Once you have held a position for a few years, you start to see examples of the work you do everywhere around you. Outside of work, you will hear news stories or see examples of what you do, and most of the time these examples are not good. If you are observant and dedicated, these turn into real-life cautionary tales of what not to do at your job. I had the perfect example of that last week, when a compliance webinar was scheduled at the office.
Picture the scene: Twelve people filed into a conference room, preparing to spend the next 90 minutes together attending a compliance webinar; three more attended from their remote offices. Four different departments are represented. Some have printed the slide deck, which comes in at a staggering 96 pages, while others bring notepads to take notes. The information is critical for all of us, because it is compliance related. The webinar starts and….
Within five minutes, it is clear to us that we should have just e-mailed the slide deck out for everyone to read on their own to get the information, because all the three presenters are doing is reading directly from it. The slides themselves are overloaded with text which appears to come directly from the regulation, with little exposition. When the presenters aren’t reading from the slide deck they are reading from an obviously-prepared script, and they are doing it poorly. The examples they attempt to use to clarify the information are half-baked.
At somewhere around the 20 minute mark, many of us in the room have mentally tuned out. Snarky comments about the webinar start flying, which register giggles from everyone else. Eyes start drifting, and when they find others they roll in a universal “Can you believe how bad this is?” message which is answered by “I would rather be back at my desk”. Then, one presenter “breaks in” (as much as one can break in to a scripted conversation) halfheartedly reading some line about it being important to remember XYZ. The interrupted presenter responds with “That’s right, thanks for that insight!” with all of the enthusiasm of a professor delivering his 400th lecture on this particular topic. This elicits outright laughter from the group at this truly pathetic attempt to make the webinar sound “live” and “conversational”.
This webinar contained important information, which we all needed to know. We are all professionals, and we all got the information we needed from reading the slide deck later, not from attending the webinar. All I could see was how badly this webinar was taking this very important information and making it almost inaccessible through poor presentation guaranteed to send even the most interested student into a webinar coma. Compliance webinars seem to be particularly bad at being interesting, which is dangerous since the information they disseminate is some of the most important. The ROI on webinars like this is atrocious, because learners retention is minimal when they are using all of their faculties simply trying to stay awake.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Compliance webinars don’t have to be scripted language, overloaded slide decks and thoroughly bland. Contrary to their reputation, I believe that compliance webinars are actually some of the strongest candidates for creating very compelling webinars and e-learning. One of the reasons I believe this is because I believe in the power of stories to convey information, and these webinars are the perfect candidates for story-based learning.
Since the dawn of human existence, we have needed to effectively communicate information. Where is the watering hole with the good water? Which berries should you not eat? In the moment, this is easy to do. But how to do teach people who aren’t there how to identify them? Our ancestors hit upon one of the best tools for communicating information and ensuring it was remembered: telling stories. Stories are easy for us to remember, and cognitive science is only recently starting to understand why storytelling and memory creation are so intertwined.
Remember The Odyssey? The story about Odysseus returning home after the end of the war at Troy, and all of the adventures he has along the way? That ancient Greek epic is around 12,000 words long! English translations of the work produce a book somewhere around 350+ pages depending on what the book contains as far as footnotes and references. And the Homeric epic survived in a completely oral state for at least a century before being committed to paper, which means that the storytellers had to have memorized the entire thing!! If humans can do that, then learning and understanding the content of a compliance webinar should be easy, if the information is presented in a way that is conducive to learning.
Add some storytelling into your compliance webinars, and your ROI will soar. People love stories, and they want to follow them. They want to root for the characters involved. Don’t just explain “In this situation, this is how you do XYZ”…make it compelling through the use of stories. Try starting with the story of an institution who didn’t report something correctly, and all of the subsequent fall out. Then ask the learners where the institution went wrong, which gets them actively engaged in the learning process. If the webinar will be recorded and there won’t be any live participants, break the scenario down where the institution went wrong, citing the regulations as you go.
One e-learning webinar I attended demonstrated a captivating example taken from the insurance industry. Rather than go into the boring “In order to protect a property from X you must ensure the policy has Y”, the presenter made it compelling. He started with the story of Mike, a successful businessman who had always dreamed of living by the ocean. Finally, he purchases a beach front home, which the webinar helpfully showed. Mike loved his home, but was barely moved in before he was called away on a business trip. When he returned, his house was buried in rubble after a landslide which had occurred in his absence, and pictures demonstrated the extent of the damage. Then, the webinar asked “What kinds of amendments would need to be in his homeowners policy to ensure Mike can re-build his dream home?” The fact that I remember this example vividly after seeing it in sample form in a webinar almost a year ago testifies to the power of storytelling to communicate a message and drive learning.
If you let your creativity flow, you will be surprised how interesting you can make even the driest material.