Writers with a Voice

I have always loved writing. I took every English class available in high school and college. I arrived in technical writing as a volunteer. For three years, I wrote technical directions, training materials, and software tips at The Standard before being promoted to a Systems Specialist role.

In recent years, I was fortunate to work on two large highly-skilled technical writing teams. I found it was common for writers on my teams to be a bit introverted when speaking to their peers across the organization. When I attended local DITA and Write the Docs networking events, I watched very talented and creative writers struggle to overcome their shyness, to find their voice.

I was a shy kid and teen, writing more than speaking. I broke out of it thanks to my mom and a local community theatre group. Acting roles and lessons helped me build the confidence I needed to speak in front of others. I became a receptionist immediately after high school at a local newspaper. While I was studying journalism, I learned how to use my voice to soothe agitated callers and greet anxious strangers. Later in life, I used my voice to launch quickly and naturally into my software trainer career. In recent years, I moved my voice online, switching my career focus to video and eLearning production.

Thanks to all of these experiences, I am a technical writer with a voice. It is rare to find others who understand and share my interest in both voice work and technical writing.

I was delighted this week to find a talented writer with a voice. I found Jeanne Faulkner through LinkedIn. Jeanne is a “writer, author, editor, writing coach, podcaster, voiceovers, advocate, registered nurse and then some.” I thoroughly enjoyed Jeanne’s podcast titled Raising Money-smart Kids exploring how and when children can learn financial responsibility and budgeting, a critical life skill.

There is a place in this world for writers with a voice.

UMACHA AAP Video Volunteer Project

I am a big fan of portfolio projects that have a purpose…do good things for others.  I created this video in a collaborative volunteer project with UMACHA.org.  It was a problem I have solved often in my recent work, creating a visual short educational video to replace an aged lengthy webinar.

The Training Director and I worked closely as I interpreted their two-year old webinar. Together, we validated my outline, script, new theme, and visuals were on track with her current goals for the AAP program. For visuals, I worked with the Marketing team to shop on Big Stock for graphics that fit the Midwest audience and theme using their current subscription. I used my own home sound recording studio for narration.  I used Camtasia and PowerPoint plus kept the design very simple so I could turn the source files over to the Training Director at the end of the project for their own use. Files were shared via Google Drive and YouTube.

Frequent checkpoints with key stakeholders pay off. When the video reached the final stage of being reviewed by the Board, it passed with applause and no changes requested. It now sits on their website for their members, and it has served them well this year!

Can training and learning be fun? Inspiring podcast

Start your new year right by listening to this fast-paced inspiring podcast by Clint H. Clarkson!

Last November, our Twitter #lrnchat group held a long synchronous discussion about the appropriate mix of learning and fun. In this weekly discussion, the moderators send out questions, and participants answer them based on their own experiences. Clint extracted key points from the discussion, added his own opinions, and produced this podcast.

Log into LinkedIn to learn more and access the podcast.

For a good laugh, Clint creates cartoons on instructional design topics, ones in which many of us find a very familiar mirror and story. Here is a sample on YouTube.

You can follow and find out more about Clint on Twitter at @ClintClarkson. To participate in #lrnchat, see tweets from @lrnchat to join us. Most weeks #lrnchat is live on Thursdays at 8:30-9:30pm ET/5:30-6:30pm PT.



The eLearning Guild Taste of Pro Offer

Today the eLearning Guild offered me a fun course “Strategies for Making Dry Content Come Alive” as a taste of their Pro subscription ($99 a year).

Good topic! How do we take lessons that seem dry and dull, for example, legal or compliance training, and turn them around to make it more interesting for learners? I do this work often, am always interested in learning more, and I appreciate the sharing of materials and resources from the Guild.

In this field, things change rapidly, and many of us work alone as the sole instructional designer or writer for our team or organization. I often go to their site to solve eLearning problems. So, I am definitely thinking of going from the free subscription to Pro to take a deeper dive into the content.  

As members of the Guild, seasoned industry experts share resources and host webinars all around the topics of eLearning. This group provides community functions too, for example, they conduct events, survey members and publish an annual salary survey, and host a job board. 

If you have not checked them out, I do highly recommend it here as well as on my Resources page. 




Engaging Your Audience

Team Meeting

Team Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Engaging your audience is critical for designing effective documentation, videos or online training.  With needs analysis, you can build the right tools at the right time, saving hundreds of hours of rework or waste.

Here is a recent example. Not long ago, I was told by a leader in product development to build an internal training video on a new software feature in our software-as-a-service or SaaS offering. We had added the feature to stay competitive, and we were charging clients an extra fee for it.

I know video projects can easily take 50 to 75 hours. So, I set out to engage and meet the end users of the video. I found the product owner plus team leads in implementation, sales and support teams. I asked “Are you interested in a video on this topic?”

I found out there was only one client purchasing the new feature, a pilot client. A handful of people were engaged with the pilot client, including the product owner who already knew a great deal about the new feature. Within the largest teams, the implementation and support teams, the team leads told me this feature was simply too new to learn because it was not being used by the majority of clients.

I also knew from my own experience working in software companies that a new feature is subject to change, just like the first model of a car rolling off the factory line. Based on the pilot client’s feedback, the feature itself could be very different in a few months, both in workflow and appearance. Building a video too early might mean hours of redoing and adding content later.

In this case, instead of making a video, we simply made sure all product documentation was in place for our teams. The marketing team assembled a short slide deck to help our sales team explain and sell the new feature.

