Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Look Behind You! The Webinar Facilitator's Non-Technical Checklist

I am currently in the middle of an online sustainability learning project that includes facilitating a number of webinars (10 to be exact) for a big multi-national company with staff based all over the world. For this project, I am one of a distributed delivery team from AtKisson Associates which is located in North America, Europe and Asia, because every module features virtual events in all these three regions. Webinars are the main "person-to-person" component of this programme, so they are the anchor of the learning process (and they need to be good!)

I've worked with online learning in the past, such as Horizon Live (an early webinar-like platform, but with no video input or participant audio interactivity possibilities), and even earlier with CD-based, email-mediated distance learning. This is the first real experience I have had faciliting webinars that have so many bells and whistles. For this project, we are using DimDim (, which provides the slideshow, chat function, audio for presenters, recording, private chat, whiteboard, video link for the facilitator, and more. For these webinars we are adding the audio interactivity for participants through a call-in conferencing number, which I access by skype.

Needless to say, the first time I facilitated (after a trial run of course) it took me a while to get my head around all the moving parts of this delivery system. At any one moment, I could be presenting slides myself or advancing the slides for a presenter, tracking and answering chat questions, watching myself on video, private chatting to the technology support person in Stockholm, looking for my skype mute button, while trying not to cough or type too loudly, and so on! AND you have to pay attention on top of it, because you are facilitating after all and may need to bring a point back into the discussion later on. (Don't worry, it gets easier each time to do so many things concurrently - for the video game generation this is probably no big deal.)

I've participated in three so far, and during last week's webinar, anything that could happen seemed to do so technology-wise, testing our creativity, resilience, and Plans B and C on the spot. This morning I facilitated another one, and again, there were multiple, delightful surprises with Dimdim and even Skype at various times within the length of our one-hour event.

Because weird technical things happen during these online sessions, combined with the fact that I need to be fully present in terms of my attention, I find I need to prepare much more than I would have ever imagined prior to this one hour of sitting-at-my-computer facilitation. As a result, I made this checklist for myself - a non-technical checklist for facilitating a webinar. It considers things that I have noticed, about my computer, the content, my environment and myself. With these things ticked off, I am ready for (almost) anything - or at least I am not distracted by things I could have anticipated myself!

Non-technical Webinar Preparation Checklist:

My Computer
There are a number of checks that need to be made on your hardware that is not connected to any particular webinar package. For example:

  • (I assume that I have already tested the webinar package and accepted the webinar invitation.)

  • Close down all competing open programmes that may be running, and shut down any open documents, except exactly what is needed: internet and skype - (all those extraneous open windows, half written email messages and blog/Twitter/FB/LinkedIn pages need to be shut down/saved)

  • Check that the mute button on the computer is not on.

  • Unplug the extra monitor, stick to one (nothing more maddening than having to look two places at once on top of everything else).

  • Check that headphone/microphone cables are in the right jacks.

  • Make sure you have enough money on your skype account.


Whether you are the presenter/facilitator or facilitating another speaker, you will need to be able to anticipate the next slides and have your discussion questions/notes queued up and ready to go.

  • Have a copy of the printed slide set in handouts (6 per page - latest version of course).

  • DON'T staple (it's hard to turn pages with one hand on your mouse/keyboard/pen).

  • Print slides one sided (as an exception to the rule - turning pages is also noisy).

  • Make sure the pages are numbered legibly (so easy to keep in order as you slide them across).

Environment - Ambient Noise

This is critically important, whether you are in a cubicle or a home office - the latter can be even more unpredictable, as is my case. As the facilitator, you have your audio on 99% of the time, so any kind of noise is a big issue.

  • Turn your cell phone on vibrate (even if it is across the room).

  • Move any other phones like landlines out of the room (they tend to all go off at the same time as someone tries one, and then when you don't answer it, they try the other).

  • Put a DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door (with the time frame of your call).

  • Lock the door.

  • Tell anyone in the house with a penchant for spontaneous hoovering to wait until after your call (nicely so they don't decide that they never want to hoover again).

  • Let the cat in (especially if it likes to sit outside the office window behind your computer, meows loudly, has incredible persistence and suffers from bad timing).

Environment - Your Office

Managing and preparing the space around you is incredibly important and easy to forget until you are right in the middle of your webinar and shuffling through stacks of stuff looking for a pen.

  • Clear the desk from EVERYTHING except your slideset, one note paper and pen (everything else will be in your way at some point).

  • Add tissues (seasonal)

  • LOOK BEHIND YOU! (Use your video for this -move dead or past-prime plant, coffee cups, extraneous rubbish, strange photos, from view behind you).

