I am running a training session for external users of our software product soon, and am currently planning how to approach it. I have a good idea how to run through the specifics of our platform (sustainability data management and analysis), but how can I ensure that I keep it clear, relevant, and address all the needs of the audience?

1 - Does anyone know of any guidance out there on running such a session?

2 - Does anyone have any tips or tricks that can bring the session to life?

Any previous experiences or advice would be amazing, thanks!


Thank you for the answers. After thinking on this and a little research, my current feeling to getting people to understand and remember the process of performing certain tasks is...

1 - start with the background, why they are here, what the benefit of the product is to them. make it relevant and important to them to get their attention.
2 - bring them up to speed with progress so far so they get the context, then explain what's next (the step they are involved in).
3 - introduce the main tasks they will be performing. explain all of the 'why' and 'what' now. this is key so that they can then concentrate solely on the 'how' when you....
4 - ...run through visually and verbally the process for them to observe, keeping it simple and not distracting them with caveats or clauses.
5 - provide handouts and get them to run through a few exercises themselves, whilst helping and assisting.
6 - group questions, so that they can all benefit from each others first experiences.
7 - recap, then move onto the next task.

Does this seem like a good approach and structure?


5 Answers 5


You could organize your session over a weekend with a 3 days schedule: friday evening, saturday and sunday (ending sunday around 4 pm). Avoid to much magistral teaching : somebody who speaks for a long time with non interaction from those who listen. You can do some kind of simulation or work team, dividing the participants of your session in small groups to do a specific task. Then there could be a period where a representative from each team can explain to the others what they found or did. You should have some questions and answers periodes. You can watch a video. You can also do an auto evaluation, mid session or/and at the end of the session to verify if you are on the right track. You can chose 2 or 3 people who can share their own experience to the participants, just for 5 minutes for example. Plan long break times, especially at the beginning of the session to facilitate socialisation. You can have a kind of a game going with the theme of you session to break the ice. So, in summary, use many different pedagogic way of teaching and keep track on the receptiveness of your participants. Also turn every unplanned even into an unexpected occasion of learning something new: do not be afraid to go somewhere you did not planned to go if its is in the best interest of your participants and if the majority agrees.


I assume that you're asking here because you work at a small company and there isn't anyone there to ask...

(1) You are there to provide technical information don't try to turn this into a stand up routine...

Now for all the "soft" things that make a training meeting go well....

(1) You should have a 3-ring notebook with b/w copy of any presentations so that the students can make notes on slides. (3-Ring notebook should have company logo, or at least insert with company name.)

(2) At very start of class discuss what happens in event of fire drill? Where should people exit? Where to meet so that you can count noses?

(3) Where are restrooms? Any phones or computers that students can use? Where to hang up coats?

(4) What to do about lunch? If folks go out it can turn into a two hour wait easily. Bring in food if you can. If you have a lunchroom can you reserve a table so all the students can sit together?

(5) If this is a small company, can you have president stop by to say hi? or for lunch? Some other executive?

(6) Anyone else in company that students might have dealt with regularly? Have them stop and say hi. (Eg someone from software support...)

(7) If folks will be staying overnight have a list of nearby restaurants and directions. Give some idea of price for local restaurants that are not chains.

(8) If folks will be away at lunch be sure that room can be locked. If a customer has something stolen it will be a very very bad situation.

(9) Have pens, and paper available for notes.

(10) Diskettes, CDs, zip drives to take home "dummy data sets" if appropriate. (So I set up some spreadsheet to do a calc as part of the class. Let me save my work so that I can take it home...)

(11) Hard candy and bottles of water are nice for table. Pastries/Coffee in am? Sodas & cookies for pm snack at break?

(12) If folks can get some sort of continuing education points for this be sure to have some sort of certificate. (I'm a project manager, and this is a class on MS project with 3 days of class room time or 24 contact hours...)

(13) Some sort of feedback sheet on class, and facilities for feedback. (Folks may or may not give any useful answers but give them a chance. Optional to give name..)

(14) If this is a small company be sure that everyone that the students will come in contact with knows that these are customers. Everyone in your company must be using "company" manners.

(15) Tent cards for names. Badges/Name tags?

(16) Don't tie up class discussing a weird problem one customer is having. Tell customer you'll talk after class. (Eg Customer wants to dump something then format it to put it into their XYZ system. Unlikely that anyone else has XYZ.)

(17) Make firm commitment to end class on time on last day. (Folks may have plan to catch to get back home...)

(18) Do you intend to give out manuals for product? If you have a lot of stuff some sort of bag to hold all the junk. Ideal would be some sort of bag with your company's logo.

