I often feel dissatisfied after attending a conference. It is seldom a total waste of time and money. There is always some good presentation to attend and interesting people to meet. But I often find it difficult to justify the time and money used on traditional training activities.
A web day I organized in February felt more like a success. 50 web editors and marketing people from Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Netherlands met. The feedback was very positive, so this feels like a good model to build on.
My interest in this subject derives from the specific needs we have in the web organization. But it is also based on my experience gained through a couple of years working with training of customer support and the sales organization in Visma.
Here are some tips that should be relevant, independent of the type and size of your organization:
1. Set your own agenda for what you need to learn
You should have a goal with your training and have a plan to close the competency gap in your organization. Don’t let a conference or random breakfast seminar set the agenda. This will make it easier to choose what to attend and how to spend your time while attending a seminar.
There is a lot of subjects that is under-served in training run by external consultants, both because is too specific or not sufficiently sexy on a conference program. Then you have to get the information through books, internal resources or colleagues in other companies.
I think that is why the web day we organized internally worked so well for me and the participants. It reflected the needs of the marketers in our organization so well.
2. Work together internally
Instead of spreading yourself thin on several activities, I think it is a good idea to go to the same conference. You will be able to get more information and use the shared experience to implement the knowledge. It is better to work on implementing useful new knowledge, than repeating it.
Even if you are a small group of people working with web in the company, I think you could get even more out of a workshop. An external consultant could help, but make sure that you work specifically with solving your problems. Instead of listening to a presentation about search-engine optimization, spend a couple of hours to help each other with the task.
In the web day in February I invited Eivind Lund from Netlife Research to talk about content on web. The subject was ‘The web editor survival guide’. I invited him because I knew that he was a good presenter from previous experience and social media. Even though I know him well as a presenter, I found it necessary to spend an hour with him to define our exact needs.
For the internal presenters we spent time to exercise and go through the content. This is important to make sure that the presentation reflects the goal for the training.
4. Presentation is a separate skill set
Even the best professional could sink with bad presentation skills. This is obvious. If you know that is a problem, spend time on training.
What is less obvious is that this also is true for running the workshop or leading a discussion. Think carefully about how to make this kind of activities useful, meaningful and including. This doesn’t happen automatically. Being a host in training is an important part of good education.
5. Let people work together
When a workshop is run well, it is a very rewarding activity during training. People get to know each other, share knowledge and exercise their new competence.
Make sure that feedback on systems and guidelines are taken in to account. Unused suggestions are very frustrating and undermine the credibility of the training.
6. Variation in subject, rhythm and method
The Visma web day ran the standard 45 minutes of presentations and 15 minutes break. Next time I will try to vary more with some shorter presentations and parallel sessions. This isn’t school!
7. Keep the schedule
People exceeding the time limits are so embarrassing. It doesn’t help how good and interesting they are. Not showing respect for the time of the participants and the other presenters is not acceptable. And it is important to get the breaks to network and digest information.
8. Build training into the daily routine
Job skills are as physical skills for an athlete. They have to be exercised on a regular basis, not only the day before a competition or a couple of times a year. I recommend setting aside some time in team meetings and other regular activities to do training, like using new skills to evaluate a web page or do a small workshop on an important subject.
9. Document and share the training sessions
Most of what happened during our web days was documented on video and all Power Points were placed in a common folder on Sharepoint. This adds to the value of the conference for employees that didn’t attend or attendants that would like to refresh their memory.
I said earlier that I think it is more efficient to do training together. Hence, people should make it a habit to share impressions from conferences.
10. Spend time on evaluation
All web work should be an iterative process. You set goals, decide on what you need to do to achieve them, implement, evaluate and start the process over again. The same should be the case for training.