It was last summer after yet another sparsely attended three-hour basic training webinar that we gathered, notebooks and nerf guns in hand, to discuss our options.

Exago clients just didn’t seem interested in high-level introductions to the application the way they once were. Maybe our documentation was getting so thorough that they didn’t need the webinar anymore. Or maybe the webinars were simply too long for people to fit into their workdays.

Regardless, the training webinars were losing traction, and since their scripts rarely changed, it seemed unnecessary to devote three analysts and three hours to recording the session anew each month.

After much deliberation, the team conceived of what would become the Exago Support Labs. These sessions deviated from the original format in several key ways: they would be short instead of long, user-inspired instead of scripted, and narrow in scope instead of general.

Response to this new format has been overwhelmingly positive. “We used to get 1-5 attendees on a basic training, at least when I was doing them,” says Emma Williams, Sales Engineer and Exago Labs coordinator. “The labs, by contrast, regularly have around 30 people in attendance and 50-70 registered.”

We learned a lot from this training overhaul and thought those lessons would be worth sharing. Read on to learn how you too can boost your product training attendance!

 

Tip #1: Keep it Short

A three-hour training is a major commitment, both for the trainer and the trainee. Plus, users who want to refer back to a recording of the training will have a hard time locating the segment they want in three hours of video.

If you have a lot of content to cover, break it up into chunks so your audience can sign up for the topics they’re most interested in. Exago Labs block out 45 minutes of time but only run as long as the topic requires. One attendee recently thanked Exago staff for keeping the labs short, saying they’re “right amount of information and time span for our extremely busy schedules.”

 

Tip #2: Keep it Focused

In keeping with the brief timeframe, it’s important not to cover too much information at once. Instead, cover a narrower topic thoroughly, reserving plenty of time for questions and use cases from attendees. Whatever you don’t cover in the training can be given its own session down the line (see Tip #5 below).

 

Tip #3: Keep it Challenging

Our original training stayed far, far away from all-things-programming so as not to intimidate basic users. But what we discovered through the labs is that non-technical users appreciate learning how to leverage code, even if they cannot write it themselves.

“I like the tech focus even though I am not a C# programmer,” said one attendee. “I know more about capabilities and what to point my programmer to.”

“Clarity of explanation, and I'm not a Techy!” remarked another.

By offering code snippets and explaining how to apply them, we were able to broaden non-technical users’ knowledge of the application and empower them to create programmatic extensions. The Lab sessions’ brevity and focus help keep new technical information from becoming overwhelming.

 

Tip #4: Keep it Interactive

Attendees often praise the Labs for their interactive format, calling them “very hands-on and useful.” We achieve this hands-on feel by covering user-suggested topics, making any code snippets or other resources available to attendees in real time so that they can follow along using their own systems, and stopping to answer questions as they arise.

This “quick answering of questions,” as one attendee called it, keeps everyone on the same page and alleviates confusion before it snowballs into frustration. Although muted, participants are encouraged to type questions to the moderators at any time. Questions not relevant to the topic or the rest of the group are answered in chat, and those requiring lengthier responses are addressed via email after the webinar.

 

Tip #5: Keep it Coming!

Maybe the most obvious (but also the most valuable) thing we learning in all this is that users appreciate continuous live training. Sure, they make use of recorded primer videos when they’re just starting out with the software, but once they become proficient with its basic operations, they become interested in guided learning.

Live training facilitates interactivity, but it also strengthens users’ relationships with the product’s providers, attaching names and personalities to the product’s UX. The value of a “friendly voice” belonging to an approachable person is difficult to measure but appears to be having an impact in our case.

But most importantly, providing a continuous stream of educational content facilitates users’ professional development (and, in our case, product development). People often sign up for the Labs as a matter of course, whether they have a use case related to the topic or not, because they’re hoping to learn something that will spark a new idea or come in handy down the line. One participant was pleased to discover that a lab “presented information I could use today.”

As users grow into power users, they strengthen the presence of the product at their respective companies, disseminating what they’ve learned and helping others apply it. One-time trainings do not have this type of progressive effect.

Exago will be hosting a Support Lab today, Wednesday, September 6th, at 11:00 AM (EST) on the creation of ExpressView and Crosstab custom themes. Click here to sign up! Our next Support Lab will take place on September 20th and take you behind the scenes in setting up new Language Files and Custom CSS for seamless integration with the host application's UI. And if you have a successful product training practice to share, tell us about it in the comments!