Episode 203: No Bandwidth? No Problem! – Featuring Sylvia Saenger

How to design for learners who just don’t have the time. 

Most of us share at least one workday challenge: finding time and capacity to fit all the meetings and events we need into our workload. It can be a challenge to convene and design meetings that will successfully engage people who are stretched thin. GLP Consultant Sylvia Saenger shares three key strategies she swears by when designing for people with no bandwidth. 

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This show is produced by Global Learning Partners and Greg Tilton JR.

Theme music: ‘Pretty Face’ by Una Walkenhorst.

Read the transcript for the episode below.

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Meg (10s): [MUSICAL INTRO] Hello and welcome to Shift the Power: A Learning-Centered Podcast, where we talk about the revolutionary power of a learning-centered approach. Through this podcast, we hope to inspire creative thinking and provide practical tools and techniques to deepen learning through dialogue. I’m your host, Meg Logue. No matter what area you work in, whether corporate or non-profit, we all share at least one challenge: finding time in our day and stretching our capacity to fit meetings and events into our workload. As a designer, it can be a huge challenge to convene and design a meeting that will successfully engage people who are stretched thin. Today, we’re going to talk to GLP Consultant Sylvia Sanger about some strategies she has for working through that challenge.

Meg (55s): Welcome Sylvia! So glad to have you here today.

Sylvia (57s): Thanks for having me. I’m excited about being here.

Meg (60s): So Sylvia, when you’re tasked with designing a learning event or a meeting for a group that has limited bandwidth or availability for new content, what are your go-to strategies?

Sylvia (1m 11s): That’s a great question. Thanks. Because you know, I loved talking about this topic. When I’m doing this, we are all strapped in these days, right? Nobody’s sitting around with extra time on their hands. And so I have sort of a three go-to strategies. First, taking the time to really figure out what’s essential. You’ve got to pare down all this stuff we have and say “what’s essential?” The second piece is, once you’ve figured out that, now break that down into really small parts, small bites. I like to call them nuggets. And then the third thing is visuals. You know, the, the old saying goes a, a picture is worth a thousand words, and I couldn’t agree more. So those are my top three strategies.

Sylvia (1m 54s): So we’ll jump right in. The first strategy, finding what’s essential. What I like to do is repeatedly asked myself two questions. The first one is: what mindset do I want the person to have at the end of the course, the meeting, whatever it is I’m designing? And the second thing is: what one action, if I could only have one action, what would I like them to take by the end of the course, meeting whatever? And then you continually ask yourself that. I keep saying, okay, now you can replace the word course or a meeting with session, task, whatever, but continually asking those questions and refining and refining, so that you get down to only what’s essential.

Sylvia (2m 36s): It’s a great way to just, you know, get rid of all of those non-essential elements and, and get to that very core of what it is you’re trying to teach or do. That old adage less is more, we– I totally buy into. And the problem is today, we live in a huge abundance, right? Where are we almost always think “more is more,” but when, when we’re in this environment for you know, where everybody is strapped thin, it’s, it’s respectful really to who we’re working with to pare it down and to get it to those essential elements. Then the second piece, once we have what’s essential. Now let’s take that and break it into really small bites — nuggets — small chunks that we can actually do in the few minutes we might have.

Sylvia (3m 23s): Let’s face it. Again, if we’re going from here to there, if we have a few minutes, let’s make it useful and let’s offer one thing that a person can do, offer some mindset we can work on, but let’s keep it to one. We’re really good about asking people to do two things at once and well, that’s — right? Let’s face it, multi-tasking is it is a great idea — in theory [laughing] —

Meg (3m 45s): [laughing] We all think we’re great at it, but in, in actuality… Not so much!

Sylvia (3m 50s): We just, right? We just absolutely are not. So when we’re breaking things into small bites, I keep asking myself — “No. One, just one, you only get one Sylvia.” And then lastly, visuals, and I know this is a big thing for you as well, Meg.

Meg (4m 6s): Oh yes, oh yes!

Sylvia (4m 8s): So yeah, when, when you’re trying to do this one thing, this one mindset, if you work hard to create visuals and to find images that truly speak that, then 80% of your task is done. But, finding those isn’t always easy and creating them isn’t always easy. So one of the things that you have to remember is in order for you to save time for the people you’re working with, you do have to put in a little bit of time here to get that visual. Now, when you do that too though, if you take a, a, you know, this really amazing visual, and you put with it just a few words that are essential, you really, really, really have a powerful package.

Sylvia (4m 53s): And so you can actually convey a huge amount of information or ask for a task or something in a very succinct package, and really only be asking for essential items.

