Humanize your message | Speak to be understood

For more than eight years, Sarah Clarke has headed up Intuition’s learning solutions and consultancy service in North America with offices in New York City.

She and her team have delivered many innovative and clever learning solutions to challenging training problems over the years, and picking a favorite poses something of a challenge itself.

“There are just so many projects to choose from, I really would struggle to pick a favorite,” said Sarah.  Her projects have included blended learning, custom learning, mobile learning, and instructor-led “classroom” services to a broad range of markets, including financial services, the public sector, and medicine and life sciences.

Designing for People
There is, however, one common approach that Sarah always uses regardless of client or industry: “We focus on getting to the heart of the employees’ pain point and identifying and understanding the humans involved,” she explained. ”The solution needs to be designed for them and built around them.”

Identifying the human element and connecting employees to learning objectives are the first steps Sarah takes when tasked with designing and delivering a solution; this human-centric approach is something that distinguishes Intuition from other suppliers in the industry. “Intuition can produce any kind of creative media treatment and we demonstrate that very quickly and upfront in any conversation with our clients,” she said. “However, while our work is beautiful and speaks for itself, the focus must always be on the people involved.”

Good storytelling is an integral part of what Sarah and her team do; using stories to bring to life otherwise two-dimensional policy has been a particularly effective technique for transmitting and communicating information that people assume they already know (or that there’s no immediate urgency to know.)

“Policies, compliance, and regulation are core competencies: in most cases, we start off with fairly dry content and work to humanize the story,” said Sarah, who went on to tell us about a time where she employed just such an approach. “One particular client struggled with getting employees to download a Workplace Safety app detailing protocols around remote working.  By downloading the app, they would have the ability to support customers from home in the event of a disaster.”

Sarah’s client had already pulled together a creative in-house solution based on this policy, however, the uptake was slow and eventually stalled. It was a classic case of leading a horse to water and finding it disinclined to drink; people just weren’t that interested and, as a result, downloads of the app faltered and the learning objectives went largely unfulfilled.

Sarah’s challenge came with the realization she had to make employees care and moreover she didn’t have a lot of time to convince them.

“Most company protocol and policy is in the event that something traumatic and dramatic happens,” explained Sarah. “The reality is that most of that stuff never happens and for that reason the audience flushes all messaging out of their heads pretty quickly. People assume they’ll never have to know it, so downloading an app on the off chance they can’t get into the office because of a catastrophe comes pretty far down their daily list of priorities.”

Finding the Right Theme
Sarah’s approach to the problem evolved through the relentless asking of “why?” Why is it that people don’t show up to fire drills? Why do they rarely read the safety information on aircraft? Why is it that people seem nonplussed by their utter lack of preparation in the event of a natural disaster?

“All these interesting kinds of questions about the business, about the audience, and about the category, help us define what the solution should be,’ said Sarah. ‘For this particular client, we really honed in on the fact that people think it’s never going to happen. We decided to make that our theme – all the things that can happen that you never think are going to happen.”

The end training solution produced was a micro-piece of video – lasting no longer than five minutes – delivering meaningful and memorable content. “What we understood of the audience was that they were incredibly data focused – statistics were their core competency – so we thought, why don’t we incorporate what they ultimately thrive on into the training? We gave them statistics around things that they don’t think will happen spliced with interesting facts.”

“We introduced fictitious characters that used the safety equipment – people don’t care that this equipment is on every floor, but they do care about the people that were saved because of it. It was such a broad topic and that’s what made it a challenge.”

“We cut the solution down by about four-fifths and ended up with a piece of training that was high energy and very entertaining,” explained Sarah. “And we were calling people out a little bit on why they don’t follow protocol. We just humanized the story.”

Microlearning and video, both of which were used in the solution discussed, are increasingly utilized in the corporate training and learning world. While video is nothing new, the way that it is used is changing – shorter, conversational scripts with greater immediacy and the use of piece-to-camera orientation are very much on trend. The need for short, sharp blasts of training that can be completed on the commute to work or during gaps in the working day is also in vogue.

“A lot of our interesting cases come from the challenge of delivering something that’s shorter but also impactful and memorable,” said Sarah. “Microlearning isn’t a silver bullet solution to people getting bored on courses. It’s actually a very powerful solution to make sure that, in the short amount of time you have someone’s attention, you use it to communicate something that they will remember.”  And it’s not about simply chopping up larger traditional 60 minute courses into bite-sized nuggets and assuming the change in format alone will deliver the learning goods.  It’s about using those five minutes in a different, arresting manner that captivates, holds attention and then, through a stronger, smarter narrative, gives learners what they really need to know.

“Lastly, it’s about getting it to our audience.  This particular microlearning was available through a Learning Management System on the company’s intranet and website. We wanted to promote it even further. Using e-mail, it was successfully marketed in different ways, popping up in a provocative interactive video manner. It stirred interest with questions like “What would You do in this scenario?”: a super high-end drive to get people to download the app.

Before the training, downloads of the app had stalled. After the training, there was huge surge of people downloading it from home. Result. “