Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Making communications training worth your experts' time

After I conducted a recent half-day advanced media training for engineering faculty, their dean wrote me an email to say, "It's clear that people felt it was a valuable use of time (as you know, very high praise when coming from faculty)."

I do, indeed, know that as high praise coming from faculty. And I also know that emphasizing whether training is a good use of time has a flip side when faculty or experts turn down opportunities for development: They're always "too busy."

But, as I've noted before, 'busy' often is just an acceptable way of saying 'no' when the expert feels ill-prepared, uncomfortable or just uncertain of the outcome. So when you're planning a communications training for "busy" faculty and other experts, how to you make it a valuable use of their time? Here are considerations I use when planning training workshops for my clients, in public speaking, presenting, or media interview skills:
  • Limit the number of participants: The first impulse is to jam as many people as possible into the training room. But any good trainer will tell you that more people = less learning for all. That's because you need to take a wider range of experience into account when planning content, and because of the finite nature of time. It takes more time to get a big group settled, to move it in and out of the room for breaks, and so on. More people also means less time for questions and individual attention. Chances are higher that many attendees will leave without their most important questions getting answered.
  • Expand the time allotted: The same is true for the time allotted for a workshop. "Can you do an advanced media training for our faculty in an hour?" will always get a polite "no" from me. "Just hit the high points," ditto. Your experts are highly trained, intelligent people. They have complex questions in mind--questions that are well past the "high points" or a quick summary. Want to frustrate them? Give them less time to learn. 
  • Limit the agenda: Don't try to shove a comprehensive set of topics into a short timeframe. Instead, limit the agenda. You'll be whetting the trainees' appetite for more, while ensuring we can actually cover what you've promised them. This is especially important if you want more interactive, hands-on learning and practice, rather than a lively lecture.
  • Limit the group to peers: I rarely agree to train groups in which supervisors and subordinates are trained together, for a simple reason: Most good workshops create a safe place for people to try new things, fail, and learn correctly. Who wants to do that in front of a boss, department chair, or direct report? 
  • Offer basic and advanced options: This holds true as well for the trainees' previous levels of training. Putting beginners in with advanced groups will only frustrate everyone. If you're tempted to put everyone, at every level, in a big group training to save time and money, you'll find that they will keep learning the same basics over and over again. In the advanced media training I offered recently, I asked each faculty member to come with the question she hadn't gotten an answer to in any previous trainings, and we started with those questions, to ensure they got answers. It made for a great discussion.
  • Let them steer the car, at least for a while: Highly educated experts are also expert at driving a training session right off the rails, if you let them. But that doesn't mean they like a lecture any better than you do. Build in plenty of time for questions, practice, and, if you have ample time, some 1:1 consultation with the trainer. Let them coach one another or operate the cameras. Only with that kind of latitude can you nudge your attendees toward mastery of the subject.
If you need a workshop to help your experts develop messages, hone their speaking and presentation skills, or learn realistic ways to handle media interviews, email me at eloquentwoman AT gmail DOT com.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by jwyg)

Got a panel coming up? Whether you're a conference organizer, speaker, or moderator, you'll have a better panel--and a sparkling discussion--if you plan with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 in all ebook formats, it's like having a coach with whom you can prepare and bring on stage with you.

No comments: