You never know what is around the corner or what the world will look like in the next few years. One thing is for sure, there is a drastic increase in virtual tools to facilitate meetings, and we need to be successful working with them. The pandemic has shown many of us that virtual meetings may well be a way of working for many more of us than we ever anticipated. Now that we have the tools to do it, we somewhat expect our colleagues and coworkers to intuitively know how to create engaging experiences with these tools. Has that been your experience?
We recently spoke to Lauren Wescott and Tim Waxenfelter about how they are leading a team that has released an advanced version of Soapbox to create engaging virtual training in just a few minutes. The Endurance Learning team talks about how we moved from a tool that prioritized the instructor-led experience to a virtual experience, some lessons we learned, and what to expect from Soapbox going forward.
Tune in this week, and every week to learn more about what other professionals are doing to push our industry forward!
Transcript of the Conversation with Lauren Wescott & Tim Waxenfelter
Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to the Train Like You Listen podcast, a weekly podcast about all things L&D in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, co-founder of Endurance Learning, and I’m joined here today by two of my colleagues, Tim and Lauren.
Brian Washburn: And let’s get to know each of you with six-word biographies as we get started. Today, we’re going to be talking about this platform of Soapbox. And for me, my own six-word biography is that “soapbox has been my life’s work”. Lauren, why don’t you introduce yourself?
Lauren Wescott: My six-word biography is “classroom teacher turned virtual delivery champion”.
Brian Washburn: All right, that gets us a feel for where you’re coming from in the classroom, the K-12 environment, and transferring over to the corporate learning side. How about Tim? Why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself, then we’ll jump into the questions.
Tim Waxenfelter: OK, I think my six-word bio, and I always have to count it out on my fingers, it’s “easier, faster, and better is possible”.
Brian Washburn: Which is very true, and that’s actually why we even created Soapbox in the first place. I’ve mentioned the word Soapbox about 20 times already in the first minute of this recording. But for both Tim and Lauren, who have played integral roles in terms of bringing this to life, can you remind us about what Soapbox is? Why would someone even want to use it in this day and age of virtual meetings, especially when there’s so much virtual fatigue?
What Is Soapbox and How Does It Combat Virtual Fatigue?
Tim Waxenfelter: So I love that you started with virtual fatigue, because I think that is such a pressing issue right now, or at least feels like a pressing issue. There are a couple of really interesting things that I saw even this morning. I don’t know if anybody’s seen mmhmm. It’s very hard to say. It’s M-M-H-M-M, but it’s letting you take a Zoom meeting and put behind you a newscaster. You can have your slide showing over your shoulders so you look like John Oliver delivering the news on Sunday nights.
And there’s also, I think, Microsoft Teams has where you see everybody in stadium seating instead of in a box. And people are talking about, how do we make meetings and training sessions that feel a little warmer, a little friendlier so we’re not having so much fatigue?
From our perspective, Soapbox has always gone at the opposite side of the problem.
So the same way that a classroom training may seem really fun, and warm, and friendly because they’re throwing out candy and playing Jeopardy, then you’re like, “oh, ok, well, everybody– there’s no fatigue there. People are very– they’re happy. They’re having fun.”
We’ve always approached the other side of the problem, which is to say that that’s all well and good, but whether it’s virtual or in a classroom, we believe that the fatigue comes from poorly designed sessions. So Soapbox is really built to help you figure out what you’re trying to achieve as an organization, as a trainer, as a facilitator and turn that session into something that helps you achieve those goals.
And interactivity is part of that, but it’s that those interactions and activities really help you solve a problem. The other thing is, when we think about immediacy– so when we think about dialogue education, when Jane Vella talks about immediacy, it’s this idea that it does something for you. If you’re sitting and watching someone present something for an hour, you don’t know how that solves the problem, really.
Brian Washburn: Yeah, and so this is actually a big issue. And if you take a look at LinkedIn conversations or even at training conferences where people sometimes will say, “I don’t care if my training’s engaging, it needs to be effective, I hate this word ‘engaging’.” And when I hear that, my heart dies a little bit, just because I really think that engaging is really important, and it’s not an either-or thing.
But what you’re mentioning here, Tim, is that there’s a lot of gimmicks out there. There’s a lot of things that you can– almost the idea of putting lipstick on a pig so you can create really cool things in Zoom or Microsoft Teams. But at the end of the day, it really needs to solve a problem for the learners. And so Lauren, can you remind us a little bit more about what Soapbox is, how does it work, and why would somebody want to use it?
How Does Soapbox Work? Who Can Benefit From Using Soapbox?
Lauren Wescott: Yeah, when we talk to people about virtual training, we hear two different things. And one is the people who say, “I don’t even know where to start. I don’t even know where to begin”. And then the opposite side of that is we hear people who say, “I’m a pro. I’ve been doing this for a long time. What could you possibly have to offer me?”
And the cool thing about Soapbox is that it addresses both of those audiences. For the people who have never entered this world, you can go into Soapbox. All that Soapbox needs to know is some very basic information about your audience and what you’re trying to achieve, and then it gives you everything that you need. It gives you activities, and it tells you exactly how to perform them. It gives you slides. It gives you a facilitator guide. It gives you your handouts.
