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Best Training Practices
Will Kenny
3927 York Ave N
Robbinsdale, MN 55422
612-978-3050

Longer Contact = Greater Impact!

follow up can offer big returns for little effort

There's no return on your investment in training and employee communication if your participants do not apply what you tell them about best practices. Whether you're a staff person trying to boost employee performance, or an independent professional guiding a client organization, the payoff comes after the course or meeting.

With a small investment of additional time and resources, you can bring participants to your event prepared to get the most out of it, and work with them after the event to maximize retention and application of the best practices you covered at the event.

If you limit your interaction with the participants to the event itself, you limit the impact of the event on your participants' behavior, on whether the event produces change and better outcomes.

Three Ways to Learn More about Extended Contact

I cover this idea in some detail on this site, so I've given you options to learn more by:

  1. Try it Yourself! We can simulate a follow-up campaign, very simple to produce, so you can see how just a few messages can boost the impact of training. See the follow up series to my popular course, "How to Kill Your Houseplants!"
  2. Continue reading here, as this page provides an explanation of the concept, information on how to implement it, and examples of effective uses of extended contact.
  3. Listening to a narrated PowerPoint presentation that hits the highlights of this approach.

On this page, I'll discuss:

Turning "Meaning To" into "Doing" . . .

It doesn't matter whether it is an important policy meeting, a regional conference, a series of online lessons, a sales workshop, or a training seminar -- when your participants reach the end of the material you've prepared for them, they are ready to apply their new best practices in their daily work. Most of your participants mean to apply the best practices you promote.

Then life happens. When you look at how they're doing things after the event, you often see the same old behaviors you tried to change or eliminate.

People are busy. While they have been at your event, or taking their on-line course, work has been piling up, the in-basket has been groaning under a new load. And when they step back into the old environment, the one where they learned the original, less than optimal practices, they are surrounded by cues that undermine their new, good intentions.

They need you. They need you to stop by and remind them that it will take a little effort to build new habits of the best practices that just acquired. They need you to get in touch, and to simplify things for them by pointing out a couple of easy first steps they can take to be more effective, more efficient. They need you to give them a "booster shot" of your enthusiasm, to give them that extra little bit of energy they need to climb out of their old ruts and into their new behaviors, new ways of working that will benefit them and their organization.

If only you had the time to follow up with each of them . . . well, maybe you do! It's more a question of design than time, of building in extended contact as you create the core event.

It takes a change in thinking about your training or communication. Instead of thinking of a 'seminar" or "conference" or "regional meeting" or "online lesson" as your communication tool, think of those items as elements in a larger project focused on a particular set of best practices. That is, extend the boundaries of your training or communication event to include what happens before and after your participants arrive in the room, or take the lesson, or read the manual.

The Crucial Concept: Extended Contact
("the bun")

Elsewhere on this site (and in The Training Tipsheet) I've asked the question, "Where's the Bun?", that is, how can you extend your contact before and after the core event to maximize the impact of your message? Could you make contact with your participants a couple of times before they come to the core event or take the online lessons? Could you follow up with them after the event to remind them of how to apply your information in their real work lives?

If you're an experienced communicator, the power of this kind of follow-up is obvious. Its greatest value is ensuring that an important message, one that your employees embraced when they left your event, doesn't get lost in the confusion and hubbub of life at their desks, or on the road. It gives your message another chance to move from intention to action.

There are many ways to manage this, more than we can discuss on this page. But here are some suggestions for enhancing the return on your investment in a training/communication event by extending your contact with participants:

  • Design your additional contacts as you design the event. This is the key to success, and is discussed at greater length below.
  • The timing of your contacts should fit the material. Whether to make contact before the event, after, or both depends on your message and your audience. Whether to follow up weekly, or monthly, or at other intervals depends on what will work best to help them apply the best practices you've presented.
  • Be specific and focused. Don't send out broad messages ("Our exciting regional sales meeting is coming up . . .), or follow up with generic contacts ("I hope you're applying the best practices we discussed last week . . ."). Give them specific tips and tasks, limit yourself to one topic in each contact, and keep things as simple as possible.
  • Use human and technological resources to deliver your extended contacts as efficiently as possible, as discussed here.

The Most Important Step

Create the content of your extended content as part of the process of creating your event.

It doesn't matter whether you're mailing, e-mailing, or calling participants, whether it is before or after the core event. You'll have the greatest impact if "the bun" is an integral part of designing the entire communication "sandwich", instead of something thrown on after the fact, for several reasons:

  • It will get done. Be realistic. If you don't create these additional messages while you're working on the content for the main event, you will probably never get to them. You may think it is a great idea to write follow-up messages after a seminar, for instance, but you'll probably be too busy to do it in a timely fashion, and to do it well.
  • Creating the content at the same time is more efficient. You're already working with the material, so you don't have any "spin-up" time, reviewing material and figuring out how to use extended contact, as you will if you make creating "the bun" a separate activity.
  • You'll develop better messages. You're already thinking about what's important, about the change you want to see in employee performance, about what you want them to bring to the event, and what you want them to take away. Creating supporting messages at the same time will make sure they are more consistent and more supportive of the entire learning experience.
  • You create a more effective communication project. You'll be thinking about an entire process of changing employee behavior, of promoting best practices. You'll be able to enhance the core event because you know what your participants will experience before and afterwards.
  • You'll have more time to delegate or automate delivery of your additional messages, for greater efficiency and greater impact.

