Category Archives: trainer topics

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.

Running a Training Department on a Shoestring, Part 1

There are many challenges to managing a training program for over a thousand real estate agents located across a state. Automating as many processes as possible becomes required when you have limited personnel and funds. One process that we had to find a cost-effective solution for quickly was class/course registration. We needed cheap, effective way to give agents access to a calendar of upcoming classes and the ability registration online.

Our registration process depended on agents or managers sending e-mails to one person who would then add the person registering to a calendar invitation for the class. All monitoring of attendance was done manually with a sign in sheet and a spreadsheet where names and dates were recorded. This was time-consuming and did not give us an easy way to monitor registrations prior to a class. We used a Google calendar as a class calendar. This displayed the upcoming offerings on our intranet site, but it was not interactive and did not allow agents to register.

After some research, I landed on Eventbrite. Although it is primarily for event organizers who want to sell tickets or charge a fee for registration, I found that Eventbrite suited us well for what we needed. Eventbrite is free to use (a big plus) and gives us a calendar widget we can post to our intranet site. The calendar is interactive: Click on a date and you can see all classes scheduled for that date; click on “Register Now” and you are directed to the online registration page.

Eventbrite charges a fee if you sell tickets through the site and have Eventbrite collect the charges. We have used this feature for our annual convention where we charge a small fee to attend. The process was straight-forward and the fee was not exorbitant. It saved us the hassle of collecting checks or cash prior to and at the event.

In addition to having the interactive calendar for class registration, Eventbrite offers several tools that make life easier for the department. We check in participants on our mobile devices through the Eventbrite Organizer app (this is how we take attendance now!). If necessary, we can even register/sell tickets through the app.

I often send e-mail messages to participants before or even after a class through the platform. This eliminates the need to copy addresses into my e-mail message to send from my e-mail. I also have a record of what was sent when in an easily accessed location.

At any time, I can download reports of registrations and attendance. This makes keeping track of required attendance easier and more efficient. I often download information to a spreadsheet and forward it on to managers so that they can also see who is registered for or attended a class.

Eventbrite will also create a Facebook event for a class and include all the relevant information as well the link to register. I typically do not use this option, but I do take the URL for a class (each one has its own, customizable URL) and post it on Facebook when promoting a class or program. In addition to the Facebook interface, you have the ability to connect an Eventbrite account with any number of platforms including Survey Monkey and Mail Chimp via extensions.

There are many more features available in Eventbrite. On occasion I’ve used access codes to limit who can register for a class or program, the name badge function to create badges for classes, the wait list when demand for a class has been high, and the copy function to create “events” based on past offerings.

It’s rare to find a versitle tool that provides options such as these at a low cost. I’m happy to have stumbled upon Eventbrite for our class registration and reporting needs.

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?

Fatigue

I’m tired. Maybe I’m tired because I just spent four days traveling to and attending a large convention. It might be because I’ve had no time off other than a day here or there in months. It could also be due to an election hangover, but that’s a topic for another day. Whatever the cause, fatigue has an impact both physically and mentally on the trainer.

It’s probably obvious that when you’re mentally tired, you’re not so sharp. For the trainer, this lack of mental acuity manifests itself in your approach to training. You go on auto-pilot and move mechanically through the material just to get through the session. You deflect questions and comments in hopes of not having to think too hard to pull it all together. These are the days when you hope and pray no attendees have difficulty with the material you’re presenting. Your ability to re-phrase and give alternate explanations or instructions is impaired. Training suffers. Learners don’t get the best instruction when you’re not mentally on top of your game.

When you’re physically tired, it’s hard to speak with enough breath. it’s difficult to manage a large room of learners if you’re too tired to leave your chair at the front of the class. And let’s not even get into the yawns you try to suppress. You might get through the class, but your exhaustion shows.

If you’re physically tired, you’re probably mentally tired, too. They go hand in hand. But sometimes you’re just tired of the topic or material you’re presenting. This is mental fatigue’s cousin boredom. You can teach the subject without even noticing the words coming out of your mouth.

How do you combat fatigue? My first suggestion is obvious: Get some sleep! It’s hard, I know. There’s always something more to do that keeps you from getting to bed at a reasonable hour. And then we’re up early to get going with our day. At some point, the lack of sleep becomes counterproductive. I had to figure out how much sleep was enough for me. I have to be resolute in getting myself to bed in time to get my seven hours before I have to get up and get going for the day.

Other things that help me combat fatigue are exercise and time off. The latter may be self-evident, but some people may wonder how exercise helps you deal with being tired. Regular exercise gets your body moving, gets you in a better mood, and helps you sleep. Other benefits include weight loss, increasing your strength, and boosting your energy. By exercising regularly, not only do I help myself with sleep and mood, I’m increasing my ability to handle the physical demands of being a trainer.

Taking time off to recharge yourself is also important. Vacations are a good thing. It’s hard to completely unplug from the office or your business, but sometimes you have to disengage to give yourself the space to relax and refresh yourself. Put the “out of office” message on the e-mail and phone, turn off push notifications on your phone, and pledge to yourself that you will let someone else worry about the questions and inquiries for a few days.

My last suggestion for recharging is to become a learner again. Nothing gets my creative side going as well as learning something new or different. A few months ago, I took a class in glass blowing. Yes, it was hot. Yes, I felt stupid (turn the rod how fast?). But in the end, I learned how to do something new. Becoming a learner is humbling and fun at the same time. As trainers, we need to put ourselves in our learners’ shoes periodically to understand what they’re feeling. That sends us back to our classrooms with empathy and a commitment to do a better job.

Taking care of yourself is not a luxury. It’s a necessity. Your learners will thank you, too.