And then for those other people who say, “I’ve been around the block, I’ve seen all this stuff before”, they’re able to go into Soapbox and see activities and see things that they’ve never thought of before, that they’ve never seen. And it’s just this huge repertoire of content, of activities for people who are looking to refresh virtual training that they already have going on.
Brian Washburn: So it’s basically this tool where you put in a few factors, and it spits out the training plan for you with some materials, slides and things like that. Tim and Lauren, we’ve talked about this as this magical box. It’s almost like you put a few things out and magically a training plan appears for you.
Tim, you’ve been leading the technology side of this, creating it, and building it, and coding it. And it seems like there’s a gazillion factors that could be considered when you’re trying to design for maximum engagement. So you could be thinking about everything from education or experience of participants, whether the participants need awareness or mastery, how success would be defined.
But what Lauren was just talking about is that Soapbox only asks for a few variables before it generates a complete facilitator guide. Can you talk a little bit about how decisions were made on what to include or exclude when it comes to Soapbox? There’s so many things that people could be considering here.
The Process of Developing Soapbox
Tim Waxenfelter: That’s one of my fondest memories of the whole process is– it was a very difficult part of the process. Early on, we knew that the best online products were the products that were simple and easy to use to remove the barriers that people have. And when we put our first version– it wasn’t called Soapbox yet, but when we put the first version of this tool out there, what we found is that it had all the fields of all the things that we track when we’re creating training sessions.
And the people that we were trying to put this in front of looked at it and just– they kind of winced. And you could see in their faces that it was too overwhelming. It was too hard to deal with. We really followed, I think, the 80-20 rule, where we were just trying to get the 20% of the information we needed to get 80% of the lesson plan.
And that’s really been our goal is to eliminate fields that we might have really strong feelings about collecting that information, but if someone is going through and they have to enter 10 things instead of five things to get a lesson plan, what is the chance that they’re actually going to use the tool and be successful? So we know we can’t get you 100% of the way there.
We could ask you 100 different things, and with each of those additional questions, maybe we get you a half a percent further. But to get you 80% of the way, it was really exciting to realize that it was some simple factors that we needed, some basic questions, to get you going in the right direction. But if we add features into that flow, if it makes it more difficult to produce a presentation without showing a huge impact on the final result, then it’s not worth it to us.
Brian Washburn: Yeah, and so when it comes to the number of fields, we’ve tried to be ruthless in the prioritization. And there are some really important factors that aren’t taken into account, but they get covered by some of the other things that we do have in there. Now, on the other side of it, content and activities are things that people are always asking for. I want more activities, can we just provide a library of activities?
Lauren, you’ve been really focused on the content side here. And there are about 100 different possible activities that are loaded into Soapbox for people to use. But when activities come up, they seem to be slightly different, depending on how much time you have for your session, how big your audience is, what your objectives are.
That seems to me that there’s, like, hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of possible activity combinations that are in Soapbox. How are so many various combinations possible at the end of the day? And going back to what Tim was saying, will having slightly different sets of instructions actually matter?
How And Why Are There So Many Combinations of Activities on Soapbox?
Lauren Wescott: Virtual delivery really looks a lot different, depending on your audience and some of your technology. So if I’m doing a training on Microsoft Teams, I have a lot of different possible tools than if I was doing a training on Zoom. And Soapbox knows that. Soapbox knows what your platform is capable of, and it will only give you activities that fit your technology.
Likewise, if you’re doing a training for five people virtually, it looks a lot different than if you’re doing a training for 100 people virtually. You’re not going to want to do certain things with 100 people, but if you have an intimate audience you’re able to do different sorts of activities and different things. And then the biggest factor at play is what you’re trying to achieve, your outcome or your objective. If you’re assessing something, your activities look so much different than if you’re trying to goal set or cast a vision.
And so Soapbox takes all of those factors – your platform, your objectives, your audience – and it’s only going to show you the best activities for your audience and for your technology, and that’s what you get. So at the end of the day, there’s yeah, thousands of combinations that you could be shown, but we aren’t going to show you something that doesn’t exactly fit what you’re trying to achieve. Soapbox is really crafted to only show you the best training possible for your audience.
Soapbox Reduces Cognitive Load
Tim Waxenfelter: What I would add to that is, I think what really excites me about this is that it reduces cognitive load. So all of that stuff that Lauren talked about, the goal is to make this easier. Not just during the design process, but our facilitator guide that comes out is meant to reduce cognitive load. When it’s in a classroom, if you have people sitting at small tables, the instructions tell you exactly how to do that activity at small tables. You don’t have to rewrite it in your head as you go.
When you’re doing virtual, it gives you specific instructions about how to make things move forward. If you’re using breakout rooms, if you’re using chat, we know what tool you’re using, and we know how to use that tool effectively for this activity. So you’re not pulling something down off the web and then as you go having to think about, “oh, was I supposed to do something different to activate this?”
