Category Archives: Professional Development

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!

Running a Training Department on a Shoestring, Part 2

In my last post, I discussed how Eventbrite has provided an effective platform for organizing and delivering registrations for our professional development offerings. Instead of manually entering registration information conveyed in an e-mail, we direct people to a registration page via a calendar widget or URL. Agents enter their own information and get updates and reminders automatically. I’m free to focus on other aspects of the professional development program.

One thing that is a constant in my position is the need to produce updated materials. In addition to print materials, there are videos and images, job aids and user guides that require my attention. I’m always on the look out for cheap (read: free) ways to help me produce learning materials that look good and deliver the message well.

Over a year ago I encountered Canva. I’m not sure where I saw the reference, but it got me curious and I checked out the site. Canva is an online platform that lets you create designs for social media posts, documents, marketing materials, and more. I use the free version, but there is the option to upgrade to be able to load all of your brand-standard materials for use when designing pieces. You can also choose to use images or other design elements in Canva that carry a small fee.

I make almost all of my visuals for social media on Canva. I also create presentation designs and upload them to PowerPoint. My next project is to use the infographic template to create job aids and quick reference guides. Canva has numerous free designs you can clone and edit for your purpose. You can also create your piece using basic templates and adding background, text, images, and graphics. If there are no images in Canva’s library that suit you, or if you have a specific image you want to use, you can also upload these to your account and have them available for a piece.

There are other free platforms (Adobe Spark, Venngage) that let you create images and designs for use on social media and in documents, but I have found Canva to be very versatile and relatively easy to use. I was disappointed with Venngage because many of the templates they offer require the user to upgrade to a paid account. If you have a free account, your sharing and downloading are restricted. I know others who use Adobe Spark and like it. Adobe Spark has additional features that let you create animated videos and web stories. While Canva is set up for easy sharing online if you so desire, Adobe Spark is primarily geared toward social sharing and web applications.

Great content is the backbone of effective training materials. Good designs, images, and graphics reinforce the message. We have a marketing department at my company, and they do help with some design work (and use Canva as well!); however, I find that by creating the images I need for a presentation, video, or document myself, I can tailor the message with image and the words, written or spoken. It’s helpful to have a tool that gives me the “rails” within which I can confidently play with the visual message. That the tool is free is a definite plus.

Training Tools In My Briefcase

Cleaning out my work briefcase, a rolling bag with multiple compartments, caused me to think about the most important tools I carry around. My bag is my office on wheels, and because I work remotely so often, I need to be able to access what I need wherever I go. Here are my “go to” tools that always come along with me:

  • My Laptop. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I’m sure there are some people out there who don’t cart around a laptop with them wherever they go. I’m not one of them. I tried to rely on my iPad one day last week and could only do so because I wasn’t out of the office that long. I can present from my iPad and do a myriad of things on it, but there are still some functions that are just more comfortable on my laptop. I create presentations and e-learning courses, read and edit documents, facilitate webinars and online meetings, and even read and answer e-mail from my laptop.
  • A Presenter. No, this isn’t the person who stands up in front and delivers the talk. A presenter is what we commonly call a “clicker.” I used to have to make regular passes by my laptop to advance the slides while using a presentation in a training class. I got tired of that and got a presenter. Now I click my way through the slides and can even use a laser pointer (when showing slides on a traditional screen) or make the screen go black. Once you become familiar with presenting with a “clicker,” you won’t go back to being chained to your keyboard while delivering a presentation.
  • A Headset. For a long time, I used the earbuds that came with my iPhone when I gave a webinar or even when I recorded videos. I knew there had to be a better way. The microphone placement on smartphone earbuds is great if you’re talking on the phone, but not so great if you’re recording your voice for a video. I did some research and asked around for suggestions. I purchased a Logitech headset with an adjustable microphone. The sound quality is very good, and I don’t have to hold the microphone up all the time to be sure people can hear me. I also purchased a clip-on microphone that plugs into my iPhone for recording videos when I’m in the picture.
  • Pens. This may sound silly, but I always have a supply of pens in my bag. I get them from various vendors and give them to participants who forget to bring a pen with them to class. This happens more often than you think. I thought about carrying paper, too, but decided that there was probably always something on hand for people to write on (handouts, manuals, etc.), but not always something to write with.
  • A Pad of Paper. I use a pad of paper to take notes in classes or meetings, jot down ideas, and record task lists. I keep the letter-sized legal pad in a folio with a pen. I have a second, smaller size pad that fits in a likewise smaller folio that I carry in my purse/tote bag when not rolling the briefcase around. I still like to make notes and lists the old-fashioned way.

This is not an exhaustive list of the contents of my bag. There are things that go in and out of the bag depending on the situation or need. Everyone has their favorite tools–those they can’t live without and those they wish they could live without.

What’s in your bag?

