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.