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Connecting With the Learning Community – Bianca Woods

The Learning and Development community is not always easy to break into. Even in an office setting with a relatively large training team, finding one’s connection into the community can be a herculean pursuit.

In this week’s podcast, we talk to someone who works hard to solve this problem. Bianca Woods of the Learning Guild discusses how to leverage free tools like Twitter to connect with like-minded, or maybe like-questioned – groups of people who have regular discussions about topics in our industry.

Tune in this week, and every week to learn more about what other professionals are doing to push our industry forward!

Listen using the player below. Please leave us your thoughts in the comment section or on twitter @train_champion.

Transcript of the Conversation with Bianca Woods

Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to the Train Like You Listen podcast, a weekly podcast of all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, co-founder and CEO of Endurance Learning. And today I am joined by Bianca Woods, who is the Senior Manager of Programming at The Learning Guild. Hello, Bianca.

Bianca Woods: Hey, Brian. How are you doing today?

Brian Washburn: I am doing excellent. How are you?

Bianca Woods: I am sufficiently toasty.

Brian Washburn: [LAUGHTER]

6-Word Introduction

Brian Washburn: Well, thank you for joining us. And as we always start out, we like to introduce our guests, or have our guests introduce themselves, in exactly six words. And today’s topic, we’re going to be talking about tweetchats– or specifically, #GuildChat, which you’re involved with. But before we get started, why don’t we introduce ourselves using exactly six words?

So me– “I learned a lot on Twitter”. How about you?

Bianca Woods: This was a brutal question. I’m glad you warned me about this in advance. The best I could come up with in six words was, “I help people do their jobs.”

Brian Washburn: Which is exactly true. I think that anybody in the learning & development field, if they frame it that way, it will really behoove them.

Social Media as a Game-Changer 

Brian Washburn: So a few weeks ago we had Mike Taylor on here, and he was talking about the importance of social media as a tool to connect L&D professionals. How about you? What have been some of the best ways you’ve leveraged social media to just be better at what you do?

Bianca Woods: Yeah. Social media– I’m going to be honest– has been huge for me. So I had trouble getting into Twitter initially. I’m going to say 2012, I was at the DevLearn conference. I was there all by myself, very lonely. And I thought, all right, I’m going to try this Twitter thing again. I’ll live-tweet some sessions, just like tweet up my key insights. And I’ll share them with people at work. And maybe there will be some people at the conference I can meet through Twitter. I don’t know. I really had no idea.

And it was this huge game-changer for me. Like a lot of conferences, DevLearn has a hashtag, which is something that you can use to identify your tweets so that people know you’re talking about a specific thing, or in this case, an event. And through the hashtag– because you can follow the hashtag on Twitter– I was able to meet so many people that year, which was great, because like I said, I was there by myself. That can be kind of lonely at a conference.

So I had gone in with this intention of, I’ll just share whatever I bump into and see what happens, and I ended up making a whole bunch of great industry friends out of it. And that group has just continued to grow. 

Using Social Media in the Field of Learning & Development

Bianca Woods: And professionally, I’ve used it for bouncing ideas off of other people, for questions, especially when I’m using tools– like, “oh, well, I’m having trouble doing X in this tool. And has anyone ever used this tool? Do you know how to fix this?” If I can’t find the answer via Google, I can inevitably find the answer via my online social network.

I’ve bumped into great articles from following other people. I love it for getting to see other people’s projects in learning & development. People are amazing at working out loud. Things like that. So you get to be exposed to other people in our industry in ways that you would almost like if you were working in the same office, only you might work in a completely different country.

Brian Washburn: You know, that’s one of the coolest things I’ve found about it, too. And just listening to what you were talking about, I had the exact same experience two years later. So you’re two years ahead of me. And I was also, Twitter, eh, 140 characters– what can you do with it?

Bianca Woods: Way back in the days of less characters.

Brian Washburn: Right, right, right.

Bianca Woods: Because we are old.

Live Chat Sessions on Twitter

Brian Washburn: Right. So I was at DevLearn in 2014, and there was actually a live session. It was like one of those 7:30-in-the-morning sessions.

Bianca Woods: 8:00 in the morning buzz sessions. Yeah.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. And it was a live session with #GuildChat. And so it was a bunch of us sitting in a room. And you were there. I remember you there.

It was weird because we were all sitting in a room, and everybody’s looking at their device and typing answers to questions. So we’re all interacting with each other, but we’re not talking to each other. But it was a really cool experience. And having the opportunity to do that with other people in the same room even though we weren’t talking, that was kind of what got me into Twitter.

