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Training the Business User – 4 Things to Know

So you’re a technical expert – perhaps even a guru in your company. You come to SDN and can answer most questions in the forums and are bored wanting for more. And then it happens. Your manager comes to you and tells you that you need to train a group of non-IT users in a particular topic. Your hands sweat, your heart may even skip a beat, you become terrified. After all, these are “the business users”. They aren’t IT. These folks focus on the bottom line and could care less what the code is or does. They don’t know the difference between R/3 or Netweaver & don’t care. They just want to know what they need to know and quickly so they can get back to their job.  So how do you do it? How do you make that jump from Techie to Tech Trainer while still focusing on being a tech? Hopefully I answer those questions for you as this is the first of a series of blogs on how to enhance your training skills to make that transition a smooth flawless one. When someone needs to do training and asks me for advice, one of the first things I tell them is to know the 4 Skills of Training. 


The Top 4 Skills of Training


1) Know your Audience  

One of the worst mistakes beginning trainers make is to focus on their material and forget to focus on who they are training. Most business have done a cost/benefit analysis to determine if your training is valuable to them, and are coming in with certain preconceptions or expectations. Knowing what those are, you can either 1) tailor the training to suit the learner or 2) establish a baseline of what the learner’s expectations should be. E-mail is a wonderful tool and only takes a few minutes to contact your trainees and discover their expectations (or even just give them a call!). Check with their managers if possible to see what outcome they are expecting and if there are any concerns you need to incorporate within your training session. When learning about your audience, be culturally savvy and aware of your audience’s cultural norms and perceptions. One thing to be aware of is that certain cultures are time sensitive and others will be late to your session. Also prepare your trainees. For example, if you are training users in a new transaction or process in SAP, make sure that they all have user accounts, that they have the appropriate security to run all activities related to your training session. If you have a range of users you are training from novice to expert, you may wish to distribute training materials to the users prior to the session for them to review. The more you know of your audience, the more prepared you are, the better the learning environment will be. 


2) Know your Media

Have you ever attended a presentation where the presenter was a bumbling fool? The person could have been an expert in the field but they stood in front of their projector through most of the meeting, or seemed to train the whiteboard instead of speaking with the class? Perhaps in college you had a professor who would get lost in PowerPoint or using their computer to present a lecture, or while using a flip chart would thumb through the pages trying to find the exact page that was needed? Knowing your media (be it flip charts, Whiteboards/Smart Boards, PowerPoint, Overheads, Projectors, etc) will enable your audience to focus on what you are presenting, not how you are presenting. If possible, try to set up in your training room at least 30 minutes prior to the presentation to make sure all of your media works. Run through a copy of your training session at least once so that you will feel more comfortable when your audience arrives. if you are doing demonstrations using SAP, make sure that the particular system you are working on is not scheduled for maintenance or any downtime and no large processes are running that may delay your presentation. If you know a particular process is time consuming, you may want to have separate sessions showing the various stages in a particular process and switch between the sessions so that precious training time is not lost waiting on your system. Finally – ALWAYS have a backup plan. If the system has never crashed or had downtime or you have never experienced a lost internet connection – this will happen in the middle of your training session. Have examples offline, printouts, screen shots, etc so that you can continue your presentation without the media that you were planning on using. Taking that extra time to be prepared adds to your credibility and your thoughtfulness to be prepared for their training instead of wasting time will be noticed and appreciated by your trainees. 


3) Know your Material

 As I said earlier, you may be a technical guru – but do you really know your material? Everything we do in IT, is related to a business deficiency or need. Don’t get me wrong, it is important to know every technical aspect on that new process, transaction or report you just created, but when training the business professional – they could care less what object that impacts or what database tables that uses – they are focused on the business process that caused the initial need. Learn the business process behind what is driving the technical need and training to begin with. Talk to your trainees beforehand and try to go through what a day in their life is like. The worst feeling is going into a training class, giving what you feel is your best effort, and having someone ask you a question that you have no idea what they are talking about because you didn’t do your homework on the initial phases of the business need, or have enough information on the business to answer basic questions. From all my years of training, I can guarantee it will happen at least once. What makes the difference – is how you handle it. Never bluff through not knowing your material (whether it is technical or business related) – either know it and answer the question, or admit that you do not know and that you will get back to them – and follow up. 


