Offering technology training is a great way to boost user adoption and improve technology effectiveness—except sometimes the training really stinks. I interviewed Birgit Pauli-Haack, an expert on technology training in the nonprofit workplace, to hear her tips on delivering hands-on software training that actually works.

What sort of preparation do you do prior to hands-on software training?

BIRGIT: I check with the IT person who runs the facility and talks about what we can and cannot do. How do we start getting into the computer, can we visit the websites we want to see, what operating system is on it. Although most classes I teach are related to the internet, and most software programs are accessible with a browser, it’s relatively easy to set up hands-on training.

Rarely, computer classrooms are limited to Internet Explorer, which has such a bad history of surprising me, that I either asked for other browsers (Firefox or Google’s Chrome) or we look for a different training location. The best solution is when participants can bring their laptops.

What is the best ratio of computers to participants?

BIRGIT: If possible, I favor two people one computer, and the two taking turns on driving. People teach each other, correct themselves, and they come up with much better questions when the both of them can’t figure it out. If everyone is on their own computer, you need an additional trainer to help people out, especially when the class is larger than eight participants.

What kind of setup do you need and what tools do you bring with you as a trainer?

BIRGIT: I am an avid planner. I check out the classroom beforehand and go through a checklist with notes regarding:

  • Wifi/internet access information.
  • Connection to data projector (HDMI/VGA/Chromecast).
  • The distance between a computer/projector and power plug. (Do I need an extension cord?).
  • Replacement batteries for remote control(s).

What’s in my computer bag:

  • HDMI to VGA connector
  • iPad to VGA connector
  • lightning to VGA connector
  • lightning to HDMI connector, iPAD
  • HDMI + power connector

Recently, I also added a cable to connect to a VGA projector after I was at a location where all my slides looked pink or blue as the only colors available. A missing pin in the connector cable causes these funky slides.

Podium/microphone/table/chair setup are also on my list and I make notes of distances, just in case I need to find a spot to place a tripod and a camera for recording. The checklist is even bigger when I have to consider recording an event. Are screencasts and audio enough? Do I have to use a wireless microphone to ensure excellent sound? Will I use my cell phone for recording? Is the cable to the external microphone enough?

Any other tips?

BIRGIT: If you record your training, hire a videographer who will take care of all the logistical and technology challenges that come with video recording. It’s a better use of your time to find funding and pay a professional than trying to figure it all out yourself.

Sometimes, especially before the first event at a new location, I contemplate what would make a good slide deck if the Internet isn’t available. Routinely, I have screenshots and copies the slide deck on my computer and on jump drives, in case I need to switch computers. I also have some handouts that, if all things fail, could be the conversation starter to talk about the topic without a computer.

No, I am not this thorough every time. I think about probabilities first. But the mental checklist makes me think through the whole process in a structured manner so that I can make conscious decisions about what risks I am going to take.