And exactly what you said– it’s an opportunity to meet people who you otherwise wouldn’t be able to meet– not just regular conference attendees, but also “thought leaders”, which, you know, I never had exposure to or access to people like that before. So people who are writing books, people who run these organizations. And we’ve talked a little bit– we’ve started to talk a little about Twitter and #GuildChat, or #LearnChat. Can you talk a little bit more, just in general, about what a Twitter or a tweetchat is?

What is a Twitter chat or Tweetchat?

Bianca Woods: Yeah. So it’s pretty simple. Basically, it’s a set-aside time for people who want to gather and talk about a particular topic. We’ve got a few Twitter chats in the L&D space, but I’ve seen them in all sorts of other fields as well. I’ve seen, like, classroom teachers have them, people in marketing, designers, all kinds of things.

But basically, it’s an opportunity to have a guided discussion, and usually in a set time period. More often than not, I see them kind of run in that 30-minute to 60-minute period. So you would be told, “be on Twitter for 2:00 PM”, and you’d be there for an hour. And there’s an account that you follow that will be tweeting out questions at a regular interval.

And they’re usually preset questions around a theme. And you might know the theme going in, or you might not. And then you follow the account that’s sharing the questions, and you follow the hashtag.

And when you want to answer a question, you put the question number in your tweet, you put the hashtag in the tweet so other people can see it, and you put your answer– sometimes it takes a few tweets to get through an answer. That’s all cool. And then you can follow what other people are sharing about their own answers. And it’s just a really excellent way to just come together with some other people who are as keen about some topic as you are.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. So when you talk about kind of nerding out over learning & development because —

Bianca Woods: Yes.

Brian Washburn: –this is an opportunity to do it. And it’s an opportunity to do it in a safe space where you can participate as much as you want, or really just kind of lurk, and just kind of watch what other people are sharing. 

What is #GuildChat and the Learning Guild Community?

Brian Washburn: Now, you are involved specifically with something called #GuildChat. Can you tell us a little bit more about #GuildChat, and why someone may want to block off time on their Fridays to engage with the Learning Guild community?

Bianca Woods: Yeah. So I work for The Learning Guild. We were formally known as The e-Learning Guild– just dropped the “e” recently. And Fridays we have our own Twitter chat all about all things learning & development. A lot of the time we’re kind of playing in the “do the thing” space.

So how do you tackle this challenge? How do you address this issue we commonly see in learning & development? Where people who show up are all pretty keen on practical, sharing their lived experience, not sharing, “well, theory says we should do this”. Sharing things like, “well, here’s how it worked at my company”, or “here’s how it didn’t work when I tried this”, or “here’s some tools that I found that helped.”

The people are lovely. They’re really just nice people who like to share. it’s a mix of some new people, some different people, some same people every week. And it’s just a nice time to set aside on Fridays. It’s 2:00 PM Eastern, 11:00 AM Pacific. Spend an hour chatting with some people who are like-minded, like you. They really care about doing a great job in learning and development, and really care about learning from other people.

Brian Washburn: And you can find it if you go into Twitter, in the search bar, and you type in #GuildChat.

Bianca Woods: Yep.

When Your Boss Finds You Using Social Media in the Workplace

Brian Washburn: You can find the current chat, you can find previous chats and answers and things like that. Because I think that still this idea of, if you’re not in a training room or if you’re not on an LMS, you’re not necessarily learning. So if you’re on Twitter, you’re kind of goofing around. Do you have any advice for somebody, and they’re concerned that their boss might walk by their desk and see them spending an hour “playing around on Twitter”? What should they say?

Bianca Woods: Yeah. And I think this is one of those times where– know your boss. Like, because I could tell you– I’m going to give you some general advice, but you’re going to need to tweet this for whoever your boss is. In a lot of cases, though, I’d say be upfront. This shouldn’t be a surprise that your boss finds you doing this. You want your boss to know ahead of time you’re going to be doing it. And frame it from a “this is helping you do professional development for free.”

So it’s not about having fun meeting people that are your industry friends, although that’s absolutely a component of it. But your boss is probably going to care a little bit less about that, but being more keen about “I’m learning from other people in our industry, I’m getting exposed to new ideas that I can then bring into our organization. I’m using this network to help us find new ideas to solve the problems that we have.”

If it’s helpful, and you think it will be helpful for your boss, you can show your boss a previous #GuildChat just quickly when you have a one-on-one with them. And say, here’s the kind of stuff that comes up here, the kinds of people that show up, if they’re someone who is motivated by names.

I mean, you would hope not. I think there’s lots of people in our field who have lots to share who don’t have books. But no, sometimes that’s going to be the thing that motivates a boss. Show them, oh, these people who come to #GuildChat are regular conference speakers, and I get to participate in this for free. Free is a nice motivator.