  • Straighten up any pictures on the wall or put up some visual interest behind you (NOTE Business Idea: Backdrops for webinar presenters that cover messy office spaces and add pleasing, unfussy visual interest. Swiss alps, Tibetan monastery, Carribean beach view.)


You and the slideset are the only thing that people are seeing/hearing for an entire hour, have a heart and think about it from their point of view.

  • Think about what you are wearing (top half only). Can you add colour, pattern? (Same consideration as for a stand-up facilitator, but from the waist up.)

  • Comb hair

  • Apply lipstick (or increase your video contrast controls - only half kidding here - nothing like a bland, washed out presenter.)

  • Do you need coffee or water on hand?

  • Don't forget the washroom (you won't be nipping out during the group work on a webinar)

When I first started this checklist, I couldn't believe how many things needed to be considered prior to facilitating a webinar. I imagined that if I had my slides prepared I could just sit down, plug in and present.

But there is definitely more to it than that - especially if you want to be able to concentrate on the content and dynamics in a virtual environment where you are getting much less sensory input. In this kind of setting many of your facilitator senses are cut off or drastically reduced -you have no sight to speak of and certainly no visual cues on how people are feeling and following. You also have very little hearing, as most of the time participants are on mute until they want to speak, and certainly none of that sixth sense that helps a facilitator in a face-to-face setting read her participants in order to know how and when to engage them and adjust the process to fit their needs.

So for webinar success, increasingly a feature of a facilitator's work, you need to anticipate and prepare much more than you might expect. Make your own checklist or add to mine - what have I left out?

(For the checklist without the bla, bla, blah, click here: Webinar Facilitators Checklist)

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Changing Face of Learning - It's Here!

I have just finished writing the report for a very interesting study aimed at a reconceptualising a large organization's Training Division into a Learning Division, and exploring what that might mean for its structure, task orientation, skill sets, and correlated processes and policies. It was a fascinating exercise in both retrofitting and growing new functionality in the division, all the while maintaining ongoing delivery to support the institution's goals and objectives.

My report had a number of suggestions which were very much informed by all that I am seeing and experiencing in my work with various organizations and teams, and hearing in related communities of practice, about the changing face of learning. The first three suggestions were:

* Moving from Training to Learning
* Blending Formal with Informal Learning
* Exploring New Learning Technologies

Today, synchronicity (and a good network) provided a number of useful resources that capture these trends, and help substantiate these suggestions in a succinct way; so I thought I would share them here (on our 300th blog post!).

The first was an interesting LinkedIn slideshare called The Changing Face of L&D which was posted recently by Jane Hart from the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies and Jay Cross' Internet Time Alliance. This was a presentation to the Learning Technologies 2010 conference in London, and shares in a neat visual way how the social media revolution has precipitated a social learning evolution. (Thanks to Michael Randel for sending that!)

Then I read today's Chief Learning Officer e-news, which featured an article by Agatha Gilmore titled "Tweet This: Creating a Social Networking Strategy" which helps organizations reframe their question from "Should we address social networking?" to "How will we address it?" It also offers some good suggestions for CLOs on the policies that are needed to make this addition to workplace learning work best.

And finally, a spirited discussion on the LinkedIn Chief Learning Officer Group mentioned Josh Bersin's December 2009 white paper on "Enterprise Learning and Talent Management 2010: Predictions for the Coming Year" (which I just read today), which includes 12 predicted strategies for organizations this year including, "We are shifting our focus from e-learning to We-learning," and "Learning Management Systems will continue to evolve into talent and information learning platforms, and Collaboration Systems will become hotter. Other learning tools will continue to grow."

There is a lot of noise in cybersphere about all this, and (full disclosure) I am definitely an advocate. If it is indeed here, now there is definitely some work to be done in our organizations and businesses to think very practically about what that means for our existing work in capacity development and learning. Thankfully these do not sound like distant, frontier concepts anymore. They are right on our doorsteps, waiting to be invited in.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Warning: This Post is Rated PG (Practitioner Guidance Suggested)

I am writing what's turning out to be a very long report that's thinking about the evolution of training into learning. And I'm very much enjoying the late night research part, which flicks me serendipitiously through many of the grainy midnight channels of the World Wide Web, as well as into some brighter and more highly produced mainstream offerings.

Last night on my channel surfing, I clicked onto Jay Cross' newest article on Chief Learning Officer called, "Dirty Words" and have not stopped thinking about it. It wasn't the title that got me, it was the story, of course.

It was a cautionary tale.