4) Know Yourself

Sounds simple – I saved the hardest topic for last. You could have the best presentation, and you’ve done your homework on your audience, your media and material and are ready to train – but still fail in your session because you didn’t take the time to know your strengths and weaknesses. I’ve always thought of training as being on stage in a play or on a movie. Everyone is looking at you – how you’re dressed, how you talk, how you walk around. The more you do to minimize the focus on these items, the more the learner will focus on what you are saying instead of how you look and act. Wear conservative clothing that is culturally and business appropriate for the learner. Speak loud enough so that your learners will be able to hear you. Many beginning trainers do not realize that when they are training they will speak very rapidly, softly in a monotone voice. If you are unsure how you look or sound while training, get a webcam and practice your entire presentation in front of a webcam. Capture your training and play it back for review and you will see your strengths and weaknesses in your presentation. The more weaknesses you minimize, they less the learner will focus on you and the stronger your message will come across.  


Of course, this is only a very small list of hints and tips – there are many books and classes dedicated to the technical trainer. So is pulling off training for the business professional a daunting task? Of course. Are you up to it – absolutely! Good Luck Training!

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  • Hi Katherine,

    thank you for bringing information about the education topic to BPX.

    Unfortunately you didn’t provide any contact information in your SCN Business Card. So I use the Blog commenting to ask you if you’ve ment authorization instead of security in your first thesis.

    Best regards

    • Sorry, I keep forgetting to update that – thanks for bringing it to my attention – it is now updated!

      As for security vs authorizations – yes that is what I meant. Point being, make sure your user has the correct profile/role to be able to execute the transaction you are trying to train them in.

  • Hi Katherine,

    I really liked the way the blog was written.Its simple and at the same time points to the main core essentials for a trainer before they go for a session.

    Great job done ..looking for some more.

    Best Regards,

  • I have to do a training session in the next few weeks and this will surely come in handy. I think i’ll do the session at home and review it on web cam.

    How do you handle the environmental aspect of training ? I mean, i hate printing lots of documents, power point slides, all this generates a lot of material which might be wasted. Once the training session is finished, I personally dont hang on to training material for too long, another reason being, documents get updated all the time…So how do you suggest we take care of this concern.

    Thank you,

    • I could write a blog on ‘Keeping Training Green & Earth Friendly’ and might do that soon – but to answer your question – you made a good point. You always want to have a backup plan, but that dosen’t need to be a complete copy of your presentation/documentation – but it really depends on the training. Sometimes distribution of your presentation to attendees prior to the meeting in an electronic format will suffice, so that they have a copy with them. Sometimes you need more than that.

      Think of the various training sessions that you have gone to before – how many times the minute you walked out the door and went home, did the materials you received get thrown away? Likewise, how many times did these materials get used and retained? Why did you keep one and toss the other? A simple way to evaluate this is to apply that same type of reasoning to what you provide to your trainees.

      As for how long to retain training materials – some may point to data retention guidelines within their own companies as a guide, but there is no standard rule on this.

      If it’s a training session that you know is evolving, it’s good to keep a working copy that you update after each session with what you’d prefer to change if you give the session again in the future.

      I personally tend to archive electronic copies of all training presentations & documentation I give on CD or DVD as a learning tool for myself. You can use your ‘training library on CD’ to review tools and notes on what to do or not to do for your next training session – just make sure to update what you have archived if you plan on reusing a session. Training isn’t just done by the trainee. The trainer is always learning, always evolving….