Katie Stroud is a “learning solutions engineer” who I met on Twitter many moons and projects-worked-on-together ago. As we chatted this morning about missing being at #ASTD2012 this week, she started saying some things worth repeating.
What follows is a brief interview where you’ll find some tasty nuggets of wisdom you’d do well to savor (in bold for the skimmers). Enjoy.
Roger: I love “learning solutions engineer…” Tell me about your approach.
Katie: Thank you. I couldn’t use just any ol’ title. Instructional Designer, Consultant, Trainer, or even Training Specialist either imply a narrow field of practice or is too vague to really mean anything.
What I love to do is solve problems. Businesses often throw training at problems, but training isn’t always the solution, and even when it is the solution, it won’t solve the problem unless it’s designed and applied appropriately. Content, timing, audience, motivation, delivery and several other factors must fit together if you really want to make a difference.
I’m an engineer at my core, and I like to think that engineering learning solutions is my way of making the world a better place.
Roger: What do you see as the biggest challenge with vILT or live, online presentations?
Katie: Well, that depends. There are at least two sides to any live online presentation or virtual instructor-led training (vILT): the audience and the presenter.
From the audience’s perspective, attending a vILT session or online presentation is a way to cross something off their list and is easily played in the background while they get “real work” done. And for the presenter, it’s a way of providing information to the audience so that they can cross something off their list to meet a business goal. This is the problem.
While more people are embracing online delivery as a viable option for reaching their audiences, many still see online presentations as a waste of time. They often think that to be really effective, they have to do it face-to-face onsite.
As professionals who have seen how valuable an engaging online session can be, we have to change this perception. Doing that means working on those who deliver online presentations and helping them improve their skills. There’s a bit of a learning curve involved, but even small changes in online delivery make a HUGE difference.
Improved online presentations means that audiences look forward to, and even value, being engaged via an online presentation. It means the audience can begin to see the difference between a good presentation and a great one. It means that online presenters and facilitators are faced with overcoming competition, but that’s a good thing because it means that more “great” online presentations are being delivered, and it means that more people can expect more and learn more from attending an online session.
Roger: So if many or most online presentations or classes aren’t great, does “mediocre” happen because people don’t know any better? Or do they know better but don’t do what it takes to improve?
Katie: To be honest, I think it’s about time. Whether or not they know better, doing anything better than “mediocre” takes time, and sometimes mediocre is all that’s needed to cross something off the list and say, “Look. I accomplished something today.”
But once people realize that there’s a better way and that improvement means stronger outcomes, then I think they may have trouble sorting out what’s effective. Even more debilitating is the misconception that they have to be graphic designers and movie stars to be effective. You and I know that’s not true, but there was a time when I was in their shoes and I didn’t know where to get started.
Roger: What would you suggest to someone who wants to improve? What’s the best next step they can take?
Katie: For starters, they can start attending 1080 Group webinars! (smiley face) <Roger blushes here>
All joking aside, improving any skill takes commitment and practice. I’m only half-joking about attending 1080 Group webinars. You have a powerful way of demonstrating how it’s done because you practice what you preach. The first step to improving is finding out what’s out there and identifying the little things that take a presentation from good to great.
The next important thing is to realize that we’re talking about more than slide design. In fact, slide design is only a small part of the equation. Producing better online presentations and vILT sessions means improving the whole experience: voice, timing, content structure, and audience engagement are some of the other factors that come together to create a great presentation.
Finally, a great presentation means rehearsal. Great presenters know that rehearsing a presentation is vital to solid delivery. This is true whether you’re face-to-face or behind a computer screen. It doesn’t matter how good you are; practicing really does make perfect. It also helps to ease nervousness and makes unexpected situations easier to handle.