we prepare for formal learning can be repurposed and used for informal learning as well.

I have been creating short “Quick Tip” videos for some time. Each one explains to real estate agents how to do something for their business and in some cases, why it’s important. The content for these videos comes from the material I regularly train on in my classroom sessions. Because these are short “Quick Tips,” I use discrete lessons that can be presented in two to four minutes in a video. I typically use no visual aids, and it’s just me in the frame of the video.

These videos are distributed to my social channels (YouTube, Facebook, and LinkedIn). They also sit on a page on my website. I invite viewers to comment and subscribe, but most people will see the video through social channels as they view their newsfeeds. Recently I took one of the “tracks” we teach as part of the Floyd Wickman Program, the “Referral Lead Generator,” and created a short “how to” video:

I can use this video as a short reminder lesson for students in the program, to promote my business as a Floyd Wickman trainer, and to simply connect with past students who may have forgotten the technique and want to review it for their use. Eventually this video will be linked to my email signature where I invite people to view my latest “Quick Tip.” It gives a broad audience a taste of what I train on and how I present the content.

When I create videos, I order captions and a transcript from an online service. The transcript of the video can be stand-alone content for a blog post or website page. Many podcasts double as audio and video files, distributed to different channels for different purposes. Webinars can be recorded and offered for on-demand learning on a learning management platform or other website. Repurposing content is taking what you have already prepared and using it in a different way.

People learn in different places, at different times, and by different means than they did 20 or 30 years ago. By repurposing your training content and making it available via different channels, you are more likely to reach more students (and potential students) than you might by confining your teaching to the classroom.

Six Social Media Tips for the Trainer

When I started my first Facebook business page for training at HER Realtors eight years ago, I did it to learn the ins and outs of Facebook so that I could teach it to agents. Social media was already a marketing tool utilized by a few agents to gain business and stay in touch with their sphere of influence. More and more agents wanted to learn the tool, so I took the plunge and constructed the page.

Much of what I learned back then has been updated as Facebook has changed over the years. I’ve added LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram to my repertoire of social media channels that I teach. I’ve had the benefit of learning from social media experts for real estate such as Katie Lance and Marki Lemons-Rhyal, too. It became apparent to me early on that teaching social media is only part of the story. I began to use social media to promote training internally and now in my business generally.

There are many resources out there to guide you in your use of social media: Books, articles, webinars, videos, and infographics. I’ve written about using social media for the marketing of training previously. I’d like to pass on just a few tips and techniques that I have learned while using social media to promote training:

  • Use video: Get over yourself and create videos to teach, inform, and entertain your audience. Create a playlist and promote the playlist in your video as a way to get people to pay attention to your content. Use a captioning service such as Rev to get captions and a transcript. Add the captions when you post the video and include the transcript in the comments. There are several reasons to use captions, but my favorite is that the majority of people watching video on Facebook do so with the audio muted. If you add captions, people are more likely to watch. Don’t forget live videos, either!
  • Create and use a Content Grid: To answer the most common question I get (“What do I post?”), I tell agents to create a content grid with categories and descriptions of the types of content you can (and will) post. Then, when you sit down to create your posts, refer to the content grid for ideas. You will begin to post interesting content on a regular basis (because you no longer need so much time to generate ideas) which will get you noticed more often.
  • Repurpose your content: When you spend time creating a video or blog post, don’t just use it once, post it on multiple channels. When I create a “Real Estate Quick Tip” video, it gets posted first on YouTube, then later on Facebook, and then the next week on LinkedIn. The transcript could also be the basis of a longer blog post, or I could use bits and pieces for shorter posts.
  • Share carefully: Most social media sites don’t like you sharing links that send people to another website. They sometimes punish these posts by not displaying them in people’s newsfeeds or on their timelines. It may be a good idea to share an article or video, however. One technique is to create the post, then place the link to the article or video in the comments. Tell people in the post to look for the link in the comments.
  • Use hashtags and tag others: Most social media sites favor content that is searchable (via hashtags) and engages others (likes, comments, and shares). To get more views of your content, use hashtags that will make it searchable and tag people when appropriate. When I share an article, for example, I tag the author. This gets their eyes on the post and they will probably “like” it which means all of their connections/friends/followers will see the post. The more engagement a post gets, the more often it will appear when your people view the social media channel you posted in.
  • Monitor views and responses: The benefit to using social media to promote your training is that you can access analytics to tell you how many people are seeing your content and what type of content your audience favors. Use the analytics available to you on Facebook to also determine what time of day you should post. These free tools are on all the platforms I use, and I check them on a regular basis to determine what sorts of posts get the most attention (hint: videos and pictures rate highly!).

There are many ways to promote your training programs, and social media can be an important  tool in your marketing tool bag. Consider where your audience hangs out (LinkedIn? Twitter?) and how you will get them to see your content (do you ask them to like your Facebook page?). If you’d like to see examples of what I do to create interest for my training on social media, like my Facebook page, subscribe to my YouTube channel, or connect with me on LinkedIn!

What Do You Want To Learn?

I wrote one book (my dissertation) and always wanted to write another – and another – but never got around to it. I thought that writers were a special breed and everything they wrote would get published and hit the best seller list. How could I do that?