Commencement

‘Tis the season for high school and college commencement ceremonies. I had the pleasure of attending my daughter’s commencement at Butler University last month. It was a joyful and sad time. These events remind us of the passage of time but also fill us with the promise of things to come. And, it got me thinking about the purpose of education in general.

We send our children to school to learn and grow. There are many things we expect them to learn in addition to reading, writing, history, mathematics, and science. We want them to learn to work and live among all kinds of people. We want to learn respect for their teachers, each other, and the world around them. When they achieve, we celebrate. When they fail, we encourage them to pick themselves up and try again. At some point, children have learned the basics (and then some), and we launch them into the next phase of their lives. This doesn’t mean that they stop learning, even if they don’t move on to a college or university course of study.

Indeed, we all need to continue to learn. The word “commencement” signifies the beginning of a new kind of learning. For some, this means an advanced level of formal education. For others, the learning may be on-the-job training. But the learning never stops–or shouldn’t stop just because a person “graduates” from school.

When employees and associates in my company complain about having to learn something new, I cringe. I wish more people were happy at the prospect of engaging their brains to learn a better way to do their job or essential information to pass on to clients, for example. I recognize, however, that not all people have the desire to continue to learn as they grow older. Some are happy when things stay the same. Some find learning difficult for many reasons. How do you engage such people in learning for their jobs or professions?

Continuing education can be a matter of complying with a licensing regulation. It’s challenging to bring to that kind of a class the material that will spark interest and engagement, but I always work toward that end. Just because it’s labeled “continuing education” doesn’t mean it has to be dull and boring.

My job is also a sales job. I need to express the benefits of the training I offer to get people to buy in to the idea that they need to be there. If I don’t have a good notion of what it is I want people to be able to do when they leave my class, workshop, or online session, then I can’t “sell” it to the participants. So, I start with why: Why is this important for participants to know or do? Then, I proceed to the benefits to the participant. Finally, I focus on the “how”: The techniques, the materials, and the mode of training needed to help learning happen.

“Commencement” happens every day in my world. I am regularly launching people into new and unknown (to them) territory by providing relevant and interesting learning opportunities.

Good Intentions

I logged into the dashboard and looked at the date of the last post. It’s been six months since I posted on this blog. There were comments on that blog post from November 2016 waiting for my approval, but I have been too preoccupied to even mark them as spam (as they were). At least, until today. The good intentions I had when starting this blog have eaten at me too long. Nothing happens unless you do something. So now it’s time to do something.

Training can be an all-consuming occupation. Besides the time spent delivering training, there’s the research, meetings, phone calls, e-mails, general preparation, and post-event evaluation that take the majority of my time. Actually delivering the training is the tip of the iceberg. When you add coordinating other activities ancillary to my main role, my days (and sometimes evenings and weekends) are full. This sounds like an excuse, but it’s meant as an explanation and a warning.

It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day activities that comprise our occupations. I have been complaining to family members for some time that I feel like my department is losing sight of the “big picture.” We schedule training classes and engage outside trainers willy-nilly as if being busy equals success. We lack the planning and direction that could help us run a focused, intentional program. We are not evaluating the efficacy of our programs. I miss this. I am a “big picture” kind of person. I like having a plan and executing it well.

I also happen to think that just providing training, regardless of the outcome, is more for show than the business outcomes the training is supposed to drive. (Look at all the programs we have! We’re being helpful!) Too often, we confuse offering training opportunities with participants being able to perform as we want or need. Just because they show up doesn’t mean they apply what’s learned.

I have put off returning to this blog for months now thinking that I didn’t have it in me to add anything interesting or consequential. In November I was grateful for the responses I received on my post about gratitude. The post had little to do with training, but the timing felt right (it also helped to have read a similar post on one of my favorite blogs, Spin Sucks). Then the holidays happened, then it was a new year with new programs to launch, and the list goes on. You don’t make art out of good intentions, as Flaubert reminds me.

So, enough with excuses and good intentions. It’s time to get back to a plan and execute, evaluate, and adjust it accordingly. I want to make good art.

Changes

I don’t know who first said it, but my mother was partial to the saying, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” It was her way of saying that there are some things in life that are constants, no matter what seems to be changing. Change is a given–how we react to it makes all the difference.

When I started teaching, we didn’t use PowerPoint. Transparencies were the height of technology along with a portable cassette player. Although much has changed, there are some constants:

Learners still want information they can use (in life, in their business, etc.). Relevance is important. How you present topics can depend on the audience, but whether they grasp the concepts can depend on how well you relate the information to their situation.

Classrooms are where subjects are taught and learners learn. Today, a classroom may be a place people gather to learn or an online environment, a virtual classroom.

Performance is what we measure to determine how well learners grasp the concepts and skills acquired. In school, performance is often measured by tests and quizzes. In professional development, we look at how well learners put the skills into practice. We might measure sales made or actions taken as a result of training.

