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AMA Seminar: Why Should You Care About Public Facing Training?

Yesterday, Sanjay Nasta and Linda Warren of MicroAssist conducted a seminar on Public Facing Training. The topic was a good fit—when the speakers asked the audience for reasons why they chose to attend, many of them said they wanted to learn how to train and apply that knowledge in a business capacity.

The presentation kicked off with a question that was probably at the forefront of everyone’s minds: “Why should the audience be interested in public facing training?” Since this event was essentially meant to be a roundtable discussion, Nasta and Warren opened the floor to input on that question. The audience was very responsive: they noted that public training facing can be used to reach a lot of people. Examples of audiences that could be reached include the customer, an external stakeholder. To that effect, other participants chimed in and suggested that customers should be educated on why they should consider your service (i.e., training), since they often don’t know.

Warren then segued into the first of a series of case studies that would be discussed throughout the presentation. The company discussed was Rackspace, a player in the IT service industry that offers storage solutions. Rackspace’s model operates on the selling of their services through channel partners. The corporation itself is thus tasked with educating those channel partners on how they should sell the service—whether focused on benefits, specific features, or other selling points—otherwise they won’t be effective in their sales methods. Warren then pointed out that this might sound a lot like marketing, a notion that got a lot of nodding heads and “mmhmms” from the audience. She went on to say that there’s a point where marketing and training intersect, and that intersection is behavioral change. When it comes down to it, the end goal of these two disciplines is to try to change a certain behavior. Warren then gave two examples to demonstrate this logic: external training and internal training. With external training, you’re trying to get the other person to buy a product. With internal training (i.e., training one’s employees), the goal is to increase knowledge or improve skills as a means of enhancing performance. Whichever route you go down, ultimately you’re still trying to change an existing behavior.

The speakers then posited a thought to the audience to generate more discussion: “Training is a way to gain the attention of your target audience.” In response, an audience member asked a compelling question: “Well, how do you walk the line between training and a longform advertisement?” Warren offered a picture to help separate the two:

“I think the relationship that exists between marketing and training is more like a continuum than a stark dichotomy. It’s probably ideal to find a happy medium between the two: if you’re a trainer by profession, don’t shy away from reaping the benefits that marketing can yield you, too, like offering an element of mystery or surprise, using statistics to make a point, and creating a sense of urgency. All of these things have the potential to complement your training.”

Other audience members continued to share other insights on that subject. One person remarked that there is a sense of trust that comes with taking up a person’s time, and you don’t want to give the other person the impression that you’re petty by trash-talking the competition or pushing a personal agenda. Being even and fair in your approach will go a long way in proving to your prospective clients that you’re a mature person who can be trusted with their business. Another person noted that if you were to give a certain presentation on a subject, that demonstrates to the audience that you’re an expert on that topic and your presentation will stand on its own merits as a result. Indeed, one of the statistics shown in the presentation indicated that people trust those who they know more than any other source of information. It’s also very apparent when a person is actually passionate about the material they’re discussing versus a transparent, ham-handed attempt to sell a service or product. A truly passionate person—someone who’s more focused on building knowledge and skills than lead generation—can really get the audience fired up and motivated to accomplish something.

This was a prime segue for Nasta into the second case study: Home Depot’s Weekly Workshops. These workshops are free and open to people of all ages, and they cover such subjects as bath safety, hardwood flooring, concrete repair, tile installation, laminate flooring, and cabinet updates. Nasta noted from consistent personal experience the sessions are fun (particularly important since he has a 6 year old) and extremely informative. The workshop facilitators, while experts themselves, are down-to-earth and have the know-how to transform a seemingly difficult task into a much easier, highly productive project. An audience member, who was unaware of these workshops, chimed in, “This kind of in-person training is ideal. You really want a person to leave with a sense of competence—the kind where they say to to themselves ‘I can do that!’ again and again—and it sounds like that’s what Home Depot is trying to instill in people with these workshops.” Building on that sentiment, Warren offered a great contrast:

“When you design these kinds of services, you have to put the customer at the center. Everything should be tailored in such a way that it creates an ideal experience for them. This is what Home Depot has done. Compare that to their top competitor, Lowe’s. Lowe’s offers similar workshops, but you have to sign up for them in advance, and they can only accommodate so many people. This is Lowe’s biggest flaw: they’re focused more on logistics than the customer. Home Depot, on the other hand, puts a premium on accommodating the audience, and that’s why according to Google, they have 36.7 million sites linking to their workshop page, 35 million of which are coming from external sites.”

Fast-forwarding a bit, the next highlight in the event was the discussion of community building. A case study that exemplifies great community building is Articulate, an e-Learning publishing tool. On their website, Articulate offer tutorials, community blogs, and discussion forums where mutual support is provided. Then, keeping with the spirit of interactivity, the presenters posed another question to the audience: “What can Articulate achieve with this training? In other words, they’ve already sold the product—why go the extra mile and build a community? Why should they care?” The first audience member who tackled this question approached it logically: “If you’re engaging customers to help themselves or other customers, it significantly cuts down on the cost your company has to pay, as well as their turnaround time with troubleshooting customers’ issues.” Others noted that creating this kind of environment helps to improve the company’s product for future releases. Furthermore, it builds customer loyalty and brand advocacy (think of Adobe’s online community, where certain veteran users gained a reputation over time as knowledgeable experts who could solve most of the problems users were facing). Articulate uses all of the above to their advantage so its success is proven, and it’s precisely why they have such a great reputation in the e-Learning tool community.

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Linda Warren is an instructional designer at MicroAssist. Sanjay Nasta is the CEO of MicroAssist and of Atomic Axis, a company that focuses on enabling smart mobility.

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