The easiest tweak you can make to your training and orientation programs…

stocking-up-on-classroom-candy
How many of you put out candy for training attendees? I know we do at the day job…in fact, the photo above is a shot of my cart on a recent stock-up trip at my local Sam’s Club. Even when the cost of doing business continues to soar, this is an expense that we have curbed, yet kept.

Why?

Because people like candy.

Before the workplace health and wellness fans start to worry, we also provide fresh fruit and some considerably less-exciting snacks like granola bars and trail mix.

Until I attended a recent conference, however, I didn’t give much thought to the bowl of candy that graces our training tables. Then, a tiny little tweak transformed a simple snack into a learning tool.

I promise you now, whether you are a long-time phase(two)learning follower or this is the first post you’ve read, this is worth the price of admission. Which, frankly, is free…so what a deal, amiright?

Check this out:

tech-tip-on-candy-wrapper

Whoa! Mind. Blown.

How simple is this? All that is needed is candy or snacks, a package of printable adhesive labels and some tips or ideas to share to your participants.

Granted, I’m sure I’m not the first person to “discover” this little nugget, but in over 20 years of teaching and facilitation, somehow it’s new to me. Regardless, it got me thinking….how else could we use this easy tip in training or Orientation programs? Here are 8 beyond-simple ideas:

  1. Provide the URL for your organization’s intranet, wiki, or other learning sites.
  2. Share the Twitter handles for influential, must-follow people in your organization or industry.
  3. Post can’t-miss dates – like when your benefit paperwork is due.
  4. Distribute your company’s IT Help Desk email or phone number.
  5. Share interesting trivia about your organization’s history. (Bonus: Have participants piece together the trivia into a timeline!)
  6. Introduce your company’s mission or purpose statement. 
  7. Solicit simple, one-sentence quotes from other employees – tips on how to be successful at your organization
  8. Share “Fact or Fiction” statements about your industry, organization, products/services, etc. Have participants stick (literally!) the wrappers under one of two columns on a flip chart (“fact” or “fiction”). As the candy is consumed throughout training, the columns will grow. On the last day of training, see how accurate everyone’s guesses are!

Honestly, I could probably come up with a dozen other ideas…there are so many creative possibilities for this one!

Your turn: Have you used this type of interactive element in your training sessions? What tips have you communicated? And most importantly, what is the must-have candy in YOUR candy bowl?

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Cold Weather and Good Planning

consider-learners-needs-when-planning-training

This photo was taken from my car this morning on my way to work.  A few things to notice about this photo:

1. I am not exactly a morning person, so the fact that it is 7:55 a.m. (actually, 7:49…that clock is about 6 minutes fast) and I was almost to the office is amazing. And in case my recently learner-permitted daughter is reading this (doubtful, but whatevs), no, Meghan, I did not take the photo while driving.

2. I was 22 miles from an empty tank.  Look at the temperature. Who wants to stand outside in THAT and pump gas?? Yes, I had been putting off stopping for gas for a few days. I was actually at the gas station to fill up when I took the picture.

3. The temperature. FIVE degrees, and that ain’t Celsius, dear international friends.  That is FIVE degrees, and the windchill this morning was well below zero.  Cold.  Miserably cold.  Wish-you-were-back-in-your-warm-snuggly-bed-avoiding-the-day cold.  I know my Canadian friends are probably just shaking their heads and laughing smugly at me, but that’s really. stinking. cold.  And, yes, I’ve lived in Indiana my entire life, and this is not unusual…but that doesn’t mean I have to LIKE it.

And this morning, as I stood there in the blustery January cold, pumping my gas and thinking about my pending workday, I thought of the importance of good planning, communication, and looking out for your learners.

Today, at the day job, we kicked off a three-day training event for some folks who are based in the field, rather than at our corporate headquarters. I hadn’t been the point of contact for the participants, so I was looking forward to meeting everyone.  But then, I thought (and got a little worried…must be the Mom in me)….where were these folks coming from?  Had anyone given them a heads-up about our ridiculously cold weather?  If I were from, say, Miami, I would definitely be appreciative if someone had called or sent a quick email to let me know that the weather would be much, much colder than I was accustomed to and to make sure I packed accordingly.

Fortunately, someone did let them know about the weather.  And we do have 2 Floridians and an Arizonan with us this week, so if they weren’t sure before this week why people move to places like Florida and Arizona when they retire, you can bet your parka that they get it now.

So, like I said, this got me thinking about planning ahead. How else can we plan ahead for training events?  Here are 3 simple ideas:

1. Check for dietary restrictions when planning meals and snacks.

Gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, vegan (etc)…allergies and food sensitivities run rampant these days.  And we should always be aware of possible cultural diet restrictions.  Survey your participants ahead of time when planning meals, and accommodate any special needs.