I read a lot and realize that many people write books. Some are good, others are not so good. And yet others are really bad. But somehow they got published. I began to think: I can do this. But how? When I wrote my dissertation, it was for a specific purpose (to earn my Ph.D.). I could have published it, but it would have needed more work to get it into shape for publishing. I didn’t have the energy or desire at that time to put in the work. Then, I left academia for business and all thoughts of publishing were left behind.

Fast forward a few years and I’ve returned to the idea of writing and publishing a book. For some time, I’ve followed a company, Scribe (formerly Book In A Box), that helps authors publish their books. They offered a workshop that I was too cheap to attend. It was intriguing, though, and when the pandemic hit, Scribe took the workshop online and let people take it at no cost. I signed up.

I spent 10 hours over two days plus a couple hours on day three watching live webinars with Tucker Max, author and founder of Scribe, and his staff and actually working on my book. I learned how to position the book, write an outline, deal with all the fears that accompany writing a book, and create a writing and editing plan.

But why tell you all this? Yes, I do hope you’ll take a look at my book when it’s published. That’s not the point, though. Too often, we trainers are so focussed on delivering training that we forget what it’s like to sit in the seat and be the student.

Why is it important to be the student now and again? It gives you perspective. Do you see the trainer using techniques you employ in your classes? How well do they sit with the students? What works? What doesn’t work? You consider how you teach and what you can improve to help your students learn the material, retain it, and be able to use it when needed.

If we want to be effective trainers and teachers, we need to evolve and learn new ways of teaching. That’s where learning comes in. Many trainers who had never presented online had to quickly learn how to deliver a webinar in the past two months. Some did well; others stumbled and limped through their webinars. What if you had watched other trainers deliver webinars over the past few years and started offering your training online prior to the pandemic? Sometimes circumstances force us to learn something new, but online training isn’t new. It’s just that some have come later to it than others.

So what do you want to learn? Find something and take a class. Use it to gain knowledge and skills, but also to learn how others teach. You will gain some level of expertise in a topic and perspective in the art of training adults. Take what you like and leave the rest.

In college, I lived in a dormitory that carries an inscription on one of its exterior walls. It says: “The end of learning is gracious living.” We thought that it meant we could leave the rigors of our educational pursuits behind us when we earned our degrees and start living well. The college interprets this quote differently and sponsors a “Day of Gracious Living” when they encourage alumni to contribute to the annual fund. The sentiment is that when we finish our learning, we’ll be gracious and give back. It’s an effective way to get alumni to contribute, but I would argue that we shouldn’t stop learning. Just because you have a degree or credential doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from continuing education.

Go ahead. Take a class. Learn something new.

Can Online Training Be Better?

I have to admit, I like delivering online training classes. I don’t have to “dress for success” (or at least not in the same way) and my commute is very easy. I get to teach from the convenience of my home where I have everything I need at my fingertips. My “assistant,” aka Calvin the wonderful wiener dog, appreciates being able to hang out with me while I teach, too.

I know that people will debate whether online training classes are better or worse than in-person classes. I would contend that poor content and training delivery is bad for learners, regardless where it originates, in a classroom or online. Nevertheless, online training requires the presenter to adapt content and change delivery for the online platform. In person, the trainer can gauge the reaction of the people in the classroom and change delivery or content accordingly. When online, the trainer relies on beefed up participation to get real time feedback. Sometimes this goes awry.

Online training has its benefits though. Both the trainer and participants can be anywhere. This broadens the scope of the trainer’s reach and delivers content to people who might not usually have access to that trainer or topic. Most online platforms are easy to access, depending on internet connection, of course. As a trainer, becoming familiar with various platforms and managing the content and delivery with them necessitates a learning curve. Once you’re familiar enough with a platform, you’ll waste less time trying to figure out what to do and more time actually delivering content.

With a broad reach comes the opportunity for participants to network with people outside their usual circle. I know some trainers who actively discourage participants from using the chat or questions functions to communicate with others. I’m not so concerned with that. I see the chat or questions boxes as opportunities to get to know other participants and engage with them. Most platforms will let you save the chat to your computer. That way, you can refer back to it and connect with other participants outside the formal training session.

This leads me to one of the biggest issues I see with trainers presenting online classes. It’s true that participants can engage with each other even if they aren’t in the same room; however, we must be intentional in creating communities of learning when online. This doesn’t come as easily as when you’re in person in a classroom. There is no natural inclination to talk to other people or exchange ideas when you’re attending an online class. The trainer and the students must make an effort to foster community and participate. From the trainer’s perspective, this can be something as simple as asking people to contribute their name and location in the chat box or more complex such as using breakout rooms with small group exercises. The trainer holds the key to unlocking the door to creating community online.

As we wander back to classroom training, will learners follow? The convenience of online training will continue to appeal to people who may not be able or are just unwilling to travel to an in-person class. The trainer who wants to broaden his/her reach beyond a local geography will continue to embrace and utilize the online space. I can see a move toward more “blended learning” approaches that use online training for the knowledge base and in-person workshops for the application of what was learned online. This type of online training could be static, on-demand courses or live instruction.

This still begs the question: When there’s a choice, will people continue to attend online classes? I think so. Online training existed prior to the pandemic, and it will continue to thrive. The difference going forward is the commitment trainers have to improving the online class. Its ease of use and the familiarity we’ve gained over time will make online training a viable alternative to traditional, in-person classroom sessions.

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.

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.