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Episode 3 - Get More Value Out of Virtual Trainings

[INTRO]Hi there, and welcome to The Lactation Training Lab Podcast, a show created to inspire, inform, and engage current and aspiring lactation care providers. So glad you’re here! I’m Christine, an IBCLC and trained childbirth educator based in the United States. I created the Lactation Training Lab after years of practicing clinical lactation care and providing professional lactation training to other health care providers to serve as a resource for learning and connecting over all things lactation-related. Whether you’re seasoned or studying, I hope this show will make you think and inspire you to act. Here we go!

Today we are here to talk about something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately. You know, as we’ve gone through this year, this year 2020 of new things, new opportunities, difficulties and challenges, all sorts of things that we haven’t faced before, and things we’ve never faced up to before, one of the things that’s happened in the field of lactation care is the migration of all of the training that we had before to an online format. Which can be really difficult for some people to adjust to if they’ve never done it before, and for those of us who were using online/virtual trainings before, we didn’t use them exclusively. For the most part, a lot of us were using those in addition to attending things in person, and so we have had both of those kinds of experiences.

So for most people who have been in this field, we have had a multitude of ways to learn for a while, even if we didn’t use all of those ways. And those who never really used any virtual trainings before probably have a wealth of experience with in-person courses and classes and trainings and continuing education opportunities. In all of those experiences we really need to find a way to get sort of the best of both worlds because right now people are really struggling with virtual training options in terms of making them something that sticks in their head, making them memorable, making them feel valuable. They don’t often cost as much as in-person trainings, and when it comes to things like big, major conferences and things like that, it’s definitely a huge savings to be able to attend a training online. You know, a multi-day workshop such as the USLCA workshop that’s upcoming, and there’s definitely some benefits to it, but there’s a little strategy to it as well.

So jumping into virtual trainings without really thinking about it, without being intentional, can sometimes land us in a place where we now are faced with a bunch of things we need to watch and listen to and things that we would normally be so fascinated by can be a little bit harder to get into and get engaged with simply because we don’t have anyone with us to engage with because we are often doing other things in the background. We are using this as background noise for some other activity, and sometimes that can make it hard as well. It’s really easy to sign up for a virtual course or a training. It’s - some of them are even free. Some of them cost money and we make a financial investment as well as an investment of time.

We say that we are going to attend this because we want the end result that’s promised to us. We want to learn what they tell us we’re going to learn, and we want to come away with something valuable that we can then pass on to our clients, or something that pushes us forward, advances our career. We’re investing in these things and we have the best of intentions, but when it comes time to actually attend these trainings, whether they’re live or they’re recorded and we have to set aside the time to do it, we don’t always make the best choices about how to approach that.

I want to set forth for you some tips - a little bit of a framework - here so that you feel like you really can get the value that you’re asking for out of the trainings that you’re getting. Because I have attended a lot of trainings this year, a lot of virtual trainings, and you know, in the past years as well, so I feel like I have a pretty good experience level with virtual trainings as well as a pretty good level of experience with in-person trainings, having been to multiple ILCA conferences, USLCA conferences, local ones here in my state, I’ve attended many of the California Breastfeeding Summits over the years and so I have experience with both levels, with both different kinds of training. I feel like I have a few tips that may help you as well to make your virtual trainings feel a little bit more like the in-person ones and help you walk away with that same sense of excitement and wonder that you get when you’re at an in-person conference.

So just for a minute here, indulge me in this little activity. Imagine that you are at a lactation conference, this wonderful place wherever it has been - a place that you’re gone specifically for this event. You are, for the purposes of this exercise, you are staying in the host hotel. So the sessions are taking place in the same building as where you are, you are staying there at night, you are participating in activities with other people who do what you do and love what you love. That is a really incredible feeling, and you often find at a lactation conference that it feels like you found your people. You have found your people, and on the first day, you’ve gone to a list of sessions and you have listened to speakers and you were really struck by one of them. You really enjoyed what they had to say and you had a question you would have liked to ask them if you had had the opportunity, but the Q&A session went on a little bit longer than they anticipated, and then even when it was over you had hoped you could run up and talk to this person afterward but unfortunately you weren’t the only one. By the time you made your way there, they were on their way to their next session because they’re attending this conference as well. So you’re excited, you took some notes, you wrote things down during the session, when you were in between sessions you were talking to your colleagues, you were talking to other people that you had met there at the conference and you were telling them what you had just heard, and what that meant to you and how you were going to use it. You’re really excited about it.