2. Organize your agenda to include frequent, short breaks.

People need to move around.  People want to stay engaged.  Giving periodic breaks offers a number of benefits, such as:

  • Helps learners stay more focused on the CONTENT, and less focused on when the next break will be
  • Gives an opportunity for participants to use the restroom, check email, or answer phone calls…so they are less likely to do this DURING your session
  • Retention is improved when participants are able to step away periodically
  • Gives you, the facilitator, a moment to catch your breath and regroup!

3. Know Thy Learner.

This can be achieved in the development stage by conducting a thorough Training Needs Analysis.  This can be achieved by reaching out to participants ahead of time.  This can be achieved by getting to know your participants throughout the training.  Do your homework, friends.  How do you get to know your learners before, during and after a training event?

I have had the privilege of facilitating thousands of training sessions throughout my career, covering everything from very basic skills to very complex systems and processes. One thing that rings true, regardless of the topic, is that your participants have needs. Sure, they “need” to learn the material you are sharing with them, but they also come with their own basic needs and expectations.

It’s our job to identify their needs, and exceed their expectations.

Even when it’s 5 degrees outside, and you’d rather be in your warm, snuggly bed.

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6 Ways to Engage Learners with Mobile Devices

mobile devices

Guess what?  People love their mobile devices.  Shocking, right?

While this isn’t breaking news, it does mean that training participants like to have their phones and other mobile devices with them in the classroom.  And that’s thrown a curve ball at facilitators who have always subscribed to the “Please turn your cell phones OFF!” rule in the classroom.  While this has never bothered me personally, I know many learning practitioners who have really had to adapt their style with the changing times and be more accepting of participants who have their devices out during a session.

The thing is, facilitators really need to understand that a participant CAN have his/her mobile device out and still be engaged in the session.  Sometimes, even more so.  The key is to create an environment where their devices work for the session, rather than against it.  Simple enough, right?

Awhile back, I left a comment on another industry blog post asking how trainers deal with participants who bring cell phones into the classroom.  The ideas below are the suggestions I made on that post; a few of my favorite methods for engaging participants via mobile devices in various training settings – depending on your event, maybe one or more of these techniques will work for you!

 1. Twitter backchannels using hashtags – Encourage participants to tweet their “a-ha” moments and other nuggets that they are picking up during a session, and give them a #hashtag to include in their tweets. This is a great way for others to get a glimpse at the learning that is taking place, and for those who are trying to market their programs, it piques the interest of potential future attendees!  This can also extend the conversation among participants long after the event is over, and they have returned to the “real world”.  Most conferences, seminars, and webinars are using this method now, and it is a terrific way to not only link your participants, but to pique the interest of prospects for future events.

2. Survey Says!   Use a survey tool for participants to vote on issues, case studies, etc and get real-time, data to discuss during an event.  Good, cost-effective options are SurveyGizmo or SurveyMonkey.  If you’re leading an online training or webinar, take advantage of the chat and polling features many web-conferencing tools provide.  Such a simple, yet powerful way to engage your audience.

3. Leverage the Smartphone –  Send participants on a photo scavenger hunt with smartphones and QR codes.  This one is great for new hire orientation settings, allowing attendees to break into groups and explore their building, unlocking clues about departments, building policies, amenities, etc.  Need to generate a QR code?  There are plenty of sites out there; an easy one is http://qrcode.kaywa.com/ . There are many, many other uses for smartphones in the classroom…I could probably write an entire post on that alone.  (Note to self: write post on using smartphones in the classroom)

4. What about Foursquare?  Set up locations around your building on a location-based social site like Foursquare.  Employees can “check in”, leave tips and information about the site, and even compete to become the “Mayor” of the site.  This is a great long-term onboarding exercise (or for other multi-day event) and provides good discussion material for participants about the company, history, who-does-what, etc.

5. Engage your notetakers – Encourage people who have their devices on hand to make the most of them by taking notes on sites like Evernote or mobile apps like Scatterbrain or Wunderlist.  These are all free apps and allows the participants to have their session notes with them to review or utilize anytime, anyplace.  Many of these platforms also have sharing functionality, so the designated note-taker can send the transcript to other participants via email.  This is also a great “green” initiative for training departments/organizations looking to go paperless!

6. Never underestimate the power of a group discussion forum.   For organizations who do not have internal social networks, the corporate “group chat” site Yammer or Salesforce Chatter could be a good option for some organizations.  These platforms help you establish discussion networks that support link sharing, even #hashtag chats.  This is a great option to connect participants, share ideas and questions…before, during, and after your session!

So, there you go.  6 ideas that you could easily implement into your learning event.  Not all of the ideas will necessarily work for every organization or every trainer’s style.  And that’s okay!  The point is to get thinking about how you can embrace technology in the classroom, and use it to your advantage.  It will help you connect with tech-savvy participants, engage the mobile-addicted, and potentially extend your message much further than the four walls of your training room.  And how awesome is that?

What do you think?  What have you tried in your learning events?  As a facilitator, I’m always looking for new ideas, so comment, email, and tweet them to me…