Change is inevitable, and I’ve seen many changes in education. Take for example the classroom. Much of my teaching today takes place in a virtual environment through live webinars and video training. The method of delivery influences how skills are taught. I cannot immediately monitor whether my learners are actually acquiring the skill I’m presenting. Instead, I must look at other factors such as feedback on surveys, questions asked, and results.

My learners are less enthused about sitting in a traditional classroom and listening to a lecture today. If they sit in a classroom, it can’t be for too long, and there has to be activity. I try to break up the material into chunks that consist of information presented by me, picture or video representations of the information, and group or partner activities to reinforce the subject matter. Breaks are important, too. Never underestimate the value of a well-timed break in the session!

Virtual classrooms and learning represent one of the biggest changes in education and professional development. Once, we discussed how we would implement “distance learning” with fear and dread. What if they watched a class that was taking place in a different location? What would we do if learners didn’t show up to our classes? How would we assess their progress if we couldn’t see them? Would this be the end of teaching?

The reality is that it takes much skill to devise and deliver effective online learning. What may be the biggest change in education in the past several years has not been the death of the need for instructors and instructional developers.

Even if some things in professional development change, we learn new techniques and adapt our approaches to be able to continue to help people grow in their careers. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Who’s in Charge?

It seems like everyone else knows better about what the training department should do and how its resources should be used.

The employee or agent thinks more continuing education is the department’s best use of its members’ time and complains about the lack of courses when the agent needs it. The manager decides that his/her office or region needs a particular approach to training, bypasses the training department and goes straight to the company president for approval.

Who needs a training/education department when those whom the department serves know better?

It’s frustrating to try to deal with these situations. As a training leader, you don’t want to appear like you’re engaging in turf warfare, but there comes a time when you must stand your ground and assert your right to promote your vision for training at your company.

This doesn’t mean you discount the ideas and suggestions. Instead, you refer to the plan and determine whether they make sense in light of the objectives and goals you set forth. Maybe there’s room for change if the change supports the goals of the organization and training’s role in achieving those goals.

How you handle this situation will determine whether such intervention in the training program will continue to occur. I have seen it happen time and again, and typically it’s done by those who think they understand the training function. They are often well-meaning individuals who are looking to gain some advantage. Unfortunately, it comes at the cost of an effective training program for all.

Ultimately, you (as the training professional) must make the case for training as you envision it. You must gain buy-in for the plan from all who are charged with promoting the program to their direct reports. An effective guide for me has been James and Wendy Kirkpatrick’s Training on Trial. The book makes the case for the value of training and how it can enhance an organization’s bottom line. One of the lessons I learned from this study was how to get managers (in particular) and company leaders to understand this.

I don’t want to spend all my time defending my department, fending off well-meaning, but ultimately clueless attempts to undercut the value of the training plan we’ve implemented and continue to refine. We have considered the options. We have consulted with managers and other leaders. We do need to bring a consultative approach to the process. But at some point, managers need to trust that training is doing what needs to be done.

Preparation

I recently had the opportunity to teach two courses for a group that was not my usual audience. My experience took me back several years to when I was a master’s student living and studying in Germany.

One of my professors asked me to assist him with his introductory literature seminar. I would meet with a small group outside of class to discuss the works we were reading and their projects. I could handle that and I enthusiastically agreed. I went to work reading everything the students would read and all the secondary literature before the semester began. I wanted to be prepared for any questions that might arise in my group. I also devised a structure for our meetings so that we would be sure to cover all of the material we needed to consider.

A few weeks into the course, the professor had to go out of town. Instead of canceling class, he asked me to take over for him. Here I was, the American teaching German students German literature. As I stood in front of 100+ students that day, I worked hard to not let my nervousness show. What got me through the class was the confidence that I knew the material. I had prepared well, having read everything necessary for the class and outlined how we would approach the day’s topic. If anything, I probably over-prepared.

Preparing to teach cannot be dismissed. It is perceived as a time-wasting activity for those who like to stand up in front of a group and just talk. You know these types: Well-meaning, experienced professionals who want to impart their knowledge on the group. The results of their “teaching” are, at best, an out-pouring of information without structure or intention. Sometimes, these are subject matter experts we have engaged to train employees or agents. Just because someone knows their field does not mean they can teach it to others.

I took it upon myself to become a subject matter expert in order to provide agents with relevant training in an area I knew little about. I immersed myself in the topic and read widely to gain knowledge. Then, I started using the tools I would teach about. I prepared myself to teach others the “why” and “how to” by engaging in the practices I wanted them to use.

