Cynthia Clay's Blog

Connect More by Getting Yourself 'Off Book'

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Fall is “back to school” time. My daughters have returned to college. The house feels a little empty, truth be told. But this seasonal change is giving me renewed energy and focus.

Our approach to virtual training at NetSpeed Learning has been inspired by my background in Theater (I have a master’s degree in Directing from the University of Washington). When a group of actors begin to rehearse with a director, they usually begin with a written script. Often, the first few rehearsals involve reading the script together while sitting around a conference table. A good director will begin to clarify and explain the structure, the themes, and the characters in the play.

Some directors like to get the actors up and moving early in the rehearsal process. But getting everyone moving is hindered if any one of the actors has failed to memorize their lines. In the theater, knowing your lines is called being “off book.” It’s essential to the creative process that the actors master their lines as quickly as possible. Out of that mastery arises the freedom to explore, react, and respond to their fellow actors.

Let’s connect getting “off book” to facilitating an engaging virtual training experience. The more a facilitator masters the content they present, the better the learning experience for participants. A facilitator reading a training script aloud is usually boring. Either the facilitator’s voice becomes flat and monotone as they read, or their voice becomes singsong, much a like a first-grade teacher might sound reading a story.

But beyond how boring the trainer is when they are tied to their “book”, they lose the opportunity to connect with and engage the participants in the virtual training session. It’s fine to have brief notes ready to make sure you state a fact correctly. But reading from those notes makes it harder for the facilitator to be fully present with the participants in the course. So, get yourself “off book” as quickly as possible and shift your focus from the content to the participants.


Posted by Cynthia Clay at 2:03 pm

Summer Musings

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Change, renewal, and rebirth are in the air. Have you noticed that many companies and organizations are attempting to return to “normal?” The truth is that normal is just a setting on the dryer. It certainly doesn’t describe what is happening in our workplaces today. The great pandemic proved that it is possible to work well remotely, keep productivity high, offer useful virtual training, and run decent virtual meetings to bring their teams together. For many organizational leaders, this outcome was a revelation. Some leaders, however, are learning the hard way that demanding a 100% return to the workplace may lead to people leaving their jobs to find organizations that are more flexible.

Now, as we move from virtual working environments to hybrid workplaces, organizations are experimenting to get the right mix of working onsite and working remotely. Should the manager figure it out with their teams? Should we mandate 2 – 3 days in the office per week? Does it make sense to tell people which days they need to be in the office? Can we leave it completely flexible and let people choose when they will show up in person? There might be value in specifying which days to be in the office as a team, for example, to ensure that no one commutes through traffic only to discover they are the only one from their team in the office that day.

On top of these hybrid workplace challenges, training teams are trying to figure out how to create hybrid learning experiences well. We have been working with clients to identify, practice, and apply solid techniques for hybrid learning. Is it good enough to conduct an onsite training session with remote participants logged in to observe and, occasionally participate via chat? We don’t think so! Is it ever acceptable to just video the onsite meeting and require remote participants to view the recording later? Heck, no! Let’s pay attention to the quality of our virtual training and hybrid learning experiences, not just settle for fast and easy delivery.

Posted by Cynthia Clay at 4:41 pm

Uncertainty and Ambiguity Plus Creativity and Innovation

Thursday, March 24, 2022

As the pandemic continues to roil our workplaces, is your organization ready to go hybrid? Many organizations have elected to continue their virtual workplaces, putting off a hybrid workplace model for another quarter. Two words reflect the current state of the workplace for many of us: uncertainty and ambiguity. It is not clear when this pandemic will end, when organizations may pull people back into the physical workplace, or whether we will ever return to some semblance of normal.

In times like these, opportunities emerge. The work environment is ripe for creativity and innovation. If you are a learning professional, you are likely learning new delivery platforms, from web conferencing to third-party applications that integrate with those platforms. I’ve become a big fan of Mentimeter integrated with Zoom, for example. The combination allows me to design and facilitate engaging, playful, and interactive web workshop experiences. While I may have gotten around to checking out this application eventually, the pandemic gave me a swift kick in the derrière. And for that, I’m grateful!

If you are a virtual or hybrid leader, you’ve probably adopted new collaboration tools, figured out how to launch a Zoom team meeting, or even implemented a new project management system. You may have realized that you need to be in frequent contact with your virtual team. It’s been a stressful, overwhelming time for many employees. Your empathetic, supportive leadership was probably required to keep everyone focused and productive, despite the many changes and challenges that we are experiencing together. In short, I’m guessing that you might have become a more effective leader.