(19) If folks are coming from out of town do you have some hotel recommendation ready. Need directions from airport to hotel (or through town) and hotel to site.

(20) Don't try to do class alone. It is great to have someone else listening even if you do all the talking. It is very hard to listen and think about what to say at the same time. So second person can really help listen to customer's questions to be sure that questions get answered.

(21) Don't be afraid of asking "Did that answer your question?"

(22) No matter what happens, don't let them see you sweat. Stay calm. Very calm.

(23) Don't disparage anyone in your company about anything. It just makes you all look like a bunch of idiots. (Fred didn't get network set up for class? Ream Fred out of ear shot of student's...)

(24) Some other sort of company logo'ed trinket? Mouse-pad? Mug? Pens?

(25) Don't be afraid of saying "I don't know. I'll check and get back to you..." (Nobody knows all features of product.)

(26) Be sure screen for presentation can be placed so that all students can see it. Can room be darkened enough?

Hope this helps... Herb

  • What a great answer! It sounds like you have definitely done this sort of thing before and have probably learned from some bad experiences. +1
    – jmort253
    Feb 3, 2012 at 2:26
  • +1, particularly for #25. I was a software trainer for years and freeing yourself from trying to be the absolute font of all reference will make you more confident. However, make sure you follow through - grab their email address if you can't source the answer during their session. I'd also add to ensure you set out expectations right at the beginning: "we'll be covering A, B and C..." and recap that after too.
    – Gary
    Feb 3, 2012 at 9:54
  • Absolutely right Gary. Never, ever break a promise to a customer. So don't just glad hand them (Hi - glad to met you...) and then blow them off.
    – Herb Acree
    Feb 3, 2012 at 20:58
  • Indeed, thanks for these points. What I really want to know I guess relates to education theory, in terms of....how do you show someone a process they need to perform using a new tool, in a clear, concise, memorable way...I have edited my question, could you offer further comment Herb?
    – TKpp
    Feb 6, 2012 at 12:18
  • In terms of "education theory" the most basic is 1. Tell them what you're going to show them, 2. Show them, 3. Tell them what you've just showed them. You should aim (if appropriate) to mix up the types of learning: bit of reading, bit of lecturing, on-screen demos, guided exercise to complete, perhaps a screen-cap of a process... it depends how complex the software's processes is. Different learners will respond to different methods. Also how can people get advice after the session?
    – Gary
    Feb 6, 2012 at 12:50

Make sure that you use examples that relate to their situation. If they are using projects loaded with thousands of items make sure they can see it in action. Make sure you cover a few warts so that they can see how to overcome them. Give them time to play around with their own test cases or data.

Determining the length of the class is tricky, nobody wants 2 hours of material stuffed into an 8 hour day.

Learn to stand behind the computers during the class, that is the quickest way to see how they are progressing during the exercises.

Watch for a wide spread of skill sets. Some have used your software for a few weeks, others have never seen it in action. You must be able to satisfy both groups.


I find it helpful to work through the product acting out several different scenarios. Essentially demonstrating stories, if you manage your requirements that way. "Imagine you are a {usertype} that wants to {supportedAction}. Here's how we do that with this product."

After a couple of those, working through various feature sets is useful, to show people options available. Then finish up with more complex situations, and/or responding to questions.

That has worked for me, the once a year or so I present new features of the product I work on to user group meetings. Caveat, I'm a development team lead, not a trainer, there's almost certainly other ways that would work.


My advice would be to hire an experienced trainer. This is quite a specialized role that cannot be taught on this exchange. And, if you fail, you will lose your external users, who WILL reject your solution and resist the change. In fact, I'd argue that, with an experienced trainer and a proven syllabus, the risk of knowledge transfer failure is still quite high. Without it, failure is just this side of imminent.

  • ugh... resist change... every developer and PM hates to hear that phrase when it comes to their product ... +1
    – jmort253
    Feb 3, 2012 at 2:23
  • Not really an option I'm afraid, financially and the fact that I'd have to train the trainer in how to use our product (??).
    – TKpp
    Feb 6, 2012 at 12:14
  • Pay now or pay later...that is your risk. Feb 6, 2012 at 12:38
  • it is not an option. thanks for the encouragement and positivity though.
    – TKpp
    Feb 7, 2012 at 10:13
  • Sorry if I came across unhelpful. You are not the first to walk down this path. If you read about org change management and the theories of why change is resisted, you should see this as being one of the biggest reasons, users ill-equiped to actually make the change. Meaning, they do not have the tools, explicit or tacit knowledge, and/or skills to get their job done after the change. Without knowing more of the scope of your project, I would suspect this is a huge risk for you. Feb 7, 2012 at 11:40

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