Good Training Is All about the Audience | Kati Ryan

What does it take to be great at learning and development?

Is it down to fancy tools, qualifications, or top video creation skills? Not exactly.

It’s all about your audience and focusing on what they need to know. The other stuff can come later.

During her 12-year career, Kati Ryan, Founder of A Positive Adventure, has picked up so many fantastic tips for L&D professionals. She joins this episode of The Visual Lounge to share her best advice for new and experienced L&D professionals alike.

In this episode, Kati explains why we need to get back to basics, focus on the audience, and plan everything with the end goal in mind. She shares why L&D often makes the mistake of over-engineering and overcomplicating training content and how to improve it.

You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

Good training starts with the audience

No matter where you are in your journey as an L&D trainer, the most important thing is to focus on the audience receiving the training. What do they need and why?

Kati says you should always ask these questions before you start so you have a better idea of what your content needs.

While experienced L&D professionals may already know this, what if you find yourself in the role with little experience? Kati says the best thing for newbies in L&D is to find someone well versed in it and partner with them. Grab a coffee and quiz them.

For those who are new to it and want to progress into a career in L&D, Kati says the best thing you can do is find a mentor. Having a mentor is an incredibly useful way to progress in any type of career, but especially in this field.

Formal or informal doesn’t matter. What matters is you find someone you can swap ideas with.

“Ask intelligent questions of them about their experience and how they’ve gotten there.”

The keys to effective learning

One of the most common mistakes that people make when delivering training is to over-engineer and overcomplicate it.

Instead, a good starting point is to go back to basics. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What are you trying to do?
  • Are you looking for a behavior change or for it to be informational?
  • What are the learning objectives or goals?
  • Is there anything that needs unlearning?
  • Do you need to introduce a new concept?
  • What’s the level of knowledge from the audience to begin with?
  • What does the audience want to know?

Once you’ve outlined these basics, you can start to get more creative with your training. But you should get clear on your goals before you get to that point.

“I think when you think about the goals, the outcome, the target audience, then you can get creative about how you make that happen. But you really have to understand what you’re trying to accomplish and for whom.”

The difficulties of measuring the impact of training

Measuring the impact of training is always a tough shout. There are so many confounding variables that it’s hard to isolate real cause and effect. It’s almost impossible to say, “this training is the only thing that impacted this outcome.”

But before even getting to that point, Kati likes to first identify whether training is what’s needed. Many organizations see a problem, for example, low sales figures, and immediately jump to new training. However, this overlooks the question of whether training is the answer. Maybe there’s another underlying problem or a better solution.

If training isn’t really needed, this is going to result in low motivation from the audience. If they already know what you’re about to tell them, they’re probably not going to listen.

The next thing Kati looks at is what success looks like. If you don’t have a clear vision of what the ideal outcome is, it’s easy to get lost and it’s hard to measure.

“When I go in and talk to clients, I’m always asking them at the end of this, will you say this was worth it? What does success look like? And a lot of times, they don’t even know. They say, “we don’t know, we just know we need to check this box.” And I say okay, we need to have a deeper conversation here.”

Working with subject matter experts

Often, L&D people aren’t experts in the content they’re delivering. So, how do you teach people about something you’re not an expert in? That’s where subject matter experts come in to save the day.

Kati describes L&D people as “glorified interpreters.” Part of the job is to take information from subject matter experts and share it with people who need to know it.  

“We need to figure out ways to braid those two things together to tell a story and to flow into a learning funnel. And so, it comes from asking good questions.”

Part of Kati’s process is to ask the right questions of these experts. Collaborating with them on training programs and letting them know what your aims are can help you get more targeted information to develop the program.

Keeping training content fresh and engaging

There are all sorts of informational content online, from formal training programs to Buzzfeed articles. In the case of Buzzfeed, its job is to either quickly inform you or entertain you. While a formal training program might not have the same tone or aims, we can learn a lot from this to make content more engaging.

Kati thinks that you should go back to what you’re trying to accomplish before overloading your content with images and videos to keep it interesting. Sometimes throwing out a funny image is a good way to break the tension in the audience or give them a break.

However, you should use this tactic strategically. The images and videos should still tie into the overall goal of the content.

Making the content relevant and targeted

Another element of successful learning design is making the content targeted to the audience. A lot of trainers make the mistake of designing content that can apply to anyone when really it should be tailored to the people in the room.

“You have to make sure it’s relevant. This goes back to knowing the target audience you’re speaking to. And using their language, not yours, using their images, not yours.”

It’s easy to grab a few stock photos of people high fiving in suits, but to make your content more relevant, you could use images from the organization you’re in. This is such a simple switch, but it can make all the difference.

Kati recommends asking the company for images, access to the company Facebook page, or a brand catalog to weave in those relevant images.

For more insights into L&D, creating videos, and instructional design, check out TechSmith Academy for more videos and tutorials like this.

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

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