A quick introduction – I’m Rob and I work for Distilled in the UK office. This is my first post here on SEOmoz, so I hope you find it useful and I look forwards to your feedback.
Running well planned training sessions can be a great way to build the credibility of SEO at the same time as educating your organisation. But if you don’t put the effort in it can look unprofessional and sloppy. Who’s likely to care about implementing good SEO if you don’t even look like you care about it yourself?
Whether you work in-house, or provide training for clients and colleagues at an agency, here are my top tips for SEOs when it comes to planning and delivering effective training sessions.
Identify SEO Needs
SEO is becoming increasingly broad and complex – not everybody in your business needs to know the granular details of SEO from one end to the other. For example, a developer may be on your course to find out how to build SEO friendly sites, but they probably don’t need to know a wealth of link building strategies.
Call or email the potential attendees and identify what they are hoping to get out of the course. What are the key processes in their working day? How can you make them more effective or efficient through education? Don’t deliver a one-size-fits-all SEO course across your whole organisation – use these insights to build a course which addresses the needs of the attendees.
There’s absolutely nothing worse than showing up at someone’s desk with no prep and trying to deliver some training off the cuff. They’re unlikely to actually learn anything, and it will not be a positive experience for either party. Make sure you prepare well in advance – give yourself time to create something truly effective.
Set up a good environment
The middle of an office is rarely a good place for training, so make sure you book an adequate room where you can set up an environment that is conducive to learning. You should also:
- Ensure you have the right equipment (e.g. projector, laptop) set up before the session starts
- Have all of your handouts printed and organised
- Put out notepads and pens in case attendees have forgotten them
- Making sure the lighting, temperature etc. is appropriate
- Get some drinks, water, and biscuits – people love biscuits.
Essentially you should make sure that attendees have everything they need so that they aren’t distracted.
You should also make sure that the room is arranged appropriately for the type of course that you’re delivering. If it’s going to be technical you may need to show examples on-screen, so ensure people are facing the screen and have a writing surface for notes. If you’re doing a creative session (e.g. linkbaiting ideas, content strategies) you could encourage sharing and conversation by arranging the room so that attendees are facing each other. Finally, if attendees will be undertaking team tasks, small clusters may work best.
Build your training session around a handful of key learning outcomes – these should be relatively easy to identify if your needs analysis was successful. For a course about optimising blog posts, they could be:
- How to use keyword tools
- How to identify good target keywords
- Where to use keywords in an article.
In addition, Aristotle’s (simplified) ideas on giving a speech are a useful guide for structuring training:
- Tell them what you’re going to tell them
- Tell them
- Tell them what you told them.
I usually use this to structure the course as a whole, as well as for each key learning point. It helps keep the attendees on track and clearly defines different sections.
Finally, if the course is an interactive group session I’d recommend using an ice-breaker to get people sharing and talking. For some ideas, check out these resources:
Combining the all of the above, your session may look something like this:
Powerpoint slides should be clean, minimal signposts for your session – an indication of how the training is progressing. You shouldn’t be filling your slides with text and reading it word for word (although there are some exceptions – if you’re teaching someone how to build an XML sitemap, you’ll probably need some XML up there). Light-hearted images can help to maintain a relaxed atmosphere, but don’t overdo it.
Effective learning won’t come from your crazy powerpoint skills, but it will come from…
1) An Engaging Presentation Style
If you’re not a natural presenter practice in the mirror, in front of your family, in front of your dog – whatever works best for you. The more you do it, the better you’ll get and the more you’ll relax.
If you’re a really nervous speaker, try to develop a routine before you start (e.g. setting up the room, hooking up the projector) that will provide a distraction.
2) Interactive Exercises
Teaching other people, sharing ideas, relaying tasks back to the group can all contribute to a deeper understanding of a subject and higher retention rates.
Exercises could be as simple as writing ideas for link targets on a board and explaining them back to the group, or using computers (if you have a training room that allows it) to research keywords in teams. You can also give attendees a short test on what you’ve just covered, although try to keep them fun.
I’d recommend working at least one exercise into each key learning outcome.
Learn about learning styles
Different people respond best to different methods of teaching. Honey and Mumford’s work on learning styles is well known and identifies 4 main categories:
- Activists (those that learn from doing)
- Reflectors (from reviewing)
- Theorists (from making conclusions)
- Pragmatists (by putting ideas into practice and experimenting).
These are usually identified by using a questionnaire, but I’ve seen very experienced trainers spot these traits on the fly and address them accordingly. For an SEO implementing their own training sessions this might be beyond the call of duty, but some reading about learning styles is another step on the path to becoming a training ninja.
Feedback Follow Up
Finally, the one thing that I would absolutely recommend to all SEOs who want to get better at training is to ask every attendee to fill out a feedback form when the course is over (I’ve put together a generic feedback form you can use). Try to make the process anonymous so that you get their honest thoughts. It can be hard to take criticism at first, but you should look at each negative comment as an opportunity to get even better.
Soon after the course send a follow-up email with your contact details, soft copies of course materials, links to resources, and a thank you to the attendees for taking the time to come along.
Hopefully this post will give you some information that you can go away and use to deliver better training courses to your colleagues and clients. Of course, I’d welcome any feedback and suggestions in the comments below, or you can always catch me on Twitter.