It’s built in. And if we can reduce the cognitive load, we can let the facilitator focus on the participants, so that improves the session. So all of that that Lauren talked about really is what makes that possible.
Brian Washburn: So there’s so much that Soapbox seems like it lets people do in order to create a more effective training experience. But for both of you, what’s been the best part of creating a tool like Soapbox?
The Challenges and Excitement of Developing Soapbox
Lauren Wescott: I think for me it’s just been examining what’s possible and really just forcing my mind to expand and to learn. When I started this project, I didn’t know a lot about the different platforms and what was out there and what each were capable of. And I’ve learned a ton. And likewise, that fits into objectives and what people are trying to achieve and really figuring out the best activities to support the learning for all these different instances. And so it’s just been a really big growth for me in looking at this huge– we call it a whale, this huge whale that is Soapbox looking at all the different pieces and just putting it all together into this perfect little package.
Brian Washburn: And how about you, Tim, what’s been the best part of creating a tool like this?
Tim Waxenfelter: Up until November of last year, my answer would have been almost identical to Lauren’s, although I don’t know if I would have called it a whale, but I would have– almost everything else I would have said about it. And now, I think, once people started using it, it’s that excitement that when people realize what they can do now, what they’re capable of.
So many training departments are made up of two or three people, no matter how big the company, it doesn’t seem to matter. When they see something and think, “I’ve been creating good training, but I can only do maybe 20% of my job can I do at the highest level. The rest of it, I’ve just got to check the box, because I don’t have time, and I don’t have the resources”. That we’re filling that gap and how excited they get about the change they can create in their organizations. That, to me, every single time that happens, I mean, it’s like my birthday, except I don’t get any older, so it’s great.
Brian Washburn: That’s great. And I know that, Tim, for you and I, this idea has been around for about eight years, so it has been a long time in coming. And I think it’s really exciting to be able to bring this to the world in a virtual way when the world needs it in a virtual world.
Get To Know Tim Waxenfelter and Lauren Wescott
Brian Washburn: So why don’t we wrap up here with a quick speed round for both of you. What is your pre-training go-to food?
Lauren Wescott: Mine is a bar, like a Kind bar or a That’s It bar. They’re really filling for me, so it just gives you enough to hold you over.
Tim Waxenfelter: I disagree. For me, I don’t care what time of day it is, whether it’s an online session or an in-person session, it’s a good juicy egg sandwich with some mayo on it.
Lauren Wescott: Oh, my gosh.
Tim Waxenfelter: I’m jumpy to begin with, so I need something that’s going to be satisfying. I don’t have to think about food.
Lauren Wescott: You need a food coma?
Tim Waxenfelter: And I need a little bit of a food coma to calm me down. So it gets me just– and then I drink coffee to balance it out.
Lauren Wescott: Yeah, coffee.
Tim Waxenfelter: And I’m always happy when I have an egg sandwich. So I’m happy. I’m ready to go.
Brian Washburn: Gives you endorphins.
Tim Waxenfelter: I’m satisfied.
Brian Washburn: The endorphins–
Tim Waxenfelter: Yeah.
Brian Washburn: –coursing through your veins.
Tim Waxenfelter: Exactly.
Brian Washburn: What is a piece of training technology that you cannot live without? Why don’t we start with Tim on this one?
Tim Waxenfelter: Soapbox would not have been possible without tools like Stack Exchange and Drupal.org where you can find out what other people have done. We’ve built a product out of all of these building blocks of other pieces that people have done and other problems people have solved. But we’ve created something really unique out of that. So without those, it wouldn’t exist.
Lauren Wescott: The thing that comes to my mind is a polling feature, whether it’s built into your platform or something external. If you don’t have that versatility to do something engaging, I get really grumpy. So that’s my go-to, because it’s so easy to set up and so easy to use, and people are comfortable engaging in that way that that’s just my go-to.
Brian Washburn: I have a feeling I know what the answer to this last question might be, but I am curious if either of you have any shameless plugs here?
Tim Waxenfelter: Yeah, so I think what I just would encourage everyone to do is just sign up for a demo of Soapbox. It’s one of the few– a big sales technique is to say, we’ll only take five minutes of your time. The reality is, it really can be just 15 minutes. You don’t need more time, because that’s all it takes to create a great training in Soapbox. You can see the entire product in 15 minutes.
Brian Washburn: And where can people sign up for that?
Tim Waxenfelter: They can go to soapboxify.com/demo or anywhere on our blog. I think on this post for the podcast, you’ll see a form, so just click a date, click a time, and you’ll get scheduled. It’s super easy.
Brian Washburn: Soapboxify.com.
So thank you, Lauren and Tim, for joining us. I know that you’ve taken some time out of your busy schedule from testing and getting the final coding up there. Soapbox virtual will be launching very shortly.
And thank you everyone else for listening to Train Like You Listen, which is a weekly podcast that you can find on iTunes, Spotify, iHeartRadio, or wherever you download your podcasts. If you like what you hear, we’d love for you to give us a rating as well. Until next time, have a great week and happy training.
This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox. Sign up today for a free demo at soapboxify.com.