The next morning, you put on your walking shoes and you put on your sweatshirt so you can go outside. You want to take a nice walk and clear your brain for the next day of sessions, so there you are, walking through the hotel lobby, when who do you see but that speaker from yesterday. She’s got her walking shoes on and she’s got a sweatshirt on and it looks like she’s doing the same thing as you. And now you have this opportunity to reach out and to engage with this person and ask the questions and get to know them and really form a relationship with this person who you already learned you have much in common with. You can walk away from this experience - if you’re brave enough to walk up to them and say “Hey, I’m going to walk, too - would you like to walk with me?” Maybe you’ll get to make a new friend, maybe you’ll get to create a new and lasting relationship.

We have these opportunities all the time when we’re in-person at conferences. We have people we are sitting next to who we can talk to, even if we’ve never met them before. We already have something in common. We already know we have something to talk about, so we do. We reach out and we talk to people even when we don’t consider ourselves outgoing or engaged people. We end up making friends. We end up making connections and sometimes we end up talking to somebody who gives us amazing ideas that we can take home. Sometimes we meet people who are from not very far away from where we are, so we get to work with them on projects.

All of these things happen at in-person conferences, and it feels like at virtual trainings, well, there’s no possible way any of those things could happen. But I’m here to tell you. I’ve got a couple of ideas for tips and tricks to sort of make some of those things happen and trick your brain into feeling as if you are having that same type of engaged experience even when you are actually sitting in your bedroom with your yoga pants on just watching this virtual training on your laptop.

Let’s go through some of these intentional ways of approaching this kind of learning, this online learning. These are really strategies to try to engage your brain in a different way. When we have physical, kinesthetic experiences, which we all know because this is part of what we know and what we do for our clients, we want to give them kinesthetic experiences. We want them to form memories of what it feels like to hold their baby skin to skin, to put their baby to the breast, to get milk from the breast or see milk coming out of their breast. We are able to create better systems for them and better processes for them when we observe that they are having these kinesthetic experiences.

Let’s do the same thing for ourselves. Let’s give ourselves kinesthetic experiences during our virtual training that will help to sort of seal in the memories. All of those things that I’ve described that happen at in-person conferences - even though they are not going to happen during your online training, we can trick our brains into feeling like they are so that we make memories and create the opportunity for our brain to really remember the information that we’ve learned, the feeling that we got from learning that information, and the people around that information, the experience of getting to know them and learning about them can also be a big part of being able to remember what they said, how they explained it, and why it jumped out at you at the time. Why it meant something to you when you heard it.

1 - The first thing that I would recommend, one of the tips that you can do is to really commit to these trainings, to engaging and to watching them when you don’t have anything else going on. I know, that’s a tall order - who has nothing going on? But if you’ve signed up for a 1-hour virtual training, it is something that you can put into your calendar that during that timeframe, say from 9:30 to 10:30, this is what you’re doing. You’re not also checking your email, you’re not watching your kids or playing a game with your kids, you are not filling out paperwork, you are not charting. You are watching this webinar. You are learning from this webinar. You made an investment in this learning opportunity, so make an investment of the time that it takes to actually pay attention, to stay engaged, to let your brain follow the order of the information in the way that the speaker intended it.

As speakers put together presentations, they are endeavoring to take you down a path so that you can learn a series of information generally in an order, in a timeline. If you are constantly coming in and out of it with your attention, you are definitely not within the timeline that the speaker intended. That is cheating yourself out of this process that the speaker actually invented for you. The speaker wanted this to happen in a certain order and they wanted you to get all of these parts of the story so that you could use this information in the best way possible and if you are not able to be fully present for the way that they present it, that is going to impact your ability to really hear and process all of the information that they pass along. It seems like a simple little thing, and it seems like it might not be that important, but to be fully present and engaged during that timeframe makes a difference in terms of how you follow the story of that information. I guarantee it is going to make a difference in how you are able to retain that information and apply it to what you’re using.