Then we waited for client adoption. I always keep proposal backlogs, and I kept checking back every month to gauge client interest on this feature. Once the pilot client had successfully implemented the feature plus a number of clients were starting to buy it, it was time to start making the video. I engaged the pilot team plus the product owner, and we made sure the original release documentation was updated based on what we learned in the pilot. I then produced, released, and advertised the new feature video with many successful views, because it was the right tool at the right time.

Building a piece of documentation, a video, or an online training course is often done without a direct connection to the audience. This may seem like an easy way to do the job. We just go build it, and keep our fingers crossed that someone uses it. I have seen this pattern over and over in different jobs, similar situations.

However, there is a great deal of risk in this method, and often many hours wasted. What if we spend 50-100 hours to build something too soon, and then we have to rebuild it again in a few months? What if the new feature cannot be sold for a year or is sold to only a few, reducing the value of the product documentation, video or course?

Engaging your audience and asking a few more questions before you start a large project is the smart and efficient way to go.


Remote Team Leadership

In this video about remote teams, Lara Owen ties together environment, emotional intelligence, remote management, and the sense of belonging.

She uses classic leadership theories at GitHub to encourage diversity, empathy, and plus to help remote employees fight impostor syndrome, start out on the right foot and stay connected. Fantastic! Watch it to the end to learn. This is Lara as a keynote speaker at a conference, showing her experience, studies in leadership, and sharing business practices, not the usual “come to work here” presentation.

Shifting to Learner’s Time

Training Time to Learner's Time

What if we thought of in terms of learner’s time when designing video content or online courses? Can we increase engagement and adoption in what we produce?

In my last job, I was hired to set up a new video program for a product documentation team. A few pilot videos 20-30 minutes long had been created by the team to start the program. The pilot work included tracking production hours to show a rough relationship between length of content and production.

I decided to find out what the audience needed. The learners consisted of software developers, systems engineers, and client-facing teams (sales, implementation, and support teams).  Everyone had heavy workloads, so learners had just a few minutes between meetings, production tasks, or urgent client requests to watch a video.

After learning about the audience’s time constraints, I then questioned the idea of a 20-30 minute video. Would viewers commit to a lengthy format for every video? Or was the length of the pilot videos a measure of success for our team before needs analysis?

I then set out to establish a new condensed video structure based on our audience’s time constraints with an overall goal of 10 minutes or less for new videos.

To condense content, I focused each short video on solving a core problem. I often used expert-led webinars as sources. By focusing on the core problem, it was easy to cut 30 minutes of wordy lecture to 10 minutes of video. In some cases, I restricted the video content to concepts, and then led the learner to read guides for the details. In certain cases, content proposed for one video could be moved into two or three smaller videos.

My audience was dealing with a wide variety of new information daily plus many distractions, strong barriers to retention. The learners had strong need to be able to stop and start the videos or return to the videos many weeks later for reinforcement. To increase retention, I added structures within the 10-minute videos to divide content into smaller 1 to 2-minute segments.

By reducing time commitments for the busy audience, I was building videos with concise, focused, quality content. Learners and their leaders commented with enthusiasm on the short value-packed format. In our reports, I could see how much viewers enjoyed the content. They would often watch one small video, then voluntarily watch a second or third video in a row.

I found a few side benefits on the production side. With a shorter format, I could ensure steady stream of new releases and revisions. Experts were more likely to participate in quality reviews. Plus I found locating and reusing content was faster in smaller project files.

Redesigning for the learner’s time constraints turned out to be a win-win for myself, my team, and for my audience.


Put on Your Gloves…Portfolio Time!

Holly Put On Your Gloves (2)This past month I was reminded by several people of the importance of an online portfolio.

How does one find the time? It’s tough. I understand. The past year for me has been spent purging my old home, looking for and buying a newer home, dealing with endless contractors and repair nightmares to fix both my old and new homes to a decent state, selling my old home, and lots of moving stuff.

I am happy to be in one home now dealing with those contractors at a slower pace. I am still surrounded by unpacked boxes as I launch my next portfolio project. On the other hand, why put it off? It’s time to put on those gloves and start again.

Today I organized my workshop into a set of easy-to-follow pages. Start here, and see where it takes you!  Good luck!

Instructional Design Portfolio Workshop


Instructional Design Portfolio – Individual Reviewers

When you are ready, seek direct and honest feedback from one or two trusted individuals on your portfolio pieces. Tell them your intent for the portfolio piece, any concerns you may have about it, and request that the reviewer does not hold back in their review. Give the reviewer a private way, messaging or email or phone, so they can respond honestly.

I have found peers to review my portfolio by keeping in touch with former coworkers, and friends who are in a similar line of business. Those who have been to college recently may find a few trusted classmates or a former professor willing to act as reviewers.

When you ask someone for feedback, you are asking them to spend time on you and your personal project. If you have a personal close relationship with the person, you already have a good foundation in place to ask for an opinion. Remember, there has to be something in it for them, when you ask a favor.

You may have to ask more than one person to review your work. Be prepared for a “no” or those who do not follow through. Some people would love to help, but they are simply overwhelmed with their own lives. Don’t be offended if they cannot find an extra hour or two to give to you. Others simply do not care to become involved; it is not their nature to help others. There are those who are willing and can give, and those who cannot.

To find a person willing to give and be a reviewer, look for those people who give consistently in different ways, volunteering at work or in their communities, taking the time to lend a hand to someone less fortunate, often going to lunch or coffee to share business experiences, taking time to ask others about themselves or their families at a party or business event. By observing these sharing and caring behaviors, you are likely to find an honest and willing reviewer.

Since you are asking for a favor of time, it helps to make the experience reciprocal for your reviewer. Find a way to pay them back for their time. What would they like in exchange for them reviewing your portfolio? Can you offer to take them to lunch or dinner or make a meal for them? Perhaps you will help review their resume or LinkedIn profile or their portfolio piece?

One of my former work friends asked me to help her with an Access database project for a couple of weekends. She knew I was short on funds due to being out of work for a while. In exchange for my work, she offered to take me to lunch. At lunch, she gave me a beautiful card with a small cash gift. I had helped her succeed with her project, and in return this personalized thank you meant a great deal to me. It left us both feeling good about the experience. We have helped each other a several times since that point, and we ended up traveling the same roads as instructional designers.

Today, I mentor young women often. Many of them offer to buy me a drink or meal in exchange for a mentoring session. This makes me feel appreciated, and it creates a pleasant memory for both of us.

Be open to the Feedback

When you ask for feedback, it may not always be what you expect. Be open to understanding what may be wrong about your piece as well as what may be right.

I remember one very self-involved woman I met a local networking event. After talking with me for about 5 minutes, she asked if I would review her online presence in her LinkedIn and Twitter accounts to help her figure out why she might be having difficulty landing interviews and a job.

At first I was inclined to say ‘no’. I didn’t know her. I was not invested in her enough to give her a few hours of my time based on a rather one-sided conversation all about her.

But then I thought about it. Change through communication is my motto. I realized I could be a good person to do a review with outside, unattached eyes. I was not likely to be involved with her directly in a job situation, like an interview or to act as a reference. So I agreed to do the review by email.

In my review, I discovered a few positive things, like recent education and an interesting work background. I also uncovered that this person had some red flags in both LinkedIn and Twitter. Her LinkedIn profile highlighted a job title of Data Scientist, yet her education and job experiences simply did not show why that title made sense. In looking at her Twitter feed, I saw a series of monologues, mostly complaints. There was little dialogue or interactions with others, either individuals or businesses. I wrote her explaining the positives and the negatives directly in a private email.

Say Thank You!

I wasn’t surprised when the women failed to thank me for my time reviewing her online presence. For a few months, when we saw each other at more networking events, she avoided speaking with me. About a year later, she finally let me know that I had actually helped her.

I tell this story, because I am someone who truly believes two-way communication is essential for change. I don’t always hear from reviewers what I expect or want to hear. But when it comes reviewing my portfolio, I’d rather hear the truth than unrealistic flattery or “it’s fine.”

So do always thank those who help you, even if they tell you something that is painful or difficult to hear. Wouldn’t you rather know the truth and make a change, learning along the way?

Sometimes reviewers may be hard on you, because they don’t know how to soften it the blow or find the positive pieces. I have had a few bosses like that. If you think the reviewer’s opinion is skewed or too one-sided, ask for a second opinion from another reviewer, and share the results from the first one. Between the two, you may obtain that accurate picture.

Today, I do a lot of mentoring, and I ask for a quick thank you as my main rule. People will often do that in person when we talk, but will fail often online. I let them know I will send them information, and all I ask is that they simply thank me. They don’t have to explain what they did with the information, but if they fail to thank me, my help and offers of information will cease. It’s a good arrangement.

Advertising Your Portfolio

Social Media Ads: Twice About Others; Once About You

Once you have created your portfolio pieces, the next step is to advertise it. It is in the advertising that you may encourage discussion or feedback as a short-term event.

Reciprocal behavior is the nature of most social media communities. The techniques I learned for Twitter seem to work well on most social media platforms.

When I follow someone on Twitter, I am saying I’m interested in what they have to say, either what they share or their skills or their line of business. My behavior of following someone on Twitter often causes them to follow me back.

In Twitter, it is considered poor form to constantly be tweeting about yourself. Celebrities might use their Twitter handle this way; it doesn’t translate well to the rest of us.

The recommended practice is to share and thank twice as much as you tweet about yourself. This means you might tweet about your new blog or piece, but then you should follow that tweet with two other tweets either sharing resources you found or responding to another person’s contribution.

This pattern of sharing other’s work and thanking others for their contributions establishes trust and community with your followers.

You don’t have to do this every hour. If you only lightly use a platform, it is okay to spread the tweets, posts or updates out over a few days. Just remember when you say something about yourself, then it is time to appreciate and share other’s accomplishments.

The nice thing about advertising a blog or piece on social media is you can catch people’s eye in a controlled manner. If your followers like it, they may share it with their followers, or they may privately message you with feedback. I like sharing in LinkedIn with 300 like-minded people; they do give me feedback. Sharing in Twitter is fun too, but with a wider less connected audience, the feedback decreases.

This type of sharing means most of the feedback will be in social media, as an event, away from your publishing platform. Since the life of a Tweet or post is often a few hours or days, the sharing and feedback isn’t permanent, but it is often helpful. You may hear some good advice to help you change your piece.

Instructional Design Portfolio – Private or Public?

Private then Public?

There are solid reasons for making a portfolio private:

  • It’s your first time trying a new skill or tool, and you are not sure how it will come out compared to the professionals who have used the tool for a long time.
  • You want to bounce your portfolio ideas off others and refine the piece.
  • You have chosen a subject that makes sense to a specialized line of business.

Most of us start with private portfolio pieces, and we slowly move toward making them public.

Private Techniques

My first few portfolio pieces were private. I produced sample courses in a PDF to showcase my writing skills. I created a 10-minute course to teach in a panel interview by extracting content from longer courses. These examples were good practice. I had to choose a subject that was understood by a specific audience, and I was forced to adapt my work to fit a much shorter format.

