Long-distance learning: Find the difference

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Every now and then you should try something new when you’re self-employed. Particularly if someone is going to throw money at you. So when someone said to me, can you media train my client, they’re in Tel Aviv, and we’d like you to do it over Skype.

This was new to me. Of course I’m aware distance training exists but hadn’t actually done it before. It went well, the client seemed satisfied – but there are a few learnings to share.

First, I had a bad moment yesterday when my Internet connection froze. It didn’t do it today at all but if you’re going to be put off by stuff like picture freezing or voice sounding suddenly muffled, this isn’t going to work very well for you at all.

Second, be prepared for a lot less interaction than you get face to face. Yes of course the client can see you and you can see them, but several times we moved to talk with me presenting and them watching. (You need to get Skype version 5.0 or above for this, both of you, and you need to upgrade your account to “premium” for about five euros a month). That way I could see him but he couldn’t see me – which meant I was aware every time he looked away from the screen, didn’t look engaged or otherwise got distracted. From his performance in the exercises I’m aware he was paying very close attention indeed – but body language when he couldn’t look me in the eye didn’t make this clear.

In fact it took a little while for me to warm up if I’m honest. I’m not sure what the answer is – exercises beforehand or just get on with it? Certainly I hadn’t realised how important the “hello, have a coffee” stage of my usual meetings has actually been to me.

The mechanics were interesting. I’m used to drawing a few bits and pieces on the spot for clients, on clipboards – scrawling them on paper and holding them up to the screen was OK but a proper drawing program, maybe on a tablet computer (I have an iPad, no idea whether there’s something shareable over Skype for that) would be better.

For all that, the content worked OK. The client was pleased enough, a $19.99 download of software from Ecam (click for a new window about what I’ve bought here) meant I could record his audio and video to send to him as requested and an account with DropBox – again a few quid a month – means getting the video files around is going to be easy (the software will also upload to YouTube automatically, where I can of course set up a password protected account).

In terms of learnings which are worth sharing, remove/video workers need to be aware there’s no clearing your throat/smalltalk time on this sort of engagement. There are different rules of body language in a video conference and if you really want to flex your muscles creatively then you do need a bit more software and maybe hardware.

The costs are tiny, though, and I’m now confident that I can offer my services as an international man of mystery – OK, trainer – without having to budge. Clients expect to pay a bit less but then last time I worked for these guys I was perfectly happy to spend two hours travelling there and back; this is time I’ve reclaimed by working from home, so I haven’t actually lost out.

For all that, I’d rather have trained someone in person – you can shake hands, you’re more inclined to chat and may well go into areas which are of value if the presentation is based on personal experience. But they were never going to fly me to Israel or him to London just for a session like this – so as an addition to rather than a replacement for the sort of service I offer clients, I’m delighted to have it in my repertoire.


Fractional Working

When there’s no retirement age


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