Learning Consulting

I’m Giving the Opening Keynote Talk at the eLearning Guild Online Forum on July 21st!

Sorry not to have posted this before now, but it’s been a surprisingly busy summer!  I’m very pleased to announce that the eLearning Guild has asked me to be the keynote speaker at the opening of next week’s Online Forum about media in eLearning.  My talk will be 11:30 AM Eastern, and then they have two days of great sessions about best uses of audio and video in eLearning courseware.  My talk is entitled The Human Factor: Making the Case for Voiceovers in eLearning.  I discuss the importance of the human voice in online training, and how much or how little to use.  I also explore the pros and cons of voiceovers created by real people (whether professional actors like me, or subject matter experts) versus the new wave of enhanced synthetic text-to-speech voices available in today’s marketplace.

If you’re in eLearning and not already signed up for the Forum, I urge you to click the image on this post, and explore all the offerings that you won’t want to miss.  I’m very eager to sit in on the other presentations over the two days, as using media effectively in eLearning is more important than ever.

I hope I’ll “see” you online next week! 😀

Resources for eLearning Voiceover Students

Since the course materials for my certificate program on eLearning Voiceovers were only available in hard copy, I promised my students that I’d post the resource links from the Appendix to my presentation.  So here they are in clickable PDF format.  These are just some basic links based on things we talked about in class–comparing USB microphones, setting up a portable “booth,” and other related items of interest.  If you have other links you want to contribute to this list, let me know, and I’ll add them as appropriate.  Thanks!  And if you have other questions, or things you’d like to share or compare, let me know.  I figure the more we all share, the more we all grow.  LS2011-P9-eLearning Voiceovers-Links & Resources

My Presentation Skills Classes at Learning Solutions Were a Hit

I’ve just returned from attending the Adobe Learning Summit 2011, and from being both presenter and attendee at the eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions 2011 conference.  I had a fantastic time.  Both conferences had excellent keynote speakers:  Steven Berlin Johnson on the collaborative nature of innovation, John Medina on applying “brain rules” to learning, Nancy Duarte on visual impact, and Michael Wesch with a moving final talk on the implicit social responsibility behind social media.  There were also some very good peer-led sessions as well at both conferences.  Plus, it’s always exciting to see the new eLearning products from the vendors at the Expo.   Articulate’s upcoming “Storylines” and Michael Allen’s long-awaited “Zebra” are both coming to market this year, and you should keep an eye on both of those software applications; they have enormous potential. 

At the Adobe Summitt, I was delighted to meet Shameer, Akshay, RJ, Allen, and a lot more of the brilliant folks behind Adobe’s wonderful Captivate software.  They were great to talk to, and extremely responsive to everyone’s suggestions for future enhancements.  I’m sending them a list! 

It was fantastic to have the two conferences co-located in the same week; I hope that becomes an annual plan.  The perfect Orlando weather didn’t hurt, either. 

In addition to my full-day pre-conference certificate program on voiceovers (see my next post for a write-up!) as part of the Learning Solutions conference, I also led a one-hour Presentation Skills 101 class each of the three days of that conference, helping e-Learning professionals overcome the classic roadblocks to delivering an engaging and inspiring presentation, regardless of the topic or medium.  The attendees participated actively, contributing great examples from their own experiences, and gave me great reviews afterward.  I like to think that there are a lot more e-Learning professionals out there now who can get up in front of any audience with confidence and really make a difference.  I was very pleased that Nancy Duarte’s conceptual talk about the importance of “resonating” with an audience was a perfect companion talk to my own sessions, which provided hands-on ways to do it!

I also met a lot of great people from all over the place, and hope a lot of us can stay in touch here, on LinkedIn, and on Facebook, now that the conferences are over.  My only regret: I couldn’t fit the gorgeous Orlando weather into my suitcase to bring home with me!  😀

NOTE: If you attended one of my Presentation Skills 101 sessions, I’d love to hear from you about how you’re implementing the tips & tricks I shared.  I’m always happy to bounce around new ideas, or offer suggestions, if I can be of further help.  If you didn’t attend, but this sounds like coaching you need, please see my Coaching tab.

My thanks again to Heidi Fisk of the eLearning Guild for inviting me to present these sessions, and to Juli Balding, Ina Brasher, and the rest of the gang at the eLearning Guild for the fantastic support throughout.  Well done, all!

