Category Archives: Training

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.

Social Selling is Not Just For Marketers

Not long ago, trainers could depend on students showing up to class because they got a flier or a printed newsletter with a list of upcoming offerings. Their manager or boss told them about the class and they dutifully filled out the registration blank and sent it in to the training department.

Today, that printed promotional piece may never be seen, ending up instead in a recycling bin or trashcan when it is discovered after the class took place. Today’s trainer needs to be an effective marketer utilizing various channels to “get the word out” and attract participants to the seminar, class, or webinar. Social media gives trainers another channel to reach the people who need training. It’s also a way to build trust in your programs and the credibility of your message.

I started using a Facebook business page several years ago as a way to learn how to use Facebook for business so I could teach others. What started out as an experiment has turned into an effective way to promote our training programs. HER University is both an example of what real estate agents can do with their own Facebook business pages but also a tool for the training department to get more agents to our programs. Here’s a sample of how I use the page to market training at HER Realtors:

  • Events This is probably a no-brainer, but the ability to create Facebook events and invite people to them is one way to draw attention to special training programs or classes. The event has a link to register through Eventbrite (more on Eventbrite in a future post), information about the speaker/trainer, and all the basic details. As we near the date of the program, posts about what participants need to know or other helpful information is added. If available, I post videos and pictures to the Facebook event also. I encourage people to share the event to help broaden the reach, but ideally it should be promoted.
  • Sharing and tagging When we hold a special event or program, I and others share to the page about it with one or multiple photos and tag participants. This doesn’t necessarily get people to the event or program, but it heightens awareness of what we’re doing. Participants will often share these posts or comment. (I or one of my colleagues always respond when someone comments on a post).
  • Class Posts Any time we want to try to get more registrations for a class or webinar, it goes on the Facebook page with a link to register for the class/webinar. It’s not enough to just post information about a class or webinar, people need to have a way to contact someone or register for the class. And don’t forget pictures or video!
  • Video We create videos with quick tips or other information that our agents might find useful. Posting these videos helps demonstrate that the page is a resource for information. I used to post the YouTube link to the videos, but now I post directly to the page. This gets more attention and organic reach.
  • Interesting Information In addition to the information about upcoming classes and programs, we regularly post information about the company and real estate industry for agents to share. This is intended to help get the word out about topics we think they need to know or would like to know, but it also serves to give agents something to share on their pages. Creating content can be difficult for some of them despite our efforts to teach and reinforce best practices.
  • Private groups Sometimes it makes sense to create a private group for agents participating in a multi-session program. The private group becomes the place they and the instructor(s) can communicate and share their progress. The private group becomes a place for social learning also.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of what a Facebook page can be used for to promote a training program. To be truly effective, I believe you need to put some of your budget towards boosting posts and advertising the page. Training is a recruiting opportunity in real estate, and the more agents at other brokerages know about a company’s programs, the more attractive it might be to affiliate with the company. This is likely true for other industries as well. Engaging managers on the page is helpful. They can help get the word out and have a presence on the page, too.

Facebook is not the only social networking site that’s useful for promoting a training program, but it’s relatively cheap (or free) and easy to use.

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.

Anybody Up For Some CE?

If you have some kind of state-issued license to practice a profession, you probably need to have continuing education credits to renew or maintain that license. That’s true for me. I am a licensed real estate salesperson in the state of Ohio. I don’t sell much these days (my training position occupies much of my professional life), but I have maintained my license nevertheless. I must submit 30 hours of continuing education credit every three years to renew my license. It doesn’t seem like much (other fields have higher requirements), but many real estate agents have difficulty accumulating the necessary hours in the three year period. There are several reasons why. Here are a few:

  • Long Classes: Real estate licensees must take three “core” classes (core law, ethics, fair housing/civil rights), each for three hours. That leaves 21 hours of electives that fall conveniently into three-hour blocks. The more hours you can get at once, the fewer times you have to go to a class or log in for online education. Continuing education providers generally offer classes in three-hour blocks. This seems like a positive thing, but sitting for three or six hours for continuing education can be daunting for someone who wants or needs to be out working with clients and going on appointments (don’t forget–real estate agents don’t get paid unless they sell a house). Many agents consider it to be a necessary evil instead of an opportunity to learn something to help their business.
  • Boring Presentations: Many CE courses are taught by industry professionals who know a lot but aren’t good instructors or facilitators. In addition to that, many commit “murder by PowerPoint” with wordy and un-engaging slide presentations. The result can be three hours of boredom. I have seen many agents check out of class mentally and do everything from read a newspaper to check e-mail, post on social media, and text. I doubt much learning happens.
  • Seat Time Rules: It’s not whether you learn something that gains you CE credit, but how long you sit in the class. Managing seat time as a CE provider is much easier than administering tests. If the class is boring or uninformative, you still get the credit as long as you are present for the required amount of time.

Teaching continuing education courses is a challenge. I care about how much agents learn in the CE classes I teach. I want them to remember important information. That means I have to be an engaging instructor who employs a variety of methods to hold agents’ attention and make it easy for them to recall the material when the class is over. Here are a few techniques I use to accomplish this:

  • Interesting Slide Presentations: I don’t want to commit the mistake of putting too much information on the screen. Slides should enhance the material presented. I want the focus to be on the information, not on words on the screen. PowerPoint is fine, but there are other presentation software programs you can use to create wonderful presentations.
  • Varied Teaching Techniques: Not all people learn the same way. Lecture is not the only way to teach. I mix things up with group exercises, instructor-lead training, partner work, video, and short quizzes. I make sure people get up and move around at various times. Groups and teams present the results of their work to the entire class.
  • Current Events and Examples: The information presented in a CE class could be the same from class to class, regardless of who teaches. To make things relevant for the learner, I try to bring in examples and case studies to illustrate the points I’m teaching. In a fair housing/civil rights class, I look for current cases to cite as examples for behaviors agents should avoid. In a class of social media for real estate agents, I look for agents across the country who are doing a good job using social media in their businesses and show their pages/sites/profiles online.

Continuing education exists so that practitioners in a profession have the most recent and relevant information in order to work competently in their field. As instructors, we can make the experience of continuing education dull and lifeless or interesting and engaging. It’s up to us. When done well, continuing education can be something licensees look forward to and attend willingly.

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.

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.