30 November 2012

Wearing a different hat...

I wear a lot of metaphorical hats – more of hats in a minute – but two of my most frequent are ‘technical author’ and ‘trainer’. I am fascinated by the parallels (and overlaps) between the two disciplines – and (depending on your definition of ‘technical’), you could say both fall into the over-arching field of technical communication.

So what are these overlaps? Well, you could look at the ‘collateral’ associated with training – the ‘stuff’ that we produce to help deliver training. There are hand-outs, workbooks, exercises, the ubiquitous presentation, videos and simulations. The decision on who does what really depends on how your organisation interprets the plethora of job titles that attempt to both describe and pigeon-hole what we do: trainer, facilitator, course designer, developer of course materials, e-learning developer, technical author, technical communicator… the list seems endless. The biggest overlap, though, is just that both are about communicating.

I’ve been a trainer/tutor/teacher for longer than I’ve considered myself to be a technical author, and as Andrew pointed out in ‘By popular demand’ (did I see a spot of ‘perk-envy’ there?) I’ve recently been on a 3-day residential course helping me to do a better job of it. I’ve always hated the type of training where you sit in a room and listen to someone drone on reading out one slide after another – I’ve always felt they could email me the slides and I’d do it myself – and this course was certainly nothing like that! (I also get annoyed when trainers proudly proclaim ‘no PowerPoint’, as if reading from a worksheet or a flipchart was any better…) And I’ve refused to deliver training like that – it’s just ‘wrong’.

For the most part, we focused on face-to-face, interactive training – but all the while, I was thinking how what I was learning about How To Be A Brain Friendly Trainer could also apply both to the sharing of knowledge as a technical author and as a teacher in an online environment. During this course, we were both students and trainers – and put our ‘trainer hats’ on (mine was a rather fetching lime-green baseball cap) to indicate we had switched into ‘trainer mode’ – and I learnt a lot from just watching and listening to the others.

My challenge now is to integrate the lively, colourful, interactive and sometimes noisy methods into more of my work, not just face-to-face training – not forgetting to squeeze in a bit of time for quiet reflection when appropriate.


29 November 2012

Ouija Rooms

When I teach and lecture I have quite strong feelings about the rooms I’m working in, so much so that I have an ELT conference workshop ready to go on classroom layout. Some rooms, often with unconventional walls and slightly stretched overall geometry, lend themselves well to workshops where groups huddle round tables, posters and projects, whilst others are more geared towards a lecture format where the lecturer is situated with a panoramic view of the class at the front of the room. In the former I tend to perch on a desk and wander the room offering guidance and answering enquiries, whereas in the latter I tend to want to dance and prowl across the stage.

So what happens to the experienced trainer and communicator when we take away the physicality of the room? The answer, it seems, is that I have a lot of guessing to do. I’ve been in the habit of taking my cues from the room for so long that the virtual conferences I've been having with clients are quite disorientating. For about an hour a week, I’m getting dressed up as a helicopter pilot from the 1980s (headset with boom mike) and joining people in an online “room”. The host of the meeting takes control of one of my monitors (I’m glad I’ve got two, as I can keep my notes visible on the other one) and a disembodied cursor navigates a projection of his screen whilst a variety of ethereal voices speak over the headset. I tend to forget the other people are there if I’m not careful – Alison had to tap me this morning so that I stopped working on the sample files and watching the pointer and started making the little social noises we make when we are in the same room as others, as my silence was not helpful.

I originally thought that using the webcam would help, but the last two experiences have either seen me fielding questions about tropical fish (visible over my shoulder when sat back from the computer) or sitting so close that my on-screen head goes through a hall-of-mirrors-eqsue distortion... and it’s not seeing people I need, it’s having a concept of the room. Unfortunately the closest analogy I can find is Frodo peering into the Mirror of Galadriel, if the mirror was running on Windows 7 with a Ouija Board interface and sporting the disclaimer Many things I can command the screen to reveal - things that were, and things that are, and things that yet may be. But that which is seen, even the Wise cannot always tell. Do you wish to look?. As a result of this confusion my notes now include things like "it’s not a game, remember to respond when people speak" and "don’t sing to aid thinking".


21 November 2012

By popular demand...

The last two weeks have seen a bit of a gap in the blog, something that at least one reader has commented on. It is nice to be wanted, and I guess the problem is that we’re very popular at the moment.

We’ve been very busy here at Clearly Stated... this is not a complaint and much fun is being had by all (perhaps slightly more so by Alison who’s away on a three-day training course in a 4* hotel, but I digress).

In the last two weeks I have done a bit of everything apart from the blog. I wrote a training course for postgraduate students at the University of Nottingham entitled “Writing to Recruiters” and delivered repeat sessions to packed workshops, I’ll return to the fun I had training the educated in another blog post, but this course spurred a mini-push on marketing as I believe the course could be a service offered to firms in the process of making people redundant as part of their resettlement and redundancy package.

I have also been spending time onsite with 4energy to fine tune and update previous versions of their software documentation with new images and some of the exciting new content and features they’ve developed in their continuing quest to cut the cost of cooling.

Finally, I’ve been dusting off my molecular science degree and throwing myself into the world of Li-ion battery technology once again; CD-adapco have a Battery Design Studio that we’re documenting – my time spent in battery labs tells me that this is software that will save research labs around the world a great deal of time and money as the software can simulate tests that would take weeks in real life in moments.

In terms of work-life balance, I’ve also been:

Moving into the new house
This involves moving lots of boxes and spending far too much on furniture.
Discovering that things need doing in the new house
Rewiring, pointing, cleaning... I woke up at three in the morning two nights ago thinking it would be less effort to knock it over and start again.
Raising a baby
Having just decided that Tuesday is “Multilingualism French” day, I’ve got my work cut out for me – He also seems to protest the lack of furniture far more than the big people in the house.

An icon of the modern world once said that the first rule of mass media is to give the people what they want. I will endeavor to make sure the blog keeps happening.