But yeah, I think it’s really easy for someone to just walk by your desk and go, “oh, you’re just goofing off”, when they see a social network open. So just make sure that they know you’re not.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. And I know that for me, when I used to work in an office, if I would see a topic, especially like an HR-related topic or something that was related to something they were talking about on the HR L&D team, I would pull a couple of coworkers aside, and we’d block off a conference room to actually sit there and participate in it. And I know that it was also something that I’d block off my calendar.

So Bianca, thank you so much for talking a little bit about the Twitter chats. 

Get to Know Bianca Woods

Brian Washburn: Before we go, we always wind down our podcast with a few speed-round questions so that folks can get to know our guests a little bit more, and a little bit more about how they think and how they operate. And I know that you’ve done a lot of presentations.

Bianca Woods: Yes.

Brian Washburn: When it comes to eating before you present, what is your go-to meal before you present?

Bianca Woods: It depends for me, because it depends on if I’m running the event that I’m speaking at or not. If I’m running the event I’m speaking at, chances are I have almost no time for food whatsoever. So I usually carry protein bars or KIND bars with me. I’ll just kind of jam them in my mouth beforehand. You know, it’s sufficient fuel. It’s not amazing, but it gets the job done. The last thing you want when you’re talking is to feel kind of wobbly.

Now, if I’m not running the event and I actually have some time, one thing I’ve really liked that I’ve gotten to eat at DevLearn a few times because of the location is they have a crepe spot, and they do a spinach and cheese crepe that I find is just like it’s really perfect for giving you just enough fuel, good vitamins, it sits really nice. If you’re someone who gets nervous before a presentation, having your food sit nicely is something you want to think about for a pre-event meal. Yeah, you don’t want to fill up too much. But you don’t want to get wobbly. So it’s that middle spot.

Brian Washburn: OK. I haven’t thought of that before. I’m usually kind of like just kind of fruit and berries and stuff, because I can’t do it. But the idea of a crepe really sounds really good. How about training tech? What’s something you can’t live without?

Bianca Woods: My phone. My phone, absolutely. It is integrated into everything I do. I use it to create media all the time. I use it to take pictures of things that I want to remember for later, or pictures of things that I want to use for inspiration. I use it for Twitter and reaching out to people. If this thing suddenly disappeared and I couldn’t get another one, it would have this massive impact on how I learn.

Brian Washburn: How about a book or a podcast that people should be listening to or reading right now?

Bianca Woods: All right. So if I was teaching the instructional design course right now, the book that I would make required reading for everyone is called “Design for Real Life”. It’s by Eric Meyer and Sara Wachter-Boettcher. It is all about designing not for the ideal experience, but for stress points, and also sort of the ethics of how we design, and which I think is incredibly important for us to think about.

Like, who are our end users? What are they going through when they’re encountering whatever it is we’ve created for them? What are the worst-case scenarios in which they might be going through what we’ve created for them, and how would that impact how they use it? And are there ways that what we create gets in their way? And I think this book is amazing for helping people think through that. It’s also a pretty quick read.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. And I like this idea– I love this idea, actually, of designing for how people learn when they need it, and making it useful. Before we go, do you have any shameless plugs for us?

Bianca Woods: The Learning Guild, because we were talking about conference speaking and fueling up for it– we’ve actually got a call for proposals out right now for Learning Solutions 2021 conference in March. If you are interested in speaking, if you are pondering speaking and not sure if you want to, really, throw in a proposal and reach out to me.

One of the best parts of my job is I get to set aside time to talk to people who are either working on a proposal and want some tips or aren’t sure if they’re ready to do a conference session and want to have a sense of, am I ready? Does my topic seem like a fit?

I can’t tell you if your proposal is going to make it in or not, because I don’t know what other people have submitted. But I can do a lot to help you polish up what you’re going to submit and make sure that it’s a great fit for the event.

Brian Washburn: And that’s one of the things that I’ve always been impressed with the Learning Guild, is that they want to get new, fresh faces in front of the crowd, which I think is really neat. Is there a close date for that, for those who may be tuning in a little bit later?

Bianca Woods: July 24, 2020. If you happen to be hearing this after that date, we do accept late proposals.

Brian Washburn: And are you planning on that in-person, or virtual, or what are you planning for 2021?

Bianca Woods: We’re going to see what 2021 has planned for us. But we have a plan A and a plan B that we’re working on for all our events. Plan A is it’s safe to do it in-person. Plan B is it’s not– we move it all online. So we’re going to do what’s best for everyone’s health.

Brian Washburn: Bianca, thank you so much for spending some time with us. Bianca Woods, senior manager of programming at The Learning Guild. And thank you, everyone, for listening to this episode of Train Like You Listen. If you want to subscribe, you can subscribe on iTunes, on Spotify, on iHeart Radio, or wherever you hear your podcasts. Until next week, this is Brian Washburn signing off for Train Like You Listen.


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