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Jon Kennard


Freelance writer

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The TrainingZone interview: Rus Slater


TrainingZone recently interviewed Rus Slater, one of our more active members recently about the publishing of his latest book for Dragons' Den and how technology won't be his sole focus when it comes to training in future.

Having had three books published through Harper Collins in the Business Secrets series, the publisher, suitably impressed, offered Rus Slater the opportunity to write the whole of the second book in the BBC's Dragon's Den series. Although the book deal didn't turn out quite the way it was planned, it confirmed Rus Slater's place among the ranks of the most knowledgeable freelance trainers.

Tell us about your last book.

In the last book I wrote, 'Dragons' Den - Start Your Own Business, From Idea to Income', I put several links to my website. There were two intentions here; one was for readers to be able to pick up further free resources and the other was to drive traffic to my website with the view to generating income. One of the streams of income I was hoping to generate was running telephone/web-delivered small group training and development courses for people wanting to start up in business. Sadly, the legal department of the BBC insisted on the removal of all the links in order to maintain their obligation to commercial impartiality.

So was training by phone out of necessity or by pre-meditated design?

This is something that I started to look into several years ago but then suddenly I got tied up in a big project and it just got left behind. That is one of the challenges of being freelance; the peaks and troughs don't just affect your bank balance, but the timing of other things as well.  This time round it's a combination of the necessity and premeditated design. My wife and I look after her mum who is in her 80s and disabled; recently my wife has suffered a serious injury to her leg and she is awaiting a major operation and is partially lame, as a consequence of these factors I would rather not spend lots of time either living out of a suitcase in hotels or leaving home at 4am. At the same time it seems that technology is giving us the opportunity to avoid clogging up the motorways and spending nine hours in the car to deliver an eight-hour workshop. Clients are also trying to find ways to reduce their costs in terms of venues, travel accommodation and travel downtimes; all this makes sense to deliver training by telephone and web-enabled facilities.

"Using the telephone allows the energy and interaction that you get in the training room to flow; it just requires a different style of design and management."

It strikes me as a decision borne out of the belief that by phone could give you the best dialogue with the client, after face-to-face training. Would you agree?

Yes, elearning and paper distance learning techniques have benefits in many circumstances and are useful in some situations but they lack the 'live' element of the face-to-face workshop. Using the telephone allows the energy and interaction that you get in the training room to flow; it just requires a different style of design and management. It has also been shown that delegates work faster on telephone exercises than they do in face-to-face situations which allows for more intensive learning activity; some studies suggest that the learning objectives of a half-day workshop can realistically be achieved in a two-hour telephone session. It is very tiring but worthwhile for all involved. I've already delivered one management training course by this means and am now actively looking for opportunities to work with businesses to develop other management training using either solely telephone training or telephone training as a part of a blended programme.

But do you think this will be a process that could get left behind as technology moves forward?

Personally no, when we say 'telephone' this includes VoIP and webinar-type facilities. The power and response time of the live human voice rather than solely the written word is what this medium is all about. The advances in web-enabled telephone training have been immense since I first looked at the medium; now you have the ability to hand control of the whiteboard to a selected delegate, run hands-up polls, let delegates share their documents as well as showing and sharing slides and documents yourself as the trainer; I can't really see how that can be bettered! The benefits of ease of access, cost reduction and bite-sized interventions are so great that I think they will stand the test of time; as an example on the first telephone web session I ran, one delegate was at the airport waiting room, between flights on her mobile and wireless laptop...that is a great example of effective use of her expensive management time. I must also point out that this will never and can never replace the training room event in some subjects; for example, if you are trying to develop face-to-face sales skills then you are going to have to come together for practice and critique to both hone the skills and build confidence. Telephone delivered-training can support this but not replace it.

What do you think are the greatest challenges for trainers as the industry changes and moves forward?

It depends what you mean by 'trainers'; folk like me who are external, independent designers and deliverers or the people in-house who are responsible for creating the learning environment for their employer's population? Donald Clark's articles on TZ set out four functional areas for the latter group of people and my experience suggests that one of their greatest challenges is being seen to be providing value in all these four areas whilst not being seen to be providing 'training'. For the independents I think the primary challenges are to combine the proven elements of traditional quality learning interventions with the latest in the technological field; it isn't just a matter of using the exact same material, exercises and approach as you would in a classroom.

And finally, give us your five top tips for independent trainers.

Now that is a see, I don't see myself as solely an independent trainer......I do some authoring, I do some management consulting, I do some training design and I do some delivery. But...

  1. Do what you love and enjoy each day as it comes.
  2. If you can't earn from it, learn from it.
  3. Always keep an eye on the pipeline income.....this is your livelihood.
  4. Don't pay too much attention to the spring 2009 I applied for work as a writer with a web-based company, I sent a sample and got a response from their "Masters degree educated top-specialist in writing" that said "to be perfectly frank I don't think writing is your forte", luckily I persevered and the following month landed a contract with HarperCollins to write a book...that became two and then three books. Then the Dragons' Den book came on the basis of that work.
  5. Network and build relationships...I still do work for people who I first worked for in the early 90s.

Rus Slater is a management consultant, L&D consultant and author. His successful track record includes organisations as diverse as Fremantle Media, the Department of Work and Pensions, Marks & Spencer, Lambeth Borough Council, British Aerospace, the Royal College of Midwives, Jaguar and Barclays Bank. He has also worked with the third sector ranging from Guide Dogs for the Blind to Startup. This year he has had four books published by HarperCollins and has embarked on the delivery of training events over the internet and phone.

Author Profile Picture
Jon Kennard

Freelance writer

Read more from Jon Kennard

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