Tips for Software Trainings

For an quick, inside look at how Idealware manages so many successful on-line trainings, take a look at Andrea Berry’s post, Like Idealware seminars themselves, Andrea is clear and to the point -- focus the subject matter, prepare an outline and organize the content.  Of course, as Andrea pointed out, Idealware does three to five seminars a week. What about the occasional, or even first time presenter, facing a roomful of new users of complex software? Here are some thoughts on preparing for trainings that maybe pick up where Andrea left off. They come from recently helping two members of a project team prepare to lead their first software training ever. 

First a general thought. Even if you haven’t done a lot of training, draw on your own style. Everyone has one. The two people doing the sessions I was helping on are experienced speakers and presenters in their profession, just not in technology training. Whatever makes you good in other circumstances, you should use in training. From there, consider what’s different. 

Organizing the Presentation 

It’s tempting to start from the beginning and walk through the menus and pages from end to end. And since you probably know those menus and functions yourself, it’s also tempting to figure, it will be a piece of cake to just log in and walk the new users through it all. 
Taking that approach will likely exhaust your audience. And you may also bump into some feature that doesn’t do what you want it to. No matter how much the multi-tasker you consider yourself, there is something about holding the group’s attention while typing on a projected screen that leads to trouble.  

Yes to Slides?  

Instead, pick out two or three representative complete scenarios—a case, a project, a client, a grant, etc-- and walk through all the steps you will take  in advance. Whether you need to rehearse exactly what you will say is more a matter of speaking style. At least list out step-by-step all the clicks and entries you will make. Then, whether you have to write out your remarks, you an annotate the steps with essential tips or commentary. 
For this, you might find it helpful to make a slide show. For the heart of the demo part of the training, you can make a series of screen shots with clickable links to key live pages. Then, alternative those screen shot slides, with slides with your lessons and tips. (Or put them in the notes or otherwise note them.) 
Having the slides also can be insurance against disaster—no Internet access, problems with the software that day, or anything else. Also, like any other presentation, use introductory slides to set goals and expectations. 

Like a TV Cooking Demonstration 

Now go one step further. You might take a page from Julia Child and all the cooking shows that have followed. On TV, we often see the beginning steps live in great detail. Then the chef jumps to a view of the finished product to give all the hot tips. In a training, have examples of those same two or three scenarios all set up in reserve. You can start with live entry and then jump to commenting on a completed example at any point. 
A variation. Instead of walking through a small number of situations in detail, it sometimes works for me to think of, say, a dozen top daily or periodic tasks staff will face. They can be in order of likelihood instead of order of entry. Do the training as a series of "how to" mini tutorials, instead of an end to end walk through of the whole system. Could this come across as disjointed? Sure. Yet is could also come across more the way we use good web help, jumping first to the Frequently Asked Questions section and seeing if we can find quick lessons there.  
If you take this approach, you can list the mini lessons as topics on an easel pad sheet (or a slide page you can return to), and check them off as you go through them. Suppose each one takes 10 minutes (with questions), that's a real framework for watching the time. Checking each one off will help your patient participants mete out their own attention. And if you do them in priority order, even if you have to adjust your time, you will know you have hit the most important things.
By the way, one of the best software manuals I have used, for the somewhat obscure Maptitude desktop GIS software, works really well in this mini-lesson format. Each new sections starts with one or more 60 second tutorials. Sometimes that’s all you need, without reading the detailed reference.
If you have the luxury of two presenters, it really makes sense that while one person talks, the other works the screens. You can switch back and forth, yet avoid having the same person to have one person doing most of the talking 4. Consider, one of you talking and one using the computer--shift back and forth, but avoid the speaking and clicking at same time.   

Interactive Doesn't Have to Mean Hands-On 

Hands on training is often a luxury trainers can afford: there isn't enough time on the schedule; the room is not set-up for it; the participants are not ready yet for that.  You can make your session highliy interactive even without the hands-on, and be all the more succesfful. 

How can you anticipate those investable things that don’t go right when presenting software details in front of a crowd? One idea is to put up  easel pad pages with headings something like: "suggestions for improvements" and "training follow-ups." Then you can note trouble spots or questions that mire things down, and just move on.  By putting up the sheets in advance, you signal both openness to ideas as well as insistence that you have a schedule and  not everything can get settled during the training.

It can help to give a long training a pacing and rhythm. Don’t wait until the end for discussion phases. Here are three important back-and-forth elements you ought to cover, and you can use as natural change of pace topics within the overall outline.
First, address fears. Users of new software will bring fears and anxieties to the training. Those issues will distract them, so its much better to take them up along the way. Will the system increase my workload? Can I still get the same lists I used to get, however clunky the process? 
Second, making time for follow-up. Staff who have a day off for training may have more work to come back to the day or two afterwards. It really can make a difference in internalization of the learning to make time in advance to try out the system. It helps to give participants time to talk about their plans to put the training to use, maybe finding a learning buddy and making a date, thinking about what cases or clients to try it out on and what paper work will be needed in advance to focus on using the new system, and other practical steps..
Third, address security and privacy concerns staff may have with the new system. If the new system is more comprehensive in what it collects and measures, best to talk through issues staff may have. 
One last audio visual aid: have yet another easel pad sheet with top tips to remember. Even if you have them on slides, it can help to write them on a fresh list based on reaction in the room as you go through things. If the wording partly reflects comments on mood in the room as you do the training, it will make them more memorable. You can send them out as a follow-up.
I hope these points help. Unlike Andrea, I speak as someone who doesn’t do training every day. And I often have anxiety going into trainings especially where it’s on software I have helped select or configure. Basic iIdeas like these help me get through, and I hope for you as well. 



 Thank you Steve for the

 Thank you Steve for the wonderful presenting tips!  Several of the strategies you point out would translate well to presenting in general, and especially presenting online.  In online presentations, the pacing and rhythm of the presentation become even more important in keeping your audience's attention.  Your suggestion for interspersing discussion and Qand A throughout the presentation works particularily well for webinars.  I'm curious about how breaking a presentation out into mini-lessons, and checking them off a main list, would work online.  Have you seen any webinars presented this way?  Was it useful in keeping the audience engaged?