How Long Is Too Short?

too short

When it comes to professional development, how long does a training have to be?

The answer of course is, it depends.

Imagine preparing to teach and standing in front of a roomful of quiet, nervous colleagues who don’t know each other and aren’t quite sure what to expect from this session. You didn’t bring a deck and you asked that computers be closed. Scary!

Now, imagine that same roomful of people as a creative collective, a team that is excited to tell their stories in between bouts of Aha’s and laughter.

This transition takes some time, both for the participants to feel comfortable and for the facilitator to “read the room” and adjust the program as necessary.

People are used to the type of training where there are right and wrong answers. At Story Mode we teach storytelling and communication and one of the most thrilling aspects of our programs is that there is NO right or wrong, only drafts and edits and helpful feedback.

In my sessions it takes an average of 30 minutes to an hour for everyone to feel comfortable using old-fashioned pen and paper, talking candidly, and sharing whatever crazy idea might pop into their heads.

Well, an hour out of your day to laugh a little and enjoy yourself is a nice break. It’s energizing. But it’s not training and it doesn’t have staying power; it won’t change much about the way you work and communicate.

So how long is long enough for training? Is 3 hours the right length for a professional development session? A full day? How about a full week?

Every program is different.

While every program we run at Story Mode shares certain elements, every engagement is different. Last week I found myself at a tech company, not a start-up exactly but definitely the type of company that is always courting new recruits and trying to increase the diversity of its workforce. This group was all women who came together for a combined bonding and confidence-growing experience.

In my workshops it is always safe to speak up.

We started off with a silent room. No one was comfortable speaking and frankly, they all looked a little terrified. This happens to me and Beth often. Since we prefer not to use a deck, it means that the group must interact by speaking to one another, telling stories, and learning how to better relate with colleagues and customers through conversation.

It’s fun to see startled faces turn from distrust and dread to excitement and anticipation. It’s at this point when the real learning and skill-building can begin.

My joy comes from watching this lightbulb go off for people, seeing them realize that, yes, they are creative. Damn all the jokes about engineers and accountants being boring; no matter the profession, our students have imaginations to rival Neil Gaiman.

We need to give these folks the time it takes to settle in.

Don’t worry about it.

When it comes to running professional development programs, here’s what organizers often worry about:

  1. Taking too much time away from work.

Um, professional development IS work. Sure, folks have their day-to-day responsibilities but if you choose the right training and a good facilitator, then a workshop should help folks do their jobs better.

During a Story Mode session, participants are working on real projects so they’re getting their work done while learning how to do it better, and with the help of everyone else in the room.

2. People won’t feel comfortable telling stories in front of one another.

Pish Posh! We all tell stories all the time. It’s natural, it’s in our human DNA, it’s how we communicate throughout the day without even thinking twice.

I do understand though that some people may feel uncomfortable talking in front of others or be nervous to be called up to the front of the room to present to a group. In fact, I’d say about a quarter of our students feel like this.

It’s a valid fear and one which we take seriously. Finding communications courage and creative confidence can be like getting on a rollercoaster for the first time; it’s terrifying, then exhilarating, and then you want to go for another ride.

My superpower happens to be making sure that everyone feels smart and talented. No matter what you write or what story you tell, there is always some golden nugget to point out that will not only make the you feel proud, but will also teach the group about how a good story works.

So, how much time do I need for training?

Like much in life, there is no standard answer.

In fact, i don’t think training should be measured in hours at all. Professional development is about improving skills and that rarely happens from attending one workshop. It takes time to reinforce those new skills. This means that running a half-day workshop is great. But it’s probably not enough.

If I were Training Goddess of the World, refining our skills would be built into our day-to-day activities at work. By that I mean, you learn a new skill–like being a better storyteller–then you use that skill everyday and continue to get feedback and direction from colleagues so you are always improving.

At Story Mode we have been extremely successful at teaching companies not just how to help their people learn to be great storytellers and communicators, but how to help them change the company culture. This means integrating the strategies we teach into the way a team works together on a daily basis to create and refine content–any type of content.

Professional development isn’t something you do next Tuesday morning.

It’s ongoing. It should be a part of every day because it makes coming to work fun and challenging in the best of ways. It’s how we get back in touch with our creativity and it’s what companies do when they respect their employees enough to continually feed their minds and build their confidence.

So go ahead, set your watch aside and start learning.

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