Private publishing is often available in many hosted formats. Let’s take the example of a video. YouTube gives you the ability to privately publish videos. You can test out your ideas and see how they look, e-mail the link to your friends for review, or show it to your family or significant other. You can keep working on it. When you are happy with your final video, then you can publish it for the public.

I do the same thing with my blog. I can draft it privately, and look at it for a day or two until I’m ready to publish it. This gives me flexibility in changing and fine tuning the content.

Collaboration tools like Google Docs or DropBox can be helpful. You can create documents, and invite others to share your work. You can collaborate by email, phone or video easily.

Going Public

As you gain confidence with private portfolio pieces, the next step is to share with an audience you do not know personally or intimately.

I’m here! Where are all the followers?

It is important to understand that putting your work on a large publishing platform does not necessarily guarantee an instant audience, a following or even honest feedback. Very few people go viral. Understand the nature of each platform.

For example, YouTube is huge and popular. I do publish videos on YouTube, but mainly because I wanted to understand the benefits, limitations and techniques used on that publishing platform. The number of topics and publishers on YouTube is so vast. It didn’t take me long to realize my videos were simply a drop in an ocean of information. I have a hard time finding experts and their content on YouTube directly; it is just too big.

To me, YouTube is a good a video hosting and publishing platform, but not where viewers find me. I still have to drive viewers to my videos through my blog, social media or direct emails to those who are close to me.

SlideShare.net has turned out to be a much more rewarding, controlled publishing platform for portfolio pieces. SlideShare attracts many business people and educators. It is easy for me to find experts and examples on SlideShare, and it is easy for people to find me.

As you look at each platform, get to know the tools and think ahead to the end result. If you are going to publish your work on X platform, then what is the ultimate end to that publishing? What keywords would you use? How do you categorize the information so it can be found? Who are you looking for in that community? Who else shares with your intended audience?

Being reciprocal is the nature of many platforms. This is something WordPress does well. When I started publishing my blog on WordPress, it was helpful to be in a community dedicated to blogging. I gained a small following from other bloggers on WordPress.

Every single time I picked up a WordPress follower, I could immediately check out their personal blogs. In most cases, the blogger had found me through the keywords and categories from my posts that matched their content. So then I started actively searching for other blogs that discussed the same things I did. Once I found the like-minded bloggers, by following them, they followed me. Some bloggers compile content from others; I was pleased to be picked up in a few of these compilation posts.

Moderated Commenting

Commenting is a bit of an issue when you publish online for the public. We have all seen what happens in Twitter when people start going at each other. People are often more rude online than they would ever be in person. Letting the public go at your work with no filters may not be a good idea if you plan to use your blog as a showcase for a potential job.

Most blogs or hosting sites offer moderated commenting, where you may review comments before they are posted. Most hosting sites, like YouTube, allow you to turn off commenting completely.

I noticed in WordPress, a certain percentage of comments may arrive because others are interested in advertising their business on your blog. Fortunately, WordPress gives me tools to help with these comments. I highly recommend moderating or eliminating comments on portfolio pieces.

LinkedIn Groups

One of the easy ways to accomplish going public is to work within an established community that practices sharing like a LinkedIn group.

LinkedIn groups of your peers are a powerful place to share information. In LinkedIn, we connect with peers and coworkers for the purpose of business networking. Within LinkedIn, groups are established for discussion and sharing of information. In some groups based around a tool, we often open up discussions around examples or problems.

Start by observing each group, reading what ground rules must be observed, and the nature of the posts and discussions.

Once you find a group compatible with your portfolio topics, you can bring in a piece that solves a common problem for the group or you can open up a discussion around problems you are solving for your piece. In the dialogue with your peers, you are likely to gain new insights. Don’t forget to look at their discussions and posts too. If someone shows interest in you, then you should do the same.

The Portland Connect Example

Some LinkedIn groups go live and take the whole selling you to a new level.

When I was job hunting, I found a Portland area LinkedIn group designed for business people with an in-person networking element. The group existed online for discussions and sharing for individuals and businesses seeking work.

Once a month, the group met live on a weekday morning. The format was simple; we placed cards in a bowl as we entered. Then we went around the room with 35-50 people, each one of us giving a quick 1 min. elevator speech about what we had to offer an employer or a customer. A name was drawn from the bowl, and the winner was invited to speak for a full 10 minutes on their pitch with the group prompting them with questions if needed. The meeting ended with an open networking session, where people walked around and chatted further with those they were interested in meeting based on the elevator speeches. At this point, people exchanged cards, and they could take their common interests to a new level at a later time through coffee meetings, emails or online collaboration.

This is where I met Patrick, the graphic artist who collaborated with me on a portfolio piece, as well as Ashley, a local stylist, and Rachel, an attorney with a technical writing background. Every one of my conversations with Patrick, Ashley and Rachel turned out to be beneficial for the both of us. Groups like Portland Connect work. Look for them.

Instructional Design Portfolio – One Central Location

For portfolio, keep it simple. Give people one spot to go check you out.

Have you ever been hammered by a business that tells you to connect with them on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other forms of social media? I have worked for a few companies that do this.

The truth is only a few people will connect to a business on Facebook. Some may connect on LinkedIn, and others may only connect on Twitter. Many of us may not connect at all on social media, but we will use the company website.

So in this story, what is it that brings all the social media together? Why is the business bothering with all that stuff? Social marketing is really just a push and reminder, to keep the business in your mind so you will come to the business when you are ready to purchase.

