At global entertainment company Discovery, innovative visual design is paramount to successfully training the advertising sales team. Michael Friis-Jensen, Manager, Digital Training Manager at Discovery shares Discovery’s best practices for visual design and how to apply the principles to ensure quality and effectiveness in training.
In this interview, Michael Friis-Jensen discusses the different approaches to visual design and how it helps Discovery both engage young learners and help its salesforce. Key points include:
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Announcer 1: This is powered by Learning, a podcast designed for learning leaders to hear the latest approaches to creating learning experiences that engage learners and achieve improved performance for individuals and organizations.
Announcer 2: Powered by Learning is brought to you by d'Vinci Interactive. For more than 25 years, d'Vinci has provided custom learning solutions to government agencies, corporations, medical education and certification organizations, and educational content providers. We collaborate with our clients to bring order and clarity to content and technology. Learn more at dvinci.com.
Susan: Hello and welcome to Powered by Learning. I'm your host, Susan Cort. With me is d'Vinci CEO, Luke Kempski. Today, we are going to talk with Michael Friis-Jensen, Manager, Digital Training at Discovery, joining us today from Knoxville, Tennessee. It's hard to imagine that listeners aren't familiar with the global entertainment company Discovery. We're going to learn more about how Discovery trains its sales force by talking with our guest. Welcome, Michael.
Luke: Great to have you here, Michael.
Michael Friis-Jensen: Hi, Susan. Hey, Luke. Thanks for having me.
Susan: Michael, start off by telling us a little bit about your background and your current role at Discovery.
Michael: Sure. I've been pretty fortunate to have grown-up all over the world. My dad worked for the Danish Foreign Ministry. I was lucky to live in places like Thailand, Egypt and of course Denmark and now, here in the US. As far as my professional background, I went to the University of Tennessee, graduated and then worked for a few different companies, Apple, a local newspaper, and then moved on to Scripps Networks, which was acquired by Discovery. Then I worked my way up through Discovery from being a Digital Campaign Specialist to working on the