Just knowing how to do something and why is not enough if you want to instill the desire in others to further their careers by adopting a practice. Planning and preparation for a course includes consideration of how learners learn, the techniques to use when teaching the material, and how to structure your time with learners.  While preparing for my recent teaching experience, I spent time organizing my material and finding new examples to reinforce my words. I took my outline for the course and checked the timing. I devised activities for the group so that I wouldn’t be the only one speaking for three hours.

When you prepare well, the butterflies you feel getting ready for the class only serve to help you be the enthusiastic teacher your students deserve. Preparation gives you the confidence to step in front of the group, ready to help them master the material.

Convention Time

Fall is the season for conventions in the real estate world. The busy summer selling season is winding down and salespeople and brokers have time to spend on meetings, education sessions, and visits to the trade fair. So, let’s put on a convention!

At my company, we tossed around the idea of having a mini-convention for a couple years, then got brave and decided to do it this year. The planning began months ago with visits to potential venues and calls to speakers regarding availability. When we finally settled on a date and reserved the facility, the real work began.

Finding speakers to present interesting, timely, and relevant material to our agents was not difficult. Finding speakers who were available on the date we needed them proved to be quite tough. Once we were able to determine who was available, we signed agreements as quickly as possible to secure the speakers for our date.

Then came the next question: Do we offer continuing education credit for the sessions, or not? Agents need to provide proof of a certain number of hours of continuing education credit each time they renew their licenses. By offering CE credit for the convention sessions, we provide an opportunity for the agent to get information and CE credit, and we give ourselves a marketing opportunity. Continuing education gives agents an added reason for attending the sessions when the need to know isn’t enough.

Promotion started about a month in advance of the convention. Registrations trickled in slowly, and we began to doubt what we were doing. Why weren’t they signing up to attend? Were we totally off the mark with our topics? We should have calmed down and waited patiently. Real estate agents are notorious for deciding at the last minute to register for anything. The registrations began to pour in about 10 days before the initial deadline, and continued to appear for a few days after that date (registration was kept open, but capped).

How can we measure success of such an event? The immediate feedback gives us a good idea of participants’ feelings about the day: Whether they liked the facility, thought the food was good, had a good time talking with friends and colleagues, and heard some good speakers. This is the “smile sheet” that tells us what their impressions of the event were. By all accounts, we got high marks for a good event.

The long term effect of the convention will be whether those in attendance apply anything they learned at the sessions they attended. We might be able to measure satisfaction with the event shortly after the event, but assessing the impact of the day will be a longer-term process. We’ll need to look at the attendees’ implementation of techniques and tools to increase their businesses as well as their production over a period of time to be able to determine if what they gained at the convention will have an effect.

Putting on a convention, even a one-day convention is a lot of work, but it is also immensely satisfying to see learners excited to try something new that they learned in just one day.

The Case For Professional Development

I recently read a post on the PR blog Spin Sucks about the need for people to continue to develop professionally. The post makes the case for reading regularly in one’s field, networking, and taking online classes as an investment in your future. These are great ways to continue to learn and grow in your profession, no matter what your field is. My question is this: Does your employer bear any responsibility for helping you grow professionally?

If you’re a free-lancer or self-employed, it’s up to you to stay educated and informed. Reading, participating in online communities or networking groups, and taking courses are your main methods for staying up-to-date. You may even choose to go back to class and earn a certification or degree. It’s up to you, though, to get what you need. This is your investment in growing your business.

If you work for a company, chances are good that there are in-house opportunities to learn. These could takcase-for-professional-developmente the form of mentoring, on-the-job training, classes, online resources and discounted tuition for degree courses at a local college or university, just to name a few. Many employers view professional development or training as a way to develop talent internally and increase business development through enhanced customer service or product offerings. Professional development is a good thing for business, and many businesses invest greatly in their workers’ training and education.

Then there’s the hybrid situation where the company offers education and training for the independent contractors who operate under the company’s supervision or in partnership with the company. It benefits the company to make sure that those independent contractors are able to present the company’s offerings well or to minimize risk in their business activities. If the independent contractor is a licensee, the state will most likely require continuing education for license renewal as a way to ensure minimum standards are met. Professional development benefits the company and the independent contractor.

Who’s responsibility is it for independent contractors to come to class or take an online course? If both benefit from the education, they should share the responsibility, right?

Usually it falls on the company to “sell” the benefits of training and education to potential participants. This forces professional development professionals to consider the end when designing courses. What will be learned? Who does this benefit and how? How will we judge progress? Why should someone want to learn this material?

I’m sure many professional development pros in situations where they deliver training to employees consider these questions, too. However, the company has the ability to condition employment on participation in training. Independent contractors can leave and practice elsewhere. Attracting these people to training, convincing them to invest time (and perhaps money), and keeping them learning is no small feat.

Some people will always be self-motivated learners. They like to read and discover new things and ways to do their jobs better. For those who need a push, we have to clearly state the benefits and deliver quality education that will help participants grow and flourish in their chosen profession.