I’ve been speaking about the AIDS model to our clients in the past few months. AIDS stands for Attend, Include, Direct, Support. These four words describe the actions required of facilitators delivering virtual training to mixed audiences of co-located and virtual participants. If we want to ensure the highest quality of facilitation and engagement, then we must attend to the needs of all participants, include everyone in planned interactive activities, make sure that directions are clear, and provide supportive coaching. Those same four actions could also be taken by virtual or hybrid leaders as they work with their hybrid teams. How we show up in the virtual or hybrid workplace as a facilitator or leader can transform people’s experience.

Building Successful Hybrid Workplaces -- White Paper Download

NetSpeed Learning conducted a survey in August 2021 to learn more about the hybrid workplace strategies being considered by organizations, along with the leadership skills that were most important to the success of hybrid leaders. We define “hybrid workplace” as any organization that has leaders who manage employees working from home and/or in multiple geographic locations. Employees and leaders indicated that they want to work in organizations that allow them the flexibility of working, at least part-time, from home. Their decision to remain with their current employer is likely to be strongly influenced by an intentional hybrid strategy. The past year has proven to many leaders that productivity and efficiency are possible with hybrid working models. This white paper summarizes the findings of the survey.

Posted by Cynthia Clay at 1:43 pm

Resist the Impulse to Return to Normal

Thursday, December 23, 2021

During the Halloween season I really enjoyed the amazing Halloween photographs posted by party people on Facebook, Instagram and yes, even LinkedIn. Some of you really know how to throw a holiday bash. My feeds were filled with goofy and glittery party decorations, scary costumes, artistic food presentations, and colorful lights. Party on! You got me thinking about the other trend I’m observing: the move to hybrid learning. I know you’re wondering how I connected those two thoughts, but hear me out.

When we invite guests to our home, we make sure that they feel welcome. We explain the rules (costumes or no costumes); we may put special attention on people’s dietary needs (gluten-free or gluten-filled); we clean up and prepare our home to receive guests. A similar focus arises when we prepare people for a virtual training experience. We think about the people who will be attending, and strive to ensure they feel our attention, inclusion, direction, and support.

When the world pivoted to virtual in the spring of 2020, we suddenly experienced the importance of creating engaging, attention-keeping online learning environments. Remote workers and trainees who may have formerly felt excluded from face-to-face meetings suddenly felt included as our meetings moved to platforms like Zoom (we went from 10 million to 300 million virtual meetings a day practically overnight). And yet, many organizations longed to return to “normal,” working in office environments and attending training live and in person. In the last few months, some organizations announced their anticipation of a hybrid workplace and hybrid learning environments.

As we’ve been speaking with clients about their hybrid plans, I’ve been concerned. Sadly, too many of them are planning to invite a room full of people to experience live training together while their remote colleagues sign into a virtual meeting platform to watch the proceedings, answer an occasional poll, or unmute their phone line to throw a thought into a discussion. This is not real inclusion. And it’s a sad repetition of the mistakes that we were making before the pandemic.

As you plan hybrid training events, make sure that every person feels included and actively engaged. The best way to do that is to have everyone sign into a web conferencing platform like Zoom or Webex. The virtual meeting or training platform is what unites your participants and creates a level playing field. If you find yourself planning two sets of activities, one for participants in a physical location with a trainer or facilitator, and one for people signed in virtually, that should be a red flag that you are creating a learning experience in which part of your audience is likely to feel excluded and disengaged.

Resist the impulse to go back to this ineffective hybrid environment. Instead, incorporate new techniques to collaborate and engage that can be shared equally by all virtual participants, remote or co-located.

New white paper: Building Effective Hybrid Workplaces

There are so many exciting projects happening here at NetSpeed Learning as we navigate our way through this pandemic. Perhaps the most interesting is the completion of our new white paper: Building Effective Hybrid Workplaces. This white paper is based on the input of 235 people who completed a comprehensive survey this summer. Here are a few key findings to tickle your interest: 

  • 88% of survey respondents thought it was important, very important, or critically important for their organizations to support a hybrid workplace in order to retain staff. (We define “hybrid workplace” as any organization that has leaders who manage employees working from home and/or in multiple geographic locations.) 
  • The top two challenges of working virtually were video meeting fatigue and the blurring of work and home life.
  • The top two leadership skill gaps were 1) attending to the potential negative and positive impact of my actions on people working remotely, and 2) ensuring that employees who work remotely feel visible and in-the-loop (not isolated or invisible).

You can download the entire white paper at our website.

Posted by Cynthia Clay at 9:17 am