Presentation Skills Morning Buzz at Learning Solutions 2011

In addition to the full-day eLearning voiceovers program I’m teaching as part of the eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions 2011 conference in Orlando, I’m also going to be leading discussion/coaching sessions as part of the Morning Buzz breakfast chat programs from 7:15-8:15AM  on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, 3/23-25.  I’ll be in the Crystal Room on the ground floor of the Disney Hilton for these three Morning Buzz sessions.

When Heidi Fisk and I discussed making session this available, my goal was two-fold: First, I want to help eLearning professionals improve their speaking and presentation skills so that they can “sell” their important ideas to stakeholders and advocate for eLearning more compellingly.  Second, I’ve noticed that at any conference, there is always a mix of people who can really stand up and command the room, and others who may have interesting ideas but simply don’t know how to “connect” with the audience.  Bottom line:  If you can’t communicate effectively, your great ideas may not reach the people who need to hear them.  If you’re focused on your laptop, never making eye contact, never “engaging” the room, your ideas may languish unappreciated.  I can help.

So, I’m offering my Presentation Skills 101 session as part of the Morning Buzz each day in the hopes that some of my attendees will be speakers from the conference itself who need some quick, proven tips & tricks to really make their sessions memorable.  If you know anyone presenting at Learning Solutions 2011, by all means, suggest they stop in for one of my sessions before they give their own.  I’m betting that even someone who already feels comfortable in front of an audience will pick up a couple of tips.  I usually charge $125/person for a session like this, so for attendees this represents an hour well “spent!”

If you haven’t already signed up for Learning Solutions 2011, it promises to be an excellent conference and you really should consider attending.  Click the logo on this post to visit the site, read the agenda, and sign up.  They also have great iPhone/iPad/Android apps so you can carry your conference schedule with you everywhere.  I’ve already downloaded mine and have started setting up my schedule.  Neat!

Gay and Lesbian Characters in eLearning: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?

Wearing the Colors Copyright 2009 by Andrew Sellon


I was working with a new client recently on a suite of eLearning modules, and couldn’t help but note that the developer’s proposed stock images were virtually all Caucasian, and all young & good-looking model types.  I pointed out that of course this would not appropriately reflect the diversity of the audience, and the client readily agreed that some of the images in the suite needed to be changed out.  I also added another suggestion.  I’m gay, and as of this writing, I have yet to see a general-interest eLearning piece from any of my clients that includes gay and lesbian characters just as a matter of course.  I suggested that it would be a refreshing change to see a gay or lesbian character or couple incorporated in an upcoming module.             

One subject matter expert on the project wrote back to say she wasn’t sure how one could tell if a character was gay or lesbian just by looking at him or her.  Of course.  So I wrote back to clarify: If using only an image, the character could be shown with his or her same-sex partner, raising a family together, participating in social activities while wearing a rainbow t-shirt or jewelry, whatever.  If you’re depicting a couple of families in a module, for example, why not make one a male/female couple, and the other a same sex couple?                

Let me be clear: the point is not to make us stick out like sore thumbs with images that say “Wow, now that’s a gay person!  Aren’t we great for showing one?”  I am talking about using images that simply acknowledge our presence in the fabric of everyday life.  The fact that the character is gay or lesbian would not be the point of the elearning piece (unless perhaps it’s about diversity), but it’s just another color to show from the diversity rainbow.  And on a very practical level, it would be another welcome way to vary the characters in a series of eLearning pieces so that the characters don’t all just blend together and come across as cookie-cutter clones.  Now of course, a reference can be made in the script as well, as appropriate.  Good eLearning is always about the interplay of words and images.   It could be something as simple as “Anthony and Miguel were watching their son’s baseball game when Anthony looked at the old score board and got a great new product idea for his company….”   That’s all it would take to establish the relationship, even if it wasn’t referenced again in the entire module.  It would just be part of the fabric of the story.  

On a practical level, this means that those images have to exist in the stock photo libraries from which most companies purchase their courseware images (Getty, iStockphoto, BigStock, et al.).  From what I’ve seen, while there are some LGBT images out there that would not look out of place in your average eLearning course, there’s not nearly enough yet, especially in the business sector images.  But let’s put that tactical reality aside for a moment.    I’m confident that the image banks would provide the content if enough clients ask for it.            

