Recently, a friend asked for some advice on how to conduct an effective beta teach during the rollout of a new workforce training course. In my experience, the development process is usually long and arduous. During development, the team will write and rewrite multiple drafts and hold many discussions with the client and subject matter experts (SMEs). Each draft and discussion will seemingly take the course in a new direction. Eventually, the material will settle into what the majority thinks hits the mark, but there will be lingering doubts. Finally, the development team will face the task to bring it all together and launch the new course as an excellent, effective, and enjoyable workforce training. To do this, the team will choose to schedule a beta teach.
Here are the top 3 things to keep in mind for the beta teach of a new workforce training course. Of course, there are other items to remember and implement, but these are the most important: 1) Define the Audience, 2) Set Proper Expectations, and 3) Respect the Beta.
Define the Audience
This first task is two-fold: the development team must be careful to completely define and understand the ultimate target for the training course that they are building. But also, they must populate the room for the first teach carefully. Proper definition of the target audience should occur during the development. However, this is an assumption that occasionally proves false, and perhaps a good discussion topic for another day. Thus, the focus for the initial teach is on the second piece. But first, why call the initial teach a beta?
Different clients call this first live teach by various names, and each of the terms has slightly different connotations. One term is beta teach, which has widespread appeal and understanding. Another is pilot teach, which is related to the pilot episodes of a new television series. The problem with pilot is that often the first episodes are quirky and experimental. In a pilot, the authors struggle to find out what resonates with a test audience and will win a long-term contract with the sponsors. Since this is not the aim during the launch of a new workforce training, pilot may not be the best term. Beta seems to work a little better but can still be a bit tricky if participants don’t understand the purpose of the beta, and it wasn’t preceded with an alpha (more on that below).
Who is in the Room?
Returning to the question of the audience, who is in the room for this beta teach? The first thought may be to ensure that the room is full of SMEs. This is often helpful; however, it can often cause a distraction if those SMEs were not involved in the development. Depending on their personality, they can quite easily pull the course launch back into a development session and start covering old ground. Then the battle usually heads to scope, with suggestions and comments to add more material into what often is already a very ambitious syllabus.
Another thought is to make sure that representatives of the target audience are present, to get their impressions and feedback. Also helpful, but you need to keep in mind that they don’t know the topic that they are being taught, and so the typical questions regarding the scope and content of the course (whether the course was “on-target” or not) are not easily answered by these attendees.
As is often the case, selection of attendees for the beta depends mostly on availability and interest, thus proper scheduling and a bit of marketing must receive time and attention. The goal is to have a beta audience representing both SMEs and the target audience, as well as including some attendees who are ready to give good feedback on the facilitation, presentation, and delivery of the training message. This would mean audience members with a professional eye for the facilitator and not merely the course content, materials, and information. I am privileged to perform this role in my position as Instructor Support for several of my clients, as I help SMEs become dynamic speakers and facilitators. This is where the rubber meets the road and the hard work at my Executive Communication Master Class pays off!
Set Proper Expectations
Once the people are in the room for the beta teach and are there with the understanding that they are to help in the launch of a new workforce training course, you must manage their expectations. The worst thing that can happen at this point is to have the customer/client (i.e., the person who is paying for the course) stand up, welcome the group, and tell them that the course development is half-baked, not complete, that they are “guinea pigs” in the process, and that they are there to help “fix” the training. Wow. That undercuts the development team right at the start and sets the wrong tone.
Instead, the beta attendees are there to help the facilitator understand the target audience and how to relate to them. Encourage the attendees to think more about the examples, illustrations, and explanations and how they work, and less about the scope and content of the course. The fresh eyes of the beta audience help to ensure that clarity, precision, and logic are embedded in the training and that there are no gaps in the storyline that the development team missed due to their familiarity with the content.
The Beta Audience’s Role
Bottom line, tell the audience that they are not asked to develop the course or to “poke holes” in it. One of the connotations of the “beta” term from software rollouts is inappropriate for the launch of new workforce training. The audience is not asked to find “bugs” in the training. Instead, ask them to reflect on what they are receiving from the facilitator and give a true picture of the effectiveness of what the development team produced.
The goals of workforce training include building mental connections with the material in the audience’s mind. Also, workforce training influences future behavior and performance by providing a positive attitude, experience, and encounter with the content. The beta audience should focus their attention on whether this is happening during the training. One of the best ways to measure this is the “promoter score” metric. Be sure to ask the audience at the end of the day whether they would recommend that their coworkers attend the training or not. This question is often accompanied by a numerical rating of their enthusiasm behind the recommendation, hence the name “promoter score.” I always follow up that question with a request: “If yes, then tell me a specific number of people that you know by name that you would recommend this course to.”
Respect the Beta
After spending so much time during the development of the training course content and presentation, the tendency is to look at the beta as the first opportunity to focus on the delivery. That is not true, and if you approach the beta with that attitude, the training “train” will come off the tracks. Construction of the course begins with the storyline and message; crafted and shaped all along for the ultimate delivery to a room full of people. The facilitator must know how the story progresses through each section of the presentation. Attention-Grabbing Openings (AGOs), carefully selected and practiced, are ready for the beginning of the training day and for each new section of material. Real examples, anecdotes, and hypothetical situations have been rehearsed and readied for the right moment.
In other words, respect the beta and understand that it is not the alpha! Do not expect that at the beta teach you will figure out the delivery details and succeed simply because of the strength of the course materials. The facilitator must have a plan (directionality, yet with flexibility) and be ready. Thus, an alpha teach should have already occurred before the beta teach. That means planning, preparation, and practice. Developing a strong beginning and ending, understanding the theme and storyline, and finding the lead (most important concepts) are all important.
Over time I have settled into a pattern. I know that the beta teach is not going to be perfect and that extensive revisions to the beta delivery plans will morph into the final rendition of the course. But I do prepare for a new class in a specific way and have learned to expect certain outcomes. I start by preparing a copy of the onscreen presentation in a three-ring binder with my notes at the bottom, giving me additional resources and reference if needed, but also helping me remember what I wanted to highlight and add to the material. I do not read extensively from the notes, but I do refer to it during preparation and initial course delivery. And there are points where I will tell the class that I want to make sure that I get it right and will point out specific items, recognizing that the source was in my prepared notes.
In doing this repeatedly (also for courses that I did not help in the development, but rather teach as built by others), I found that it requires three teaching opportunities, not spread out too far (i.e., within 2 months or so) for me to be comfortable with the material and confident in my delivery. The beta teach is vital to this process. But remember that the beta is not the alpha! It needs to be followed up with the implementation and scheduling of courses to truly complete the roll-out new course. Typically, the beta teach is the first of the three live teaches (live meaning to an audience not involved in the development effort).
The Bottom Line
Remember these three things: 1) Define the Audience, 2) Set Proper Expectations, and 3) Respect the Beta. I trust that these will help you in conducting the beta teach for a new workforce training course. The goal is to be excellent, effective, and enjoyable; and the beta teach is a crucial step in the development process.
Beta Teach for a New Workforce Training Course, today’s CommLink. Look for more Dynamic Speaking principles, techniques, and best practices from P H Tyson & Associates.