If you are not yet ready to start a blog, your one spot could be your LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn allows you to make your profile public. You could simply add some projects to your profile, and expand your profile summary to include new keywords and descriptions of your future work path. I added my brand as my job title, connected several projects, and I created a special section in my LinkedIn profile to capture and highlight my volunteer work, regardless of which employer I work for today.

Although it is popular today for recruiters and job hunters, it is important to remember not everyone uses LinkedIn. Many of us create our own blog or website to give ourselves a central place to show our talents to other people. I do too.

I publish portfolio pieces in different platforms because it gives me flexibility in the tools I use and the target audience. Rather than tell people go here today; go here tomorrow, I bring all my  portfolio publishing together in my blog. Then I advertise that blog through my social media.

On my personal business card I have three things: my blog, my brand and my email address. That is it. I experimented with adding everything else, but it just cluttered the card and the message. Giving people one place to go and check you out is an easy thing for them and for you.

Instructional Design Portfolio – Motivating Yourself

Last week, we started on the three exercises to Find our Direction and Find the Experts and Examples.

This week we are now ready to sort through our list of targeted examples, to plan and produce a portfolio project.

To help you get started, below are a few examples of small portfolio projects:

  • a technical writing sample to show how you write complex topics
  • a mini-course to show presentation skills and courseware development, for example, a lesson in recorded webinar or conducted in person
  • a short e-learning course or video to demonstrate or explain a feature or concept
  • written examples of course assessments, games or labs
  • a quick reference guide with graphic elements
  • a demonstration of visualization, for example, using text and adding visual elements
  • a blog on why and how you would apply a strategy, for example, needs analysis, in less than 500 words
  • a written lesson that teaches a key concept or a technique in less than 1000 words

Sounds like a lot of dull work?  Now add your own twist to motivate yourself, to put the carrot in front of your own nose.

Base your work on your personal passions and interests

Create a learning piece for cause or an organization you believe in, for example, a place or group you would normally help or volunteer to spend time with outside of work.

Doing something for a cause you believe in already will make the time fly quickly on your project. Before you know it, you’ll be setting a timer to take a break. If you tie it to a volunteer event, you’ll be setting a deadline for yourself to give and showcase your work.  You’ll become highly motivated.

Create a shared portfolio project

Many of us have a fitness buddy who works out or goes on walks with us. By working on the fitness goal together, you both become committed and motivated.

When you collaborate on a shared project with another peer, you are creating a small business model of a real project.  Just like a business contract, it’s a good idea to discuss and write up your guidelines for the project before you begin, the expected output and your shared vision.  Be specific about how much time you would each commit each week, and how you will communicate and answer questions together.

Many times I’ve done this by phone and online, a virtual collaboration.  In virtual, we can miss an email or communication, so there is pressure to follow through on your end of the commitment. When one person produces and asks questions, the other person is obligated to pick up and continue with the discussion or project in a certain amount of time.

A good example was my project Find Your Mentor and Move Ahead, where I collaborated with a graphic artist. When we met at a local networking event, he said “I have graphic skills and software, but no content.” That’s where my content came in, my blog I had been writing in text form. Together we established the rules, limited our time together and on the project, and came up with beautiful graphics you see in this blog.

In the end, we did create a project that was better than one I created alone. It was a win-win for both our portfolios.

Go beyond the comfort zone 

The beauty of a portfolio project is you may try new skills and tools in a low pressure environment. This can be very satisfying and helpful to your current job.

For example, I recently bought and loaded the latest Camtasia and SnagIt software packages on my personal machine for a portfolio project.

I do use both software programs at work; however, our work versions are about three or four years old. Our work budget is tight, so we have to make a case to justify each expense and obtain approval.

It is easier to start that process at home. I can check it out the new software at home first doing my portfolio projects. After I have tried it, I can better explain the benefits, and make a case for upgrading to the new versions on my work computer.

Here’s another example. For years, I’ve been an amateur photographer, mostly architecture, nature and landscapes. When I started building my own portfolio, I was able to try using my own photography, for example, the photo in the blog header.

I did use my own photography for a couple of day jobs. However, the downside of that decision was that those photos became part of the body of work owned by that company. Over time, I went on to other jobs. I have no control over how those two companies use those photos today.

So in several ways, my portfolio is a better place to showcase my favorite photos and graphics.

Instructional Design Portfolio – Making it a challenge without falling

When you start your first portfolio pieces, the temptation is to do too much all at once.

It’s like when I do complicated yoga poses. I twist my arms into the eagle pose, AND try to put my foot higher on my leg. Oh no!  Too much, too soon. Now, I’m tipping and bound to fall over.

So how about you just try the arm pose first? Then position the leg? Now you’ve got it!

To give yourself a better chance of small success, try the new pieces for your portfolio in small chunks. I like to use familiar content and tools for the bulk of the portfolio project. Then I add one thing, one challenge that’s new or hard for me.

For example, when I did the Leadership Sources of Power SlideShare project, I had several familiar things going for me. I had learned the theory in a college course. In my work, I had lived the stories I was telling, and I knew the tool (PowerPoint) extremely well. So my stretch or challenge for that project was in three small areas: 1) the graphic design; 2) in creating an interaction, a new poll with PollDaddy;  and 3) manipulating the PowerPoint template so that SlideShare would generate the perfect transcript.

By sticking with several familiar tools and formats you know from your work or school, and mixing just one or two new ingredients, you will increase your chance of success on your portfolio project.