Find the small amount of extra time to incorporate design of extended contact into the design of your event. It will save you a ton of time, and produce better results. Trying to do it separately will not only waste time and resources, it often means that you'll never get to it at all.

Of course, after you've created those messages, you have to think about how to deliver them, and that's when a lot of us start to sing a familiar tune . . .

But I Don't Have Time . . .

Okay, this is a great idea, but how do you implement it without investing a lot of time and resources?

The trick is to delegate and automate. Here are some examples:

  • In a large organization, you probably already have contact lists for these events, and you may have staff in your department who can implement the extended contact. Someone -- probably the person who originally scheduled participants for the event -- sends out messages or makes calls as scheduled. You already have the contact list, you've already created the messages, so there is very little extra work involved.
  • Perhaps you offer open enrollment seminars, workshops at trade association meetings, or on-line courses to develop specific knowledge and skills. You might have an assistant ("virtual" or not) who can play the same role as in a large organization, described above. That is, you can delegate to hired help in the same way others might delegate to in-house staff.
  • Automated tools can also help. You may be able to schedule e-mails to be delivered on a regular schedule -- or invite people to sign up for additional information, and use an "autoresponder" system to deliver that information automatically. This is the approach demonstrated in our simulated follow up to our imaginary course.
  • In a smaller operation, you can use a "tickler" function in your desktop software to remind you when various messages are due to be delivered. If, as recommended, you have already created the messages, the actual delivery time is probably not very much -- although the results from additional contact can be impressive.

Whether a helper on your staff, a hired assistant, or a technological tool handles the delivery, delegation and automation do more than just assure messages get out. They can ensure timeliness that actually increases the impact of your messages.

Let's say you have regional best practices conferences at the beginning of May, June, and July. If you just sent out a follow-up message at the beginning of August, it probably wouldn't do much good for the first two sets of participants.

But with a properly set up system, you can make sure that each group participants hears from you in the month immediately following their own event. Each group hears from you when they need to hear from you, when it can do the most to boost retention and enhance application of best practices.

It isn't that complicated, if you incorporate it into your communication design process so you have time to plan your system and the content of your messages. And it is definitely worth it.

Typical Uses of Extended Contact

If you're still having trouble seeing how this could work for you, I've listed some typical applications below. And I encourage you to experience extended contact for yourself, to put yourself in the participant's place, by enrolling in my simulated follow-up. That will help you think about ways to apply similar techniques to your own situation.

Use extended contact, beyond the boundaries of the specific event:

  • As a way to keep your message in front of participants a little longer. The longer they are aware of best practices as they return to their work routines, the more opportunities they will have to apply them.
  • As a value added component of a product or service. For instance, someone signs up to take your online course, or downloads a self-study module or special report. You offer a series of additional tips, not included in the original product, either as a bonus, or for a fee.
  • As preparation before an event. Suppose you are holding a workshop to promote best practices for resolving customer problems. Employees are signed up several weeks in advance, and you know that the training will be much more effective if they come with examples of problems they've encountered, working with customers, and how they dealt with them. Naturally, you have put that in the instructions that you mailed to each person who enrolled. A series of pre-event messages could help them identify problems they've encountered, ask them key questions about the nature of those problems, and gather information about their responses to those problems. The resulting discussion, when all of these people gather together for your event, will be much more productive for everyone.
  • To provide resources that mean more to them after they've worked with the best practices a little while. Sometimes they aren't ready to see the importance of one item or another until they've had some experience with it in the real world. Following up to reinforce key points after they've applied what you taught them can have much more impact than an abstract discussion about it before they've tried to use their new knowledge and skills.
  • Answer questions and problems you posed during the core event. This can be an effective way to keep them engaged and enhance learning and retention. Perhaps at the end of your event or course, you gave them a problem to solve, or a series of questions to work on. Instead of including the answers in the actual event, or in an appendix to their notes or manual, you deliver it later, in a scheduled contact. This gives them time to really work on it, to gain some experience with the problem, before they can look at the answer.

There are many other ways to use a series of routine contacts to enhance the impact of your communications with employees, clients, and customers. Whether you're in a corporate environment or an independent contractor, people and tools are available, through delegation and for hire, to make timely delivery of your messages very easy and efficient . . .

. . . and the communication and training you provide is sure to become more powerful as a result.

© 2007 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

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Follow Up for Impact

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"Where's the Bun?"

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Time vs. Money

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