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.


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