Instructional Design Portfolio – Managing Your Project

project-management-triangle-2_12_2017-cropped-smallTo get my portfolio projects done, I apply the classic triangle of project management to make decisions.

Does this sound familiar?

“deliver a quality project that meets the scope within budget and on time”

In truth, there is no perfect project that meets all three sides of the triangle. Murphy’s Law kicks in. Things happen. Something must always be adjusted.

As we begin each portfolio project, it is important to look at which one or two of the three sides are the most rigid and inflexible. These one or two sides are required for the success of the project. The remaining side(s) may be adjusted throughout the project.

For example, I have produced many client-facing courses that were a critical component of a larger project.

In this work, most of us are familiar with time restrictions:

“deliver the course by X date”

We know about limited budgets and resources:

“Kathy can give you advice and work with you for an hour or two next week.”

“Dave can help you with the publishing.”

“No, we don’t have budget for X tools.”

“If you need more help, let me know.”

What if Kathy, Dave and that other help or that tool doesn’t come through?

Sometimes we change our goal to be:

“deliver a quality project within budget and on time by working weekends and evenings

Or we simply adjust the scope or quality of our presentation to fit the limited time and budget. Our goal then becomes:

“deliver a quality an adequate project within budget and on time”

Those high pressure client-facing projects are common in our line of work as instructional designers. Everyone is paid, and many times our clients do not know we cut the scope or quality. However, from an instructional design standpoint, most of us are not happy about the quality or the learning experience.

A portfolio project is a different mindset. Scope or quality is important in a portfolio project; it’s your first impression. Your portfolio project is not a one-time event that everyone forgets in a month. It is something we want to have longevity. We hope work done today can be used a few years from now.

So make quality your top priority for your portfolio project. Then plan a budget for time and money, and see what kind of scope and quality fit your idea. For a portfolio project, our goal may be:

“deliver a quality project that meets the scope within 25% of budget and within 25% of estimated time”

Portfolio work is done on your own time. It can take you a few weeks to build a project you are proud to show off. This is why we should plan time to build our portfolios while employed. No one delivers a quality portfolio piece on demand in a couple of hours.

Money for our portfolio comes from our own pockets. Set a budget for each portfolio project, and then work within that budget. If needed for quality, be prepared to spend a little more.

With portfolio projects, the scope is very important.

Let’s say you give yourself a challenge to do a project in two weeks, 20 hours total, 10 per week. You are willing to spend $100. Now, how can you choose a project that fits that budget and timeline, but still has the quality you want?

Look carefully at the scope. Maybe instead of making a 15-minute course, you create a 5-minute course? Instead of writing 3,000 words, you write a concise clear 1,000?

Whatever your choice for your portfolio project, think small scope and high quality for a winning combination. Grab someone’s attention in 1 to 5 minutes. Brevity is in. Be concise and clear in your example with respect for the viewer’s time.  It will help you meet your time and budget goals as well.


Building an Instructional Design Portfolio – Find the Experts

Once you have a sense of direction from these two exercises:

Building an Instructional Design Portfolio – Reflection Exercise to Find Your Direction

Building an Instructional Design Portfolio – Job Market Exercise to Find Your Direction

Now you are ready to seek experts who specialize in your portfolio topics, the ones who are demonstrating the skills and tools of your dream job.

How about a good book?

I always start with this traditional route, searching bookstores online. In my quest to figure out current e-learning best practices, I found E-Learning by Design by Dr. William Horton, available many places plus on his own site. Dr. Horton’s book of extensive experience has become my best e-learning cookbook. Not only did Dr. Horton provide recipes, he provided many published examples on his website.

From Dr. Horton’s examples, I created my first couple of e-learning courses to publish for a private portfolio. I used his book again and again in my next few jobs, as I tried new techniques and created new programs. I still reach for this e-learning cookbook on my shelf every few months, to tackle new problems and look for fresh ideas.

Seek professional organizations that revolve around your dream work.

In my search for professional organizations, I found  The elearningGuild, a community for elearning professionals and their resources.

The elearning Guild is a professional organization used by many experts who work on a contract basis. By sharing and doing a little work for free, these contractors meet potential clients who may want to hire them for a contract job.

Through this community, I attend webinars, download books, look at samples, and read blogs from these experts. I often follow up with visit to the expert’s personal websites, and I always find inspiration in their portfolio examples.

Use Tools and Skills to look for Communities

Use the tools of your dream job to find the experts. I used the primary tools of my trade, TechSmith’s Camtasia, Adobe’s Captivate, and Articulate. All three tools are used to build e-learning courses, and my job market search showed me how popular these tools were in my region.

Experts are likely to be directly connected to your favorite tools. In checking out Articulate, I found the The Rapid E-Learning Blog Community hosted by Tom Kuhlmann. This community discusses many topics and ideas around elearning and instructional design.

Remember how we looked at that job market using LinkedIn?  It is a great resource for every tool or skill you have on your dream job list.  In LinkedIn, there are discussion groups for every tool or skill, for example, a Camtasia Users group, a technical writers group, or an instructional design group.

Research Your Experts

A little extra research on experts will you focus your direction in these communities. Once you start seeing experts you admire, check out their LinkedIn profiles or google them. Most of them will have public-facing LinkedIn profiles or personal profiles on their company websites. From their profiles, you can find even more LinkedIn groups and professional organizations.

Networking with the Experts

Today we network online just as much as we do in person. Watch how the experts, communities, and companies you find today are likely to lead you to networking events, both online and in person.

A Local Story

Here is how I followed my curious nose and found some wonderful peers and experts to meet in person. One day I was checking out a blog about the latest e-learning tools. Then I realized it was by an expert at a local software start-up company called Open Sesame. I found another blog on their company website about a free Meetup networking group.

The format was simple. Once a month, meet on a Tuesday night at a pub and talk about e-learning. Why not?

At my first Meetup, I met several instructional designers. Each person came in with a different story of what e-learning meant to them, their tools, their work, and individual challenges. One designer specialized in webinars. A couple of designers worked in academic learning. Others were deep into building extensive e-learning courses or LMS systems. Everyone shared stories. It was fantastic, extremely motivating, to meet everyone in person.

I enjoyed the Open Sesame Meetup group for a long time. When the leader moved away, I ended up being one of the voluntary leaders who kept the group running for another three years.  There is nothing quite like meeting your local peers to help to motivate and inspire you to build a great portfolio.

An Online Story

My community is small, so local networking means a small group. You might have this problem too.  Fortunately, today you can take it online and network with experts virtually.

Here’s an online example. Through The elearningGuild, I found a Twitter community who conducts a synchronous learning chat each week called #lrnchat. Each week on Thursday night, learning experts from around the world gather. The moderator poses us questions, and we answer them. Then we check out all the other questions and answers, discuss further, tell a few jokes along the way, and our discussion is published on lrnchat.com. At the end of each meeting, we are invited to give plugs of our work. Through plugs, I uncover more experts and blogs.

So this week we covered three exercises to start your portfolio research, the first two to find your direction Building an Instructional Design Portfolio – Reflection Exercise to Find Your Direction  and Building an Instructional Design Portfolio – Job Market Exercise to Find Your Direction, plus this one to research your tools, experts and communities.

In my next post, I’ll move to the next phase, planning and producing something for your portfolio.

Building an Instructional Design Portfolio – Job Market Exercise to Find Your Direction

After doing the reflection exercise noted in my previous blog (Building an Instructional Design Portfolio – Reflection Exercise to Find Your Direction), you will have a better sense of your future direction.  You will know what you love about your work, what you would rather avoid or minimize, and the type of culture that suits you best.

Now do some research to see how your direction fits in today’s current job market.

Even if you are 100% happy with your current work and employer, this is an important step to see how your wishes and dreams compare to the marketplace.  Does your dream job still exist? Or has it morphed into something else? Do this exercise every couple of years; the job market changes rapidly. The goal is to avoid building a portfolio piece that is outdated too quickly or reflects the wrong direction.

Start by searching public-facing job sites like Indeed.Com or LinkedIn. Keep in mind that LinkedIn job descriptions are costly for employers to post, so you may be seeing a subset of the market. Indeed.Com is a handy crawler site that will pick up jobs from a large variety of private websites. Most job search tools allow you to save searches. This way you can conduct this exercise over a series of weeks, searching for the tools and skills that you see in your future direction.

But what about that culture or environment fit?  Doing a search on LinkedIn or Indeed.Com produces broad results. Now narrow your job search to be within an organization that fits your future direction. To determine corporate fit from the outside, check out sites like Glassdoor.

Knowing where your dream job fits in the market will help you fine tune the direction for your portfolio.  You can learn better ways to describe and showcase your strengths for your future direction.

As you look at the job market, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are there any dream jobs showing up?
  • Are there any new skills and tools in these job descriptions?
  • What words are used to describe this work?
  • If you had five minutes, what tools might help you prove you could do that job?
  • Which words do not produce the jobs you would hope to find?

My Personal Example

By searching on the words ‘writing’, ‘elearning’, and the tools I liked to use like ‘Camtasia’ and ‘Visio’, I was able to find my dream jobs. My dream job titles were often dramatically different, but the common theme of instructional design and communications was always present in each job.

From this exercise, I ended up rewriting my resume to highlight the elements of my past that tied to the future.

I also found out certain words did not work at all. When I searched for key words like ‘trainer’, very few jobs in my region came up. When I searched broadly on Indeed or LinkedIn, most trainer jobs were jobs that were highly academic (training nurses or doctors at a university) or completely unrelated to my previous work (training dogs, training retail workers at Walmart).

When I did my targeted search at large organizations with the right cultural fit, the few technical training jobs that did show up in my searches were all road warrior jobs, the exact opposite of my current direction.

Out of this exercise, I realized I did not want to be tied to just one job title, so I came up with my own way of expressing what I did for a living:  People | Projects | Software | Communication.  My direction for the future would be to showcase my skills in technical writing, instructional design and current e-learning tools.


Building an Instructional Design Portfolio – Reflection Exercise to Find Your Direction

There is no one-size-fits-all instructional design portfolio. Each one of us must find and showcase our personal direction.

Instructional designers have many job titles. One person may specialize in webinars or classroom training; another may design complex labs with interactive chat sessions. Some may specialize in needs analysis, adult learning theory, evaluation techniques or blended learning strategies. Others may dive deep into videos, podcasts, e-learning courses, mobile applications or games.

Start your portfolio research by first determining your direction. It is an easy temptation to  build a portfolio from what is convenient, easy to find or easy to recreate from our corporate work.  However, your portfolio is more than a sample of past work.

Your portfolio is showcasing your direction for your future. So where are you going?

Start by doing some reflection on where you have been.  Reflect on your current state and past experiences. Dust off the old resume. Jot notes about your success and failure stories in each job.

Expand your thoughts beyond what you do for money. Think about volunteer work or learning experiences, like recent college work, webinars or workshops.