I’d like to think that the time has come, and that corporations and their learning organizations are really ready to “walk the talk.”  It’s just that even with my larger corporate clients who have aggressive and sincere diversity strategies, I have not yet seen gay and lesbian characters included in the community of people depicted in day-to-day eLearning courseware.  But as eLearning professionals striving to hold a true mirror up to our audience, we have the power to introduce characters who happen to be gay or lesbian, and supplement that characterization with appropriate images.  Not just the power, really: the responsibility.  Again, the intent is simply to acknowledge that LGBT people and nontraditional couples and families have been there all along.  We should seize this opportunity to enrich the pool of characters with whom our audience might identify.  Isn’t it time?  Otherwise, aren’t we tacitly buying into the mindset of the sadly misguided (and thankfully now repealed) “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy?     

My partner and I participate in the Gay Pride march in NYC as often as we can.  In 2009, while our group (Empire State Pride Agenda) was waiting to step off, I snapped the picture shown in this post: a candid shot of a young man draping a rainbow flag over his shoulders, “trying on his colors” in the reflection of a corporate building’s marble façade.  To me, it speaks volumes.   Shouldn’t he see himself in any eLearning he takes at your company?               

What about you?  Does your company include gay and lesbian characters in eLearning as a matter of course?  If yes, how has that been received?  If not, has it been discussed?  If not, will you bring it up?  Of course, I understand that if one’s client is a religious institution, there may be constraints.  But for organizations who state that they do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, I think it’s time to make this a reality, and I think it’s up to those of us in the learning profession to lead the way.  Let me hear from you!

More Communications and Simulations for MetLife

One of my projects this fall was partnering with the folks at MetLife on preparing communications pieces, job aids, and how-to guided tour simulations for the launch of their new internal MyLearning site interface.  I created a series of communications pieces, from the executive e-mail announcement down to a series of monthly “did you know?” follow-up spots for the site itself to be used in the first quarter of 2011.  I also consulted on and revised the proposed storyboards for the guided tours of the site’s new “look and feel,” and provided the voiceovers for both tours.  In addition, I created a series of step-by-step job aids for the most common tasks for each job role.  We delivered everything on schedule, and the new site launched successfully with all support tools in place on Monday, December 20th.  Next up in January 2011: more simulations introducing key new features of the site!

Adding Diversity to eLearning Projects with Characters

I’m enjoying consulting on a variety of eLearning projects for Hess Corporation; very nice people, and interesting challenges.  I’m always impressed at how strongly large corporations like Hess and MetLife are committed to an ongoing policy of re-examining their processes and enhancing their eLearning to better engage and empower the target audience.  And the fact that they seek an “outside eye” like mine is another sign that they’re not looking to repeat themselves or rest on their laurels, which is great news for their employees.

One easy way to make your eLearning “speak” to your audience: add character.  Make sure your images, and your voiceover talent, reflect the breadth of your company’s talent pool–not just male/female, but also different cultures and different generations.  If your course has two narrators, why make them two men of roughly the same age, basically indistinguishable from each other?  When you differentiate them, you create more unique and interesting characters, and you also reflect more of your employee base.  If one narrator is a young Caucasian man from New York, perhaps the other is a middle-aged or older woman from India.  Perhaps one is the mentor and one the “newbie” at the company; and don’t assume the young person is always the new kid!  Of course, the personalities you choose will differ depending on the course material being presented, and on your target audience for a given project.  But it’s a double win when you embrace the many different kinds of diversity and give your course narrators and images some real, and relevant, character.

Performance Review Process Simulations for MetLife

I’m currently working on a series of a dozen simulations and job aids documenting the process and procedures around MetLife’s year-end performance development process.  I am designing and building these simulations, as well as writing the scripts and providing the voiceovers.  My goal here is to clarify and simplify a complex process so that associates, managers, and stakeholders (feedback providers) all understand their unique roles and how to accomplish their tasks in MetLife’s online performance system.  This project means lots of time working in Captivate and recording voiceovers, which I always enjoy!

More Simulations and Voiceovers for MetLife

I’ve just finished creating another two simulations for MetLife’s internal training organization.  I did the instructional design, wrote the scripts/storyboards, created the simulations using Captivate, and created the voiceovers as well.  I created a number of them earlier in the year for MetLife, and am looking forward to creating more later this year.  Brief, just-in-time simulations like these are great for getting the point across to the learners quickly and easily right when they need the information.  And I always love being “the voice” that shows the way!