Tag Archives: training

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?

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.

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.

Tech Training Truisms

Twice a month I facilitate training on our technology platforms for agents new to the brokerage. This introductory training consists of two, six-hour days of hands-on training. Participants are asked to bring a laptop with them so they can work along as I demonstrate the various tasks they need to perform to be able to use our technology tools effectively.

Since I’ve been leading this kind of training, I’ve noticed a few things that, no matter where I am or how many people attend the class, always tend to come up. Here are my top five tech training truisms:

  1. People pay little or no attention to the description of the class or registration confirmation telling them to bring a laptop to class. I have nothing against iPads or other tablet computing devices (I own an iPad and use it often). They are handy to have and work well for many applications. Unfortunately, they don’t work well for some of the tasks we need to perform in class. I’ve learned to adjust my instruction to accommodate those with tablets. I’d prefer not to have to take time in class to show the one person with a tablet how to do something while the rest wait to move on. I believe that this will not be an issue in the future as more technology platforms accommodate mobile devices.
  2. The wifi will crash when you’re in the middle of working on a crucial task. I travel with my own wifi now, but if the internet access in the building goes down, the entire class is stalled. I now have back-up presentations I can show if I can’t do a live demonstration. Participants can’t perform the tasks I instruct them to do, but at
    least they can still learn.
  3. tech-training-truismsThere will be someone in the class who doesn’t understand basic instructions like “point,” “click,” “open a browser window,” or “upload.” I could name a few more, but you get the drift. You’d think that everyone has basic computer skills these days, but it’s not necessarily true. I usually need to teach to several levels of computer literacy in any given class.
  4. No matter how engaging you are as an instructor, someone will get bored and decide to check e-mail, go shopping, play online games, etc. I have spent much time working to provide engaging training to avoid this problem; however, the lure of the internet is too great. I’m not sure anyone could keep people from surfing with the most engaging training in such a class.
  5. People might “get it” in class but they don’t really understand the tool until they have to use it. For many of the agents new to the business, this means there is a gap between their initial training and actually using a tool in the field. Some are able to retain what they were taught, but many forget. This is where online, on-demand training fills the gap. They can refresh their knowledge in order to use technology when working with a client.

I was never a boy scout, but I have learned the value of being prepared when I train on technology tools. Whatever can go wrong usually does.

Why Training?

I once heard a definition of training that juxtaposed it with definitions of education and experience. You may have heard this before, too. It went something like this: Education is the why, training is the how to, and experience is what you get when you don’t have education or training.

Education and Experience

I work with real estate agents. The requirements to get a real estate license in the state of Ohio are relatively few: 120 hours of pre-license education, be 18 years or older, have a high school diploma or GED, answer “no” to a series of questions, and pass the sales license exam.

It’s up to the real estate brokerages and Realtor associations to help new licensees learn the business and stay up to date. Real estate continuing education is mandated by the state, but “seat time” is the only qualification used to determine if a licensee has earned the credit hours for a given class. So how do we know that a real estate agent has really learned a skill or information and can apply it in their businesses?

I should mention at this point that real estate agents are independent contractors, not employees. A business that requires employees to attend training has the ability to mandate the class. Brokerages can make training a part of requirements for holding a license, but few exercise the right to return a license because an agent refused  or didn’t attend training. Training becomes a benefit, a perk, of being affiliated with a particular brokerage. If an agent doesn’t want to take advantage of training and education, there’s little beyond returning a license a brokerage can do.

We spend a lot of time teaching people how to do real estate. This is what they want because they need to earn a living. We teach techniques and proper procedures. Agents learn to comply with state law and represent clients correctly. They learn to use the tools of the trade to market their services and serve their clients. What they rarely learn is why they should want to do x.

I am the person who thinks the why can enhance the learning and make the concepts taught “stickier.” Some people get confused by the why. They don’t really want to muddy the water with why, they’re happy with how to. These are the learners who challenge me most. If I present a technology tool for their business and teach them how to use it, that’s fine. But as soon as I ask why they should want to use the tool, most do not know. I try to make the connection and help them understand (that’s my job after all). When they walk out the door, there are only a few opportunities I have to reinforce the message and help them understand.

In the end, I teach the how to, sprinkle in the why, and try to help agents avoid the experience that may end their fledgling careers.