There is indeed something deliciously self-perpetuating about a new field of work, once you can get past the nay-sayers and eye rollers, into a set of early adopters who can help to develop the shared vocabulary, the group of interconnected concepts, the specialised actions that can be attributed to "practice" in the field.

These people start to move ahead with it. They spin off a set of correlated concepts, further definining the field, making distinctions and boundaries that set the new off from the old. There is a sense of identity of the group, and a set of short hand terms and labels emerge. You can get pretty far into it before you notice that the buzz is contained in a small (but hopefully growing) group of practitioners. The attractiveness of the cache sits rather uncomfortably with the kick you get from proselytising the new message (dooming you to putting yourself out of an elite job, and into a historical role as one of the First).

That is what I hear Jay Cross talking about in his article on Dirty Words. As learning and informal learning, rather recent in their more specific usage (several years, short in the grand scheme of things) has developed this far, with its pantheon of leaders, its specialised journals, its sub-themes, and key words. In his article Jay reminds us how other people in our institutions (those with the money as well as the need) might hear their learning teams talking and what they think when they hear some of our accepted buzz words.

I am writing my report, fully pro-learning and full of venacular for me, to an audience that has yet to be convinced (not about learning, but about the subtle difference between what we are talking about now and what went before - such as training and capacity building.) I say "A Field is Born!" but they might hear it as "#$%^&*!". This advice from Jay is coming at a good time. When I go back through my report, I will have to remember to use my PG filter (Practitioner Guidance Suggested).

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Don't Be Afraid of Fun in Institutional Learning

The title of the next Chief Learning Officer Webinar I've signed up for is called, “Corporate Learning in 2010: Social, Mobile, Collaborative, Engaging and Fun.” I was interested to find an example of this - of how informal learning at the organizational level can be just that – here near Geneva last week.

I had lunch at WWF International in Gland, Switzerland, last Friday where they were just completing a Learning Week that featured five packed days of learning exchange from “How to take a good photograph” to hot topics like the Water Footprint on which WWF is working. When I walked into their offices at lunchtime I could feel the buzz – sessions were going on all over the building, often five in parallel, all internally sourced. Internally is defined broadly here, as some external people were presenting and running sessions too; these external people however – from globally recognized Business Schools and multi-national corporations – were all WWF partners who had taken the opportunity to contribute some of their knowledge to this organizational learning extravaganza.

Fun and learning are not mutually exclusive, as we all know, although having fun in the workplace is not what we have come to expect. It is refreshing to see how that synergy of informal learning and fun can open up space for real connections both at the content level and interpersonally, that can then lead to productivity results afterwards.

As I left, prizes were being given away by senior management for the best presenters, to the person that attended the most events, and so on, in the wrap up of this Learning Week. It no doubt ended with the same energy with which it started – Day 1 of the agenda featured a Staff Quiz, all about the institution and its work. Eight teams turned out in Fancy Dress (I hear), to compete in rounds towards the champion position. Team scoring was done by Senior management. The Pub Quiz format was about institutional learning and exchange, and also ticked the fun box for team development and relationship building. As a Learning Week launch it no doubt served as a wonderful icebreaker for the open discussions and cross-silo-fertilization of ideas that would no doubt follow such an activity.

Reducing “power distance” in organizational hierarchies can also be treated through fun - a staff party where Senior staff bartend, as WWF had, might demonstrate the service orientation of the highest level of management, not to mention model some of the acute listening skills that bartenders are well-known for (and not just for drink orders.) In addition, everyone was invited to submit a session idea, again taking decision-making out of the hands of a few and into those of many, now co-creators of the content.

These are the kind of clever decisions that have important and subtle effects.

Whether skills building or learning about one another’s programmatic work, event titles on the five-page agenda, featuring over 75 events, were innovative too (“Herding Cats 101” building facilitation skills, and “How to manage your energy, not your time”), promising fun and interaction and not just a barrage of PowerPoint. (In fact, guidelines sent out in advance requested reduced reliance on PPT). Even the physical spaces that were used made that in some cases impossible, I saw a hands-on session happening at a clutch of computers in an open space area, others were in the Visitor’s area - unusual spaces for this kind of exchange that signaled something different than business as usual.

Why not host an in-house learning event/conference that is a provocative mix of formal and informal peer-learning which is interesting, useful and most importantly fun. It takes some courage to put on such an event, but the opt-in, staff-built programme with lots of choice no doubt helps people tailor their learning needs to their own interests, and allows them to learn much more about and from their peers through the shared format of fun.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Get More Done with Less Effort: A Systems Story

Some people ask for examples of how systems thinking can be applied. Here's a story that I came across recently...

