Tips for running online training

I've been running weekly training sessions for a few months now. Our aim is to get people up to speed in the web analytics tool we use (Omniture SiteCatalyst) and enable our colleagues to find the data they need without bugging our team with basic questions. It gives us a great response whenever we get those kinds of questions: "the next beginner's training session is...".

I've come up with some tips on how to run these kinds of sessions.

We use WebEx to share a screen, just because it's supported internally. It's functional, though the user interface is annoyingly non-standard and confusing for some users. There are other tools out there that I'm sure are just as good, and probably cheaper. In corporate environments you need something that can automatically work out proxy settings on the Windows platform.  We initially tried using Microsoft NetMeeting and Office Communicator, also supported internally, but both tools crapped out with any real number of participants.

I'd strongly recommend using a phone conference bridge for audio rather than expecting people to have headsets or working audio. It's just asking for trouble.

I switch between a slide presentation done in Google Docs and a Firefox browser to demo. I have considered switching to a solely slide-based presentation, because Omniture is so slow, but I want people to see the real thing.

Your invitation is important. In our case we decided to run our beginner class every two weeks, so we go to some lengths to point out that people can come as often as they like and get a refresher of the basics. Knowing the session is going to be repeated helps people schedule it in, too.  We also run an "in detail" session in the weeks where there's no beginner class.

It's important to make your invitation include clear benefits: what will the person learn, how can they apply that knowledge in their job?

I've got half an hour booked in my calendar before each training session. I use it to make sure I've got a printout of the slides, go to the loo and fill my water bottle. I can't stress the loo and water part enough! You will need both, so don't skip them.

In my half hour of preparation, I slowly go through my slides and make sure I'm prepared. The beginner course requires me to have deleted some things created in the last training session, and be logged out.

It's really hard to deliver good training. You want to go at a slow enough pace for everyone to keep up, and while you're training it's very hard to know if you're going slowly enough. In my experience, whatever speed you think you're going, you can go slower without any problem.  See if you can get a colleague to wave at you when you're going to fast or something.

The other thing you should concentrate on avoiding is "um", "errr" and other verbal pauses. Some people have more trouble with these when delivering talks than others. If you're one of those, concentrate on not saying it. Only confidence and practise will help here. I was lucky enough to be pretty good at debating and did a lot of it in school, which got me out of the habit.

Dealing with questions
If your audience is engaged, you'll be interrupted and asked questions. Always acknowledge the question, and repeat it in your own language to ensure everyone gets the context.  Often the question will be something you cover later, so you can just say you'll cover it later, but make a mental note to link it back to the question when you do cover it.

Delivering a beginners class you'll sometimes get really detailed, complex questions. Again, make sure everyone understands the question but you can always suggest the person talk to you afterwards, or you can run a session on that specific area later. Don't get bogged down with complex, unrelated questions. You'll lose your main audience and possibly even confuse them by having to introduce more advanced concepts.

But don't just disregard questions. Often they'll provide helpful context for you to make the training relevant to your audience. If you're good at thinking and delivering on the fly, which is something you get good at after delivering the same class over and over, you can really make your class relevant by incorporating the same examples used by questioners into your class.

I'd like to make our sessions more interactive, with users expected to perform a task. WebEx doesn't make switching between screen sharers easy though, so I'm not sure how you could see what people have done on their own PCs.

We've found people in this large organisation really appreciative of the training sessions we run, and we've started to see a lot more usage of web analytics. We're getting more interesting, complicated questions, which indicates people understand the basics and want to dig deeper into our data. That can only be good, and ends up with the tool being used for the right reasons, which makes our job more satisfying.

Shed progress, and networking disaster

Over the weekend I started insulating the shed. It's tough work because every joist width on the shed is different, seemingly for no good reason. That means every batt has to be cut. I bought polyester insulation to make this easier and more pleasant than cutting fibreglass or rockwool, but it's still a big job.  I expect the professionals have a huge guillotine to make this a lot easier.

I've done three walls, including the fiddly bits around the doors and windows.  This week I hope to get the big wall and ceiling done, in time to fit plasterboard next weekend.

Networking disaster
Had a bit of a disaster with the network. I didn't have the cable when we ran the conduit, so we ran a wire through the middle with the intention of pulling the Cat6 when we had it.  We tried that yesterday and the pull wire snapped halfway through the pull.  Whoops.

So I'm now looking into 802.11n at 5 GHz to make a high speed, reliable point-to-point wireless connection to make up for the lack of a wired connection.  Bummer, but the wireless system should be okay.

Yay for babysitters 2

Two gigs in one week! At Opera House for Blonde Redhead. Support were ghastly. Enjoying the view before main act.

To be honest, the gig was a bit disappointing. I shouldn't be too surprised given the band have one amazing album and not much else worth listening to. But it's such a great album! As it happens, they played only one song from the great album and the rest was pretty crap.