2 - Next tip - number 2 - let’s think about this for a second: you know that part at the beginning of the training where the person or the organization who’s hosting generally they’re going to get up there, get on the microphone and they’re going say “OK, and today, I’d like to tell you a little bit about our speaker.” They’re going to read you a paragraph or two or more about the person who is going to present the training. Listen to that biography. Listen to that introduction. Listen to their history. Listen for things in that background of the speaker that really jump out at you. What is interesting, different, fascinating, similar - what do you hear in this biography of a person that feels important to you? What kind of context does it give you to hear where this speaker received their training? How much does it teach you to know that the perspective of this person is going to be different than yours because they grew up in a different place than you?

Think about the things that they have chosen to include in their biography because speakers write their own biography. We write our own autobiographies in life and we decide what we choose to share with the world. They’re choosing to tell you things that they feel are important about their experience and their background because they want you to know those things and they feel that it will improve your ability to relate to them and your ability to trust the information that they share with you.

Listen for things in that introduction that are meaningful to you. Did this person have the same trajectory of their career as you? Did they also start out working in the same kind of setting as you did? Did they receive their training during the same timeframe as you? Do they currently have a job or a position or a role that sounds incredibly fascinating and you have a lot of questions about that, not to mention the knowledge and the training they’re about to pass on to you in the training? There’s always something in people’s biography or introduction that can really get you to think about the speaker and who they are and find something that helps you relate. Really listen for those things that do interest you or fascinate you about where this person came from and possibly how their perspective formed - maybe why they think about things in the way that they do.

You know, the easiest example to think about here is that when you're talking to or listening to somebody speak who had a background in another medical, licensed profession, say before they became an IBCLC, you know that what THEY know and what they practice is definitely affected by that - it’s impacted by their understanding of something else.

You have this opportunity to find that out and sort of get a hint as to where this information is coming from, why they think the way that they do, and how that feels for you. If that feels like something that’s going to be relevant and how that information is going to supplement what you already know, be something completely different because you don’t have any of the background that they do other than the lactation part, and really just how their whole perspective was formed and what their identity is by what they have included in their biography. What do THEY feel is important for people to know about them in order to trust them and to accept their information and be willing to sit and listen to them talk for an hour or however long their presentation will be.

3 - Next, this is the most boring one on here. I’m just going to warn you right ahead of time. Take note of the Learning Objectives. Wow. We like to definitely skip over these things. But here’s another place where the speaker spent time - intentional time - creating learning objectives that were defining what this presentation would be. So we often think of the preparation of a presentation as being the abstract. But the abstract is not necessarily how this entire presentation is going to be broken down. The abstract can actually end up being more of a rationale for why we want to give this talk, why we want to teach this information, whereas the learning objectives, using very specific language that is required by whoever is offering the continuing education units, they have to include certain language. Like “the learner will be able to identify” or “the learner will be able to describe” and so the speaker has spent time deciding what they want you to be able to do at the end of this presentation. So you can take this as a challenge. You can say to yourself “Ok, they said this is what I’m going to learn and this what I’m going to be able to do - let’s make sure that happens.” And if you do this and you are really engaged with that process, you will be listening more for the exact things that they are attempting to get across to you. And as a bonus tip for you, you will have an easier time answering the questions on the post-course evaluation because they are designed to help find out if this speaker met their objectives. “Were these learning objectives met?” If they were not, that’s the kind of feedback people need.