Imagine you are a headquarters-based training unit in a big organization and, among other things, you put out a two-page newsletter each month that features short paragraphs describing all the different training activities that the many field units are conducting. Collecting the articles is hard work, you need to bug people all the time to send something in. Finally you get your quota of news and you publish it. At the end of the newsletter, you write "For more information, contact ".

Early on, after you would publish the newsletter you would get a string of requests for more information that needed follow up, which took quite a lot of time - going back to all the various authors and asking them for information, or passing along the request and checking that they answered it. It would take a while for the author to respond to you, the central HQ unit, then you would send back the information to the person who requested it. It took so long to get the information, that the perception of responsiveness of the HQ unit started to be affected, and eventually no one asked for more information. It started to get even harder to get trainers to answer your news request, you might eventually need to cast your training news net wider, which would need more research and take more time.

You find you are spending a lot of time administering this information exchange. And actually from the lack of timely response from the trainers, and feedback from your readers, you are not sure what kind of impact this is having. As a result this newsletter might not be at the top of your To Do list. Is it time for the newsletter again?

So what are our opportunities here?

You are putting a lot of energy into making this newsletter work. Is there something that you could do differently that would drive this process for you? How could you get the system to do your work for you, rather than you having to do everything yourself? Maybe there is something in the structure of the system that is currently operating that is making it less efficient than it could be. You are clearly in the middle of it. Can you step aside, and shorten some of these information pathways?

What if, instead of putting "For more information contact:" at the very end of the newsletter, you put, "For more information write directly to Trainer" at the end of every article? What does that simple change do? Well, for one thing it lets people send their requests directly to Sam or whoever, and you don't have to get in the middle of all this correspondence. It puts a name and potentially a face to the training (can you put the photo of the trainer by his/her article?), and might encourage more contact between the readers and the trainers. Someone will see Sam now in the corridor on his visit to HQ and be able to talk to him about his training, rather than not knowing who conducted it.

Putting Sam's name on the article serves to raise his visibility as the owner of the activity. He now starts to get some notoriety for his articles, and when people contact him for more information he gets direct feedback on his work. His article might bring him some new contacts, new internal clients, or potential partners. People will start to know more about what Sam is doing and when they are conducting training on a similar topic, they might bring him in. Sam starts to see the value of this reporting activity, and this incentivizes him to use that opportunity and to get his articles in on time; it becomes a great marketing route for him and his team. He might even improve the quality of his article because his name is on it now, instead of some anonymous info-email address in HQ.

Now, when the articles come in to you on their own, the quality is better, and you have more enthusiasm from the trainers, your task putting together the newsletter gets easier and more enjoyable. Your admin time goes down, and maybe you can spend more time instead finding new authors, or starting a friendly competition for the best writer of the year, the most prolific writer, the one that receives the most comments, etc., or working with existing trainers on their writing skills, or maybe you can start to find photos (where you never had time for that before). Now instead of having to free up days of work to get the newsletter out, it might be more like hours, and the newsletter can move up your to-do list.

This process starts with a good question - asking yourself if there is something that you can do to trigger reactions in the wider system that can sustain the positive effects of your actions. That is using systems thinking. You want your effort to achieve progress without constant energy input from you; so you ask yourself, what can I change, even with a small strategic effort, that can create a situation where other people, those centrally involved, are happily doing this work (instead of me)?

In this particular case, incentivising the trainers by giving them more visibility and shortening the feedback time from their readers would be a good and simple move. You might consider as a next step putting your news on a blog, and cultivating a set of trainers who would get a kick out of blogging about their activities, and could even post their own articles instead of you (you could give them a set of guidelines and some support). Then if you still need to publish a newsletter, it would be as simple as going on the blog and pulling off the top articles (SiteMeter could even take the guess work out of that) and republishing them in hard copy for the field based staff. The biographical information on the trainers/bloggers, the instant gratification of publication, along with the instant feedback they would get in the comments section would continue to incentivize them to give you timely, high quality content. Now, your newsletter project is just a quick activity, instead of falling into the pulling-of-teeth category of work. And as a bonus you get a lot of happy higher profile trainers, engaged, proud of their work and potentially more productive as a result.

All that from changing the contact information? Systems thinking!

(NOTE: Of course systems thinking would also have you asking, what kind of resistance might I encounter when I make this change to my system? How can I curtail that before it gets to me? And the systems thinking goes on...)

Friday, February 05, 2010

Is YouTube Making Training Obsolete?

I was not too sure about this until I watched a YouTube video that helped me do something I had never done before (make a video with my computer's integrated webcam to post on my blog), now I think YouTube is going to give technical training, at least, a run for its money...I might have actually taken a training course on this...