Meg (5m 9s): Fantastic. I love how clearly laid out that felt. I think you were modeling exactly what your talking about in the– in this podcast. It’s beautiful. I love it when that happens.

Sylvia (5m 19s): That’s great. Thank you. Thank you.

Meg (5m 22s): So Sylvia, what’s an example of a success story you’ve had recently that has really illustrated the impactfulness of these three strategies?

Sylvia (5m 30s): So Meg — the, the story that comes to mind or the project that comes to mind is actually a project we are doing with International Budget Partnership. And they are an organization that is global. So they have people all around the globe and we’re pretty much used to doing so much of their work face to face. And so when the pandemic hit, they had to relearn everything. They had to go virtual. And so they are slammed. They have not an ounce of extra energy, and yet, they knew they needed to learn how to host effective and efficient meetings virtually. And so Global Learning Partners was brought in to do that. So we were faced with taking what we normally teach in a two-day live class and presenting it to extremely busy and stretched thin people.

Sylvia (6m 17s): So what we did was first thing, of course, we stripped down and we said, okay, we’ve got to get to the essential elements. And then, we had to figure out how do we deliver this in a way the busy people can handle it. And so we decided to use what we call “learning nuggets,” and those are delivered to your phone. So you use your phone for the learning environment. And basically what we do is we present screens of information in an app-like feel. And what it is, is we use a very powerful image and some very succinct text. And we decided to do maybe three of those screens for a particular nugget for one day.

Sylvia (6m 57s): And we decided to do that for three days in a week. So they got three nuggets. And then at the end of the week, we had a virtual session for one hour, where we brought everybody together to then explore that content. And I’m telling you, it, it, it was, we had to do this pretty quickly, and we had to really work hard to get all that down to what was the essential and, and get those nuggets done. And we have seen absolutely amazing results. Not only did we have great participation, it was delivered on the phone. It was very succinct and small. So people were able to answer the questions, do the work. And then also high participation in the, in the meetings.

Sylvia (7m 37s): And so we believe that package really, really met their needs. So we’ve already done, I guess, two of four cohorts, and experienced all this wonderful — we’ve been able to actually see it take effect. So their meetings are starting to change, they’re starting to have more efficient and effective meetings. And so it’s just been a wonderful opportunity and a wonderful example of how we can work with people with very little bandwidth.

Meg (8m 4s): Yeah. I mean, it sounds like when you have a nugget, that’s only a few screens, that means each day, they’re only learning for about 10 minutes, right?

Sylvia (8m 13s): Oh, correct. And that was our, actually that, that number was our mission. We were trying to say, “OK, how can we present really important information and concepts and ask them to interact with that, 10 minutes or less?” And sometimes we found, we, we got them even down to five minutes or what we perceive to be five minutes in each nugget.

Meg (8m 33s): That’s fascinating. And I feel like it may feel so small, but when you spread it out, when you’re doing five or 10 minutes, three days a week for six weeks, that’s something really impactful learning.

Sylvia (8m 45s): Exactly. And really, it was such a wonderful opportunity for us to then take a look at our classes and say, okay, what is essential here? And, and honestly, you know, how little can we give the learner and let them wrestle with it and allow that experience to happen over a week. But the cool part is — right, everyone is in meetings all the time. So whatever we were teaching, they had an amazing opportunity to apply it right then and there. So it was a, it was a great opportunity to kind of spread it out in the small bits and let people do it in small bits over time.

Meg (9m 19s): Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for that, that incredible example, Sylvia, and for your three concrete strategies, that’s going to be super helpful. I’m definitely going to be mulling that and keeping that in mind as I move forward with my designs. Sylvia (9m 33s): Thank you. It’s been a pleasure being here!

Meg (9m 36s): And now as always, we, we close out our episode with an invitation for our audience to pause and ponder on what you’ve just heard. So your away for today: what’s one tip or strategy that Sylvia shared today that you might use in your next meeting or learning design? [OUTRO MUSIC] Thank you for tuning in to another episode of Shift the Power: A Learning-Centered Podcast. This podcast is produced by Global Learning Partners and Greg Tilton. With music by Una Walkenhorst. To find out more about Global Learning Partners, whether it be our course offerings, consulting services, free resources or blogs, go to www.GlobalLearningPartners.Com.

Meg (10m 24s): We invite you to sign up for our mailing list, subscribe to our podcast and find us on social media to continue the dialogue. If you enjoy the show, please consider leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts or your preferred podcast player. [OUTRO MUSIC FADES]

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