I dreaded it every time they put their guitars down to play their keyboards. Every one of these tracks seemed to consist of meandering FM synth pads pushed through cathedral reverb. Not helped by the sound in the Concert Hall seeming to kill any mid frequencies from the music.

Wish I'd gone to see Sufjan Stevens instead now, though we had a nice night out anyway.

Yay for babysitters

We got to have an adult night out thanks to Grandma. Dinner at Spice Temple then Holy Fuck at Sydney Festival's Becks Festival Bar.

Spice Temple was fantastic. The only baseball bat in the arsenal seemed to be Szechuan pepper and chilli, but what a nice bat to whack you upside the taste buds!

Holy Fuck, also excellent. More exciting in the tiny, sweaty Annandale last time we saw them, but still great.

You wouldn't be politicizing the floods would you Tony?

As Julia Gillard warned tough budget choices lay ahead, the Opposition Leader said the $36 billion network was an “expensive luxury that Australia cannot afford”.

“The one thing you don't do is re-do your bathroom when the roof has just been blown off and that's the situation that we find ourselves in right now,” he said.

That sure sounds like you're using the flood disaster to grind an axe there Tony. Your party's newspaper has been all over Bob Brown, accusing him of doing the same for pointing out coal's complicity in climate extremes. Hypocrisy much?

Wanted: Tightly compressed, sunny music for my cycle commute

I love listening to music and I love cycling into work. Not having a death wish, I don't ride along with headphones, oblivious to my surroundings. So I've rigged up a set of stereo Bluetooth speakers on the handlebars, which connect to my phone running Spotify for the music. The speakers aren't brilliant though: no bass, limited mid range. That pretty much rules out most electronic music, which needs some bass and clear mids. So I'm searching for music, suitable for cycling, that will sounds decent on these limited speakers.

If you've got a Spotify account, you can look at and add to the collaborative playlist I've set up.  If not, drop me a note in the comments.

So I suppose the specifications are:
  • Sunny, happy music you'd listen to on a bright, sunny Summer day.
  • Compressed sound that'll sound good on a $5 transistor radio over FM.
  • No reliance on heavy bass or mids.

Music currently in the playlist:
  • Belle & Sebastian - The Boy With the Arab Strap
  • Belle & Sebastian - I'm a Cuckoo
  • The Fratellis - Chelsea Dagger
  • OutKast - Hey Ya!
  • The B-52s - Rock Lobster
  • Miss Li - Bourgeois Shangri-La
  • Washed Out - New Theory
  • The Virgins - She's Expensive
  • MGMT - Time To Pretend
  • Cut Copy - Lights & Music
  • Franz Ferdinand - Take Me Out

Rolling news is a scourge

Rolling news has always pissed me off.  When nothing big is happening and you just want a summary of the day's stories, they're running some long-form programming that's not news.  When something big is happening, they fill the dead air with minutiae and uninformed speculation, never giving the quick and succinct summary you want.

Working in London during the July bombings, the BBC switched to the rolling news format and was filled with pundits beginning their spiels with phrases like "we don't know all the facts, but if what we're seeing is a terrorist attack..." which was, of course, incredibly frustrating.  It wasn't helped by the fact the British media continued to claim there were "power surges" on the tube, not bombs, long after it'd been confirmed as bombs everywhere else in the world, including whatever my Mum was watching back in Sydney. (I rode my bike to work that day, so didn't notice anything unusual at all until I got to work and found a text message from my Mum asking if I was all right.)

The last few days, with terrible floods in Queensland, we've had Sky News on at the office. What a waste of space!  They fill the air with endless raw footage from a helicopter and random speculation about what could or might happen.  It makes what should be a shocking vista seem mundane with its endless repetition.  At one point we were treated to half an hour spent looping two minutes' footage of people making themselves cups of tea at the Ipswich dogs club evacuation centre.  Gripping stuff!

When I get home I find the ABC has been infected by this idiocy too.  There's a whole channel set aside for this inane crap, but when there's something big happening they switch ABC1 to the same pointless format.  At 19:00 when I expect my normal news summary, instead we get rolling news inanity.  File footage with the talking head speaking to the owner of a roadhouse in Goondiwindi.  THIS SHIT IS NOT NEWS PEOPLE!

Get a grip people.  We want news bulletins that summarise the big stories of the day.  Keep the rolling news crap where it belongs, on the rolling news channel!

A better format for news?

Here's the rolling news service I'd like to see.  It should be doable with IPTV these days too.  Have your talking head spend all the time putting together  and updating news segments in the style of a news bulletin.  These are then chopped into individual clips and stuck into a playlist in order of story importance.  Then whenever someone says they want the latest updated news, they get the current playlist streamed to them.

Of course being a one-to-one transmission, there's no reason you couldn't customise the story categories in your news stream.  Don't care about sport?  Register your preference and never see a sport story.  Particularly interested in stories involving France?  Register for that tag and more importance will be given to stories about France.

The clever way to do this would be to take your existing rolling news service and have a producer editing up the pieces as you go and sticking them in the playlist.  That way you could do it with minimal additional resources.