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Why I'm a fan of training manuals

manual video

Before I left my last job, I made sure to write a manual for my co-worker Cheryl. We had recently switched to new CRM software and she did not know how to generate certain reports on the new program. I included all my print outs and highlighted all the shortcuts I had learned. My goal was to save Cheryl the effort and time of learning from scratch. 

I was immediately put at ease on my first day of training at AMPED when Emily said, “I wrote a manual for you.”  A “kindred spirit!”, as Anne of Green Gables would say.

I have become a big fan of manuals, and here are a couple of best uses. 

Manuals for Yourself 
Emily already had a detailed manual for my initial duties, but as I have added new responsibilities, I have started writing my own manual anytime I learn something new. I try to write down every last step and detail as soon as possible and take screenshots for steps that I know will be tricky to describe accurately.

This would seem a basic principal, but many manuals I have read leave out a critical step. While importing data to a website recently, I followed the manual provided and could not understand why the import was not completed. It turns out that the manual did not include an important final step.

It might seem cumbersome to write up a manual right after training, but you will save yourself time in the end. I am always confident I will remember everything perfectly, but when it comes to tasks I perform only occasionally, my memory is too often vague, and I waste a lot of time retraining myself.

Video Manuals
Manuals do not have to be written. One of my first assignments at AMPED was a long-term database project for Tony. He wanted to know how many companies had renewed their membership after an email campaign. He also wanted to update contact information for future marketing lists.

He created a video for me using Camtasia, a video editing and screen recording program, to show me screen-by-screen the information he needed to be updated. The video was particularly helpful because the project was not urgent and something I worked on when I had time. I could rewatch the video to refresh my memory whenever I went back to it.

If Tony needs a similar report in the future and I am not available, he has the video ready to share without having to spend time retraining someone else.

Micro Video Manual for Frequent Problems on Website 
Another great use of a video manual is when members are having difficulty navigating a section of your website. I received a number of calls after registration opened for a recent annual meeting. Callers were having trouble finding their company on the initial registration page. This was an important step because there was a discount for multiple attendees from the same company. When I mentioned the problem to Tony, he recorded a short video using Camtasia to show how to properly search and select the company and posted it on the registration page. The number of phone calls decreased significantly after the video was posted.  

Next time you are training or training someone else, consider writing or videotaping a manual for the most efficient use of your time. 

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What summer break? New technology keeps us studying all year round

studying technology

It’s back-to-school season, and even though I’ve been out of school for a while now, I’ve found myself doing a lot of studying lately. Two of the online programs I use on a daily basis have come out with new releases so I’ve been spending some extra time participating in training sessions, reading release notes and occasionally, just staring at my computer trying to familiarize myself with the new layouts and features. After using a program daily it’s easy to become comfortable with the way it looks and operates. I try not to get too comfortable though. One thing I’ve found is that, even in the absence of a new version's release, there is always something to learn. Here are some of the ways I stay up to date with our frequently used programs.

Participate in training webinars. Anytime a training webinar is offered I make sure to listen in. I find these webinars to be extremely useful. They usually focus on one topic at a time so they’re not overwhelming. Most are scheduled to last an hour or less so they’re easy to fit into the schedule. The best part is they’re usually archived so I can always go back to them for reference.

Take advantage of the online support community. I log in to the online support communities that are set up so I can check for new tech support documents and learn about any upcoming training sessions. I also take a few minutes each day to read through the daily emails that arrive in my inbox overnight. These emails are compilations of daily support community activity. It can be very informative to see what other users are commenting on or issues they have run into.

Finally, one of my colleagues had the great idea to establish a how-to file. Anytime we learn a new procedure it is documented with quick step by step instructions and (when applicable) screen shots. Anytime I encounter an issue, the first place I look is the how-to file. When a new release comes out or a procedure changes we just update the existing instructions. The how-to file is a great resource for everyone in the office and a real time-saver!

I’ve found that these resources really help me stay up to date and provide me with the information I need to keep using technology programs effectively. How about you? Do you have any tips for staying up to date on technology and programs you use?

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