As you reflect, answer these three questions:

  • What do you enjoy about your instructional design work?
  • What would you like to do less of or stop doing entirely?
  • What kind of culture or environment suits you best?

My Personal Example

Throughout this blog, I’ll share with you many of my own examples to help you kick start your quest.  Here is what I came up when I ran through this exercise.

What do you enjoy about your instructional design work?

  • challenges of converting complex concepts to business language
  • technical writing
  • visualization of concepts, being creative
  • Camtasia, Visio, PowerPoint, SnagIt, and other visualization tools
  • elearning, videos, online collaboration, and other forms of blended learning
  • building collaborative communities
  • leadership topics plus change management

What would you like to do less of or stop doing entirely?

  • constant business travel, being a road warrior
  • rigid work schedules that leave no room for doctor appointments or illness
  • delivering training in person in a classroom
  • delivering speeches in person to large groups
  • selling my work for profit before delivering it

What kind of culture or environment suits you best?

  • working in technology – software development, reporting and engineering topics
  • the pressure and excitement of working in a competitive market
  • a company that adapts and changes frequently to meet the needs of their customers
  • being on the cutting edge of technology, new products, change
  • working with the nerds, systems engineers plus software developers
  • a large degree of responsibility and autonomy

Do you have an Instructional Design Portfolio?

Job hunting is never easy for an experienced instructional designer. Our work is often proprietary,  confidential, restricted, and hidden from public view.  What we deliver frequently belongs to our employers.

On the flip side, potential employers expect us to be constantly adding tools, networking, and building a strong portfolio of work samples. Instructional designers help people learn. So we should be constantly learning and showing our value.

Today, a public portfolio of instructional design work is expected by most employers. Many job applications will ask for your public-facing website. College programs help their students build portfolios before they graduate with their instructional design certificate. Contract work is on the rise. As a contractor, one must maintain one’s own business, and a portfolio is how you sell yourself.   

Build your portfolio while you are employed. Don’t wait. Invest in yourself.

I’m speaking from my own experience. Over a four-year period, I spent one year hunting for jobs and building portfolio while unemployed. It wasn’t easy. Experts like Tom Kuhlmann back me up. In 2012, I heard him make this point to over 100 instructional designers in a workshop. Tom is passionate on this topic. Do it while you have a job.  

Not enough time? Think of portfolio work as a series of small projects, a 10-hour project in two weeks or a 30-hour project within a month. Then look at your weekly workload. In a 50-hour week, can you set aside 10% of your time (5 hours) to work on your portfolio and learn something new? If you have a boss and an organization that expects you to learn, you may be able to work with them to align your portfolio work with your development goals.  

Still not convinced? There are positive benefits.

By building a portfolio, you will be able to test out your ideas, alter them and refine your portfolio to highlight what you do best. You can learn new skills or new tools, and you may discover a new path to follow. You can try fresh ideas on the public with little risk, because you are offering something to the world for free. You can see where you stand with your peers, and work on your gaps or weaknesses. You can set up your personal computing devices with your favorite tools and do projects you would not normally do at work.

Plus, your current employer benefits from your learning whether you make them aware of it or not. Learning new skills and tools makes you a better employee, and more desirable within your organization.

A portfolio can make you feel more confident about your future. Opportunity knocks at unexpected times. Jobs and organizations change rapidly. With a portfolio, you will be ready to open the door to your next job tomorrow, next year, or when HR calls the meeting for another layoff.

A portfolio can help you see yourself in a new light. We often see ourselves and our work in the context of the organization and team. If the team and organization reward us, we feel satisfied and competent. If they do not, we feel discouraged and unmotivated. Through your portfolio, you may find another way to belong, bump up your self-esteem, and achieve self-actualization (quoting Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs).

Along the journey, you will find surprises. I was surprised when my first SlideShare post attracted 300 people on Halloween night. When I tried my YouTube pie-making video, I learned about the challenges of being on camera. It was fun, the pie was good, and my family and friends enjoyed it. When I shared my instructional design work with peer groups, I realized I knew more than I thought I did. I am absolutely amazed that over 15,000 people have viewed one small 2014 project Leadership Sources of Power on SlideShare.net with very little self-promotion.

The best part about building a portfolio is that it belongs to you. You invest in yourself. Investing in yourself is the path to build earning potential and a strong financial future no matter what happens with the economy. You are a good investment in uncertain times.

Where to start? I know. It is like a blank piece of paper staring at you. Do you create a webinar, video, an e-learning course, podcast, blog, or build a game or lab? What content do you use? Which tool do you use? Where do you share it?

In this series, I’m going to share tips in a three-phase workshop about getting started with your portfolio:

  1. Research: Look for portfolio examples and ideas that appeal to you.  
  2. Produce: Plan and create your own project.
  3. Share: Publish and share your work; solicit and respond to feedback.

Each one of us is unique and different. We are all traveling different directions. So I won’t tell you exactly what to do. Instead, I will share my experiences to help you brainstorm, and get started with your own ideas. That way you can form your own path and direction.

Next, I will write more on the topic of Research, that is, how to seek portfolio examples. and ideas that appeal to you.  

A Recipe for Success: Add Variety to Your Training Program

Adult learning styles are as different as apples and oranges.One size of training does not fit all. Adult learning styles are as different as apples and oranges. Does your training program provide enough of the auditory, visual and hands-on elements needed to fit the learner’s individual style?

Think of how you, your friends and family learn. Do you love to watch videos to learn? Know anybody who likes to push the buttons on their new gadgets? Have you met people who love sharing what they learned? Do you know someone who shuts down when you verbally give them directions?

Continued on page two…