Sometimes speakers are aware that they stray off topic more than they feel that they should. Sometimes they are not aware of that and they need feedback to be able to find that. But likewise, speakers who spend a lot of time preparing learning objectives and work really hard to take you through this timeline and framework of what they’re teaching you, they want to make sure that they met their objectives because it’s a lot of work to put a presentation together. They want to make sure that it’s a really effective one so that if they’re asked to give it again somewhere else or have another opportunity to speak on this, they can make it better and better each time. But it really can be a challenge for you to ensure that you are actually listening for the things that are described in the Learning Objectives. So if those objectives say “the learner will be able to describe 3 ways to manage this particular problem,” well, hopefully your notes at the end of this presentation are going to include at least 3 ways to manage this or that problem. That’s the kind of thing that you can challenge yourself to do that will help you in multiple ways. I know it’s boring, I know it sounds a little bit dry, but it really does work and it helps you to give better feedback when you are done with the presentation and to make sure that if you’re taking notes, that your notes are the right notes. That’s what they wanted you to learn, so that’s what you came away with.

4 - Next we’ll talk a little bit more about this whole note-taking notion. I do believe and I recommend that it is important during a presentation, if you are learning online, to do something with your hands while you are paying attention to this presentation. So for some people what that means is that they’re taking notes by hand and that’s enough for them to be able to get this information to process in their brain in a different way. We know - there’s plenty of research - that demonstrates that taking notes by hand is more effective at helping people learn and retain information than taking notes digitally. Many people, myself included, have learned this the hard way. It doesn’t matter how many things that I type into my phone or my laptop during a presentation - those things don’t stick because my brain knows that once I’ve typed it in there it’s going to be there so it doesn’t have to remember them. It sort of prunes those things away once I have typed them. The act of typing does not cause information to be retained by my brain; it actually causes it to be pruned away, like “I don’t need this anymore, I already typed it in.”

But when we write something down, it activates different parts of our brain in a way that does engage us with the information in a different way. We have to decide where and how we write that information, whether we write out entire words, whether we make abbreviations, if we make points of emphasis or circles or we underline something - all of those things matter to how we feel about this information, how we process it at the time as well as what we see and remember when we look at those notes later on. If we’re looking at our own typed notes from a presentation later on, what we will see is a bunch of text which could be a book, a magazine, it could be anything. It doesn’t necessarily retain any huge memory of what happened at that event.

I’ve got notes like this, I’ve got notes in my laptop that are from breastfeeding summits years ago where I was just typing away and taking notes on my computer because I thought that that would be a good way for me to maintain. But I’ll tell you: when I look at those notes, I don’t even know what some of them had to do with what was going on and I certainly don’t - it doesn’t trigger any memories of what was happening during that training.

Writing things down with your hands with a piece of paper and a pen or markers or something special that really makes you engage with it - some people like to use highlighters, using things that can help you engage your brain and your hand-eye coordination in a different way can help you retain information better. This works on kids, but it also works on adults. A lot of us have actually gotten to see that in action as we’ve seen our children doing their online learning over the past 6 months. These are things that really do work for us as well.

If you’re not a note-taker, maybe you don’t like to take notes or you don’t feel like you need to take notes, or taking notes is a very brief activity for you where you’re not writing things down all the time, you’re watching things on the screen, but maybe you actually have something else you can do with your hands that will free up your brain to really listen to what’s going on. That could be an activity like knitting or crocheting, which if you think about it, many people do that at in-person conferences. If you think back to some of the conferences you’ve been to, there’s almost always a person walking around with their bag of yarn and during the presentations you see them sit down and they get out their blanket or scarf that they’re working on and they are knitting away while they’re listening to this presentation. And they’re almost always going to ask a question at the end that totally indicates and demonstrates that they are completely paying attention. Their attention is not drawn away by this activity, and that’s kind of the key here: you want to choose something that isn’t going to draw your attention away, but allow your brain to function in a way that you’re able to listen and process information while you’re also doing something with your hands. Again, engaging the hand-eye coordination, so it could be something crafty like that, it could be ironing your clothes - you don’t have to really think about things when you’re ironing, right?

My mom’s a big ironer, loves to iron everything and it never fails, she will iron while she’s on the phone, she will iron if she is watching TV, and it’s just something that she can do that frees up her mind and her brain to think through problems and you know, that can be a very - not mindless, but an activity that really frees you up.

