Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Getting the front end right

Confession time: I started my career on the stage. To my cost, I discovered that being a talented performer and actually being tough enough to make a go of life as a professional performer were two very different things! I kind of drifted into training, which later transmogrified into learning... and I'm really glad I did, because here I am 20 years later in exactly the right field for me.

Anyhoo, the drama training influenced my career in so many ways. Quite apart from the ability to speak clearly and audibly, to connect with the "audience", and to get comedic timing right when using humour, there was the little matter of presentation:

Anybody arriving at one of my f2f end-user training sessions would find the venue spotless. Every monitor clean, high quality learning materials neatly lined up in exactly the same relative position at every workstation, together with pen, notepaper and a (blank) desk nameplate. Coffee and tea at the back of the room, with the cups (all the same size, and in the organisation's brand colours) neatly arranged. When the session started, all the machines were loaded with the files needed for the practical exercises. In the early days, a flip chart displayed my name and the course name - in my very best approximation of calligraphy. Later, this was replaced by a plasma screen which looped a presentation about these and other logistical details.

Before the delegates arrived, I ran around like a headless chicken, getting everything set up just so, testing the machines, loading the files, filling the urn, straightening everything up. It was like the preshow prep.

One thing that was hammered into us at drama school was that the audience never got to see into the wings - it broke the illusion to catch glimpses of the real world. The example was used of a swan: so beautiful and elegant, gliding along the surface of the lake... not so beautiful or elegant if you got to see the swan from underneath, where the legs were frantically churning. The audience should only ever see the swan from above, dahlings!

Don't get me wrong - I'm well aware that there are higher priorities (and I wasn't trying to con my learners) but it seemed like such a small thing to do to to create a positive and welcoming environment. I have tried to carry that over into the solutions I design - adding those little thoughtful touches that make a user feel welcome and inspire confidence in the resource.

I see it as a form of good customer service.

Of course, once you've done all that, you've then got to live up to the tacit promise you've made....

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