Build Better Lessons for Your Users

10 Sep, 2013 By: Robert Green

Whether you're recording videos or delivering live training sessions, the planning stage is the most important.

In the past two issues of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I showed you how to create your own training videos using Camtasia recording software. Of course, technical know-how isn't enough — you'll only be able to create great videos if you start with a good lesson plan. For that matter, carefully planning your lessons is always the foundation for delivering great training presentations, whether you record them or not.

So in this issue, we'll focus on tips and tricks for building great lessons; these will be helpful regardless of which format you use to deliver them. Here goes.

Promote Your Topics Positively

The first part of building a great lesson is to pick a topic people want to learn about and promote it properly. For example, let's look at a common topic, CAD standards, and see how to correctly position the lesson to get maximum attention from potential attendees.

First, start with a clear, concise title that focuses on how the course will benefit the trainees, such as, "Get Your Job Done Faster with Standards." Avoid using a negative tone — nobody wants to attend a session called "The Drudgery of CAD Standards Explained"!

Next, write a brief description paragraph so interested parties can learn more about what will be in the course:

In this short video course, you'll see how to set up your projects with time-saving automated standard routines to speed you through generating reports and PDF project outputs.

Steer clear of jargon, technobabble, and alienating acronyms:

You'll learn how to create project directories and attach xref files to DWG-based files using VISRETAIN layer manipulations to interface to plotting scripts run from within the PUBLISH command.

I'm actually saying the same thing in both paragraphs, but the first example describes results, action, and a positive outcome. The second paragraph makes most people's eyes glaze over.

These may seem like small details, but if your course title and description aren't accessible and engaging, people won't want to attend your class or watch your video.

Prepare for Powerful Presentations

For any presentation to work well — video or not — you'll need to adjust your presentation technique for maximum comprehension. Following are some concepts that are often overlooked by presenters and ways you can avoid these problems.

Communicate the goal. Before you begin a lesson, tell the trainees what the outcome will be, and if possible, show them what the output will look like when you're finished. It'll be much easier for your audience to follow along because they'll understand what you're trying to achieve.

Preview your approach. After showing the end result, give a quick, high-level description of what the lesson will contain. When using video, you may even want to include a fast-motion sequence of the steps you'll use in the exercise. (In classroom scenarios, a quick slide with bullet points will suffice.) Again, when the users know ahead of time how the lesson will progress, it is much more likely that they'll understand the exercise when you go through it.

Start at the absolute beginning. Even if you think your audience already knows a concept or term, it is wise to briefly explain or define it. There's nothing worse for an attendee than not understanding a presentation because a simple step wasn't explained up front.

Move at a relaxed, yet engaging pace. If you move too fast, somebody will get lost; move too slow, and people will zone out. In live classroom environments you can use the body language of your students to help you adjust your pacing, but videos don't give you that feedback loop. For this reason, I like to record training sessions that I’m delivering live, so the pacing will be on target.

Talk as you go. Explain everything as you go along, and reference the game plan you provided at the beginning of the presentation. Use action phrases, such as "I'll move the mouse to this window" and "I'll click this dialog box," so everyone knows what's going on. By talking as you go you'll also avoid dead air — those painful periods of silence where the user is left to guess what you're doing. (This is especially important for video presentations.)

Make sure mouse movements are visible. Sometimes experienced users zip through mouse movements so quickly that the person watching can't see the cursor. Slow your mouse movements and consider enabling mouse trails to make cursor motions more obvious. Whether you're training via video or on a conference room wall with a projector, your attendees won’t learn if they can’t see what you're doing.

Click, double-click, right-click. Make sure to differentiate between when you are clicking, double-clicking, or right-clicking on the mouse. Remember that the person watching your presentation can't see you work the mouse, so you have to verbalize what you're doing. When video recording, consider using visual mouse-click animations so users can follow along. (See details in "Record Your Own CAD Training Videos.")

Summarize. When you arrive at the end of your lesson, the attendees should see you've reached the goal you outlined at the start of the lesson. Briefly recap the commands and concepts you covered with a summary slide of bullet points.

Refine Your Flow with Storyboards

In order to use the tips I gave for starting with the end goal and previewing your approach, you must prepare your lesson and have example files ready to go so your video can be recorded.

Take a few extra minutes to create a storyboard — a sketch of your presentation — so you'll have a good idea of how you'll run through it. For every training session I do, I first compose a storyboard, then I run through a rehearsal to make sure the storyboard is solid. Only then do I proceed with my live training or video recording.

Summing Up

Now that you've got a recipe for creating effective lessons, why not think about a few things you've wanted to teach your users, build a few storyboards, and even make a few training videos? I think you'll find you can develop training materials much more quickly than you'd have thought possible. Leverage your video recordings in the future, and you'll never have to teach the same topic twice!


About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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