5 - Another thing that you could do would be drawing or doodling or coloring and there are plenty of adult coloring books available now for things like that. So there’s lots of ways you can occupy your hands, engage your hand-eye coordination while you’re listening to a presentation that will actually, even though it seems like on the surface it might distract you, we’re looking for activities that aren’t going to be distracting that don’t involve their own level of thinking about what’s going on. I am doing something with my hands even right now as I’m talking through and recording this podcast. I find it very soothing and it really does actually free up my brain because my hands are busy doing this, and when I need to make a note, I just have to pick up my pen and write on the paper. It’s no big deal, it’s no problem for me to transition from an activity that keeps my hands busy to hand-writing my notes and listening to the presentation. That’s the kind of multi-tasking our brains can actually do. But things like task-switching between checking emails and listening to a presentation on your laptop - those things aren’t going to work as well together because certain things draw your attention completely away while other things free up your brain to be able to use your hand-eye coordination in one spot and your brain to listen in the other spot.

Even if you are not the type of person who needs to take a bunch of notes on new information, or if you are taking this course and this presentation because it is interesting to you but it’s not necessarily new information - you were simply looking for a different perspective or it’s from a speaker that you’ve always wanted to hear, you’ve heard great things about them - you know, there’s a lot of reasons that we sign up for specific things, and not every course that we take is the kind of course where we have to take 3 pages of notes on a 1-hour presentation. If either of those are true, and it’s just not a situation where you’re going to be taking a lot of notes, I still recommend taking a few. Those notes might not be notes on the new information you’re hearing. They might be the ideas and inspiration that are popping into your head as the person’s talking. While they’re talking, maybe they say something about how they implemented this idea and it makes you think “Hey, wait a minute, we could do that in my community clinic and this is one of the things that we would need to do in order to do that.” Those might be the notes that you come away with, and I do have notes like that from events that I’ve attended. Sometimes what those notes are are notes that I wrote to one of my colleagues that I was sitting with at the table during the presentation and then showed it to them so that we could both think about it while we were listening to that presentation. It’s amazing how distracted we can get, right, during presentations whether we’re in person or virtual.

But we also do have these opportunities for great ideas to pop in and for inspiring stuff to happen in our brains and if we don’t write it down, often it runs away. It escapes into the atmosphere and we will never remember it. So if you are going to walk away from this training with anything at all, one of the most important things that you can walk away with is a piece of paper which says “This is an idea that I had during this training.” That is what is valuable about that training to you. That is what it made your brain think about and how it wants to apply the information and the ways that it was shared. That’s how your brain feels that it can be applied in your situation. So really think about using note-taking as your way of recording what your brain is saying to you while you’re listening to this other random person talk about the job that you both do and the job that you both love. There’s a really great opportunity there, there’s a lot of treasure in listening to other people.

I just want to insert here - I should have said it at the beginning and I kind of forgot - but I do have a checklist of this and you’ll be able to download this checklist from my website so if you are not actually taking notes at this time, if you’re not writing this down and you’re thinking “I might not remember all these things,” don’t worry, I’ve got a checklist to make it easy for you. I’ll bring you back to that at the end, but I’ve got a couple more things.

6 - Challenge yourself to think of at least 1 question to ask during the Q&A or afterward by email. Maybe you have a question that’s really complicated or involves a lot of background that you would need to share in order to even ask the question. Or maybe you are thinking of a question: something that you feel like the speaker should have included or could have included or just something that’s related and they didn’t have time to cover. Think of that question and decide: am I asking this during the Q&A? If you have time, maybe you’re the person that’s going to put that first question in the chatbox or the first person that’s going to be able to turn on their microphone and start asking questions. Or maybe you want that question to go directly to the speaker. Most presentations include a way to communicate with the speaker afterwards, whether you’re sending that to the sponsoring organization or you’re sending it directly via email. A lot of speakers will share their email so that you can send questions afterward.

But challenge yourself to think of a question so that you’re engaging with the information that they’re sharing. You’re really thinking about it and processing it so that you can have something that you can come away with that is going to be relevant and useful for you. A question you need answered, even after their presentation, or a way to demonstrate that you were thinking about this information - “and here’s something I thought of that, if it was part of your presentation, would make it even better.” Those are things that people do appreciate and are able to use.

We think about those things as speakers, as ways to improve that presentation for next time. So that’s another way that kind of feedback is helpful, not only for you but for the speaker and for the sponsoring organization. If the organization who’s sponsoring the actual presentation or training is able to look at the Q&A and think “Wow, everybody asked about how this topic relates to that topic! Maybe our next training should be on that topic.” That’s the way that these things sort of build on themselves, so the way that you ask questions is really important, not only for you but for everybody. It’s also just a great way for you to check yourself and hold yourself accountable to actually be listening because you have to be listening and you have to be engaged with the information in order to think of a relevant, useful question to be able to ask the speaker in the Q&A or later on via email.

7 - Another thing you can do while you’re listening: you know, the isolation part of watching a training by yourself is part of the problem here. You aren’t having the opportunity to interact in real time with the other people who are seated at your table, someone else in the room, people that you run into after the presentation is over - you’re not having that opportunity for that personal contact, that personal rapport with other people who are also engaged with this information. So while you’re listening, definitely take a minute to think about who do you know that would be interested in talking with you about the information you just learned or heard? If they’re not taking this training themselves, then even better because you’re going to have the opportunity to share some new things with them.

But whatever you’re hearing, whatever information your brain is picking up out of this training, think about who you want to talk to about it. Who do you want to email about it when this is over? Who do you want to call? Who do you want to interact with in your workplace about the information you just heard? Because that’s going to immediately remind you of another context in which to use and process this information. If you’re just hearing it as something that’s abstract, you aren’t necessarily thinking about a way that you can apply it. But once you start thinking about that other person - say you work in a hospital and your friend works at WIC - and you think to yourself, man, I really should tell her about this - then you start thinking about “Well, why? Why does she need to hear about this - well, because in the context of where she works, this would be really relevant or this would make things really efficient.”

Thinking of a colleague to share the information with is going to help you get that information put into an additional context and give it some more relevancy to your actual life and your actual practice.

8 - Finally - last one! - when all of it is over, when the presentation has ended, when the training is over, and you have a piece of paper with some notes on it - remember, those notes might be new information that you’ve learned, it might be information about the speaker that you found interesting, it might be information, ideas or colleagues that you want to talk to about this, or it might be ideas that you were inspired about during this presentation and this information - take those notes and turn them into action items. I am serious - re-write this on another piece of paper and write those things as action items with a little empty box next to them so that you can check it off when you do it.

So when it says on your page of notes “Try this new strategy in our clinical setting” or it says “Tell Natasha about this thing - talk to Natasha about what we learned in this setting” or “email this speaker about how they managed to go from working in that setting to working in the setting where they work now” because that’s what you heard in their bio or their history. Look at those things as action items, and make yourself a list of action items. Then you’re going to be, again, remembering and acting on the information that you’ve heard in this virtual training.

I hope these tips have been helpful for you, inspiring you to think of ways that you can be more engaged with virtual trainings because they really are totally valuable. You can use these strategies to make them even more valuable for you and to get more value out of them. Because the last thing any speaker or sponsoring organization wants to see is that people are signing up for trainings and then not really using them to learn or to be inspired or to act and create change.

Everybody wants their training and their courses and their presentations to have an impact on people, and if you are having an impact with the things that you’re learning, you’re more likely to be putting those things out into the world. It makes everything better when you are more engaged with the information, in addition to the fact that it makes you better and it helps you learn more to engage more with that information.

I hope these things are helpful for you and I know that we talked through 8 different strategies with lots of little tips along the way, so I also created a totally free checklist that you can download from my website. You can go to and just click on the Free tab on the top, and you will see it’s the very first thing that comes up on that page - you can sign up and get this checklist downloaded right away. It comes right to you after you fill out the little form and request it. It comes right to you automatically to download and print if you’d like. There’s some other free, useful resources that are on that page as well that you might want to explore.

Just check that out - again, it’s and the tab on the top says Free. Lots of stuff for you to look at and download for free - that’s why it says free. They’re all free, useful resources for you. Hopefully they help you to fulfill your own mission in the work that you do. I look forward to the next time that we get to be together here on The Lactation Training Lab Podcast! Thanks a lot. Have a great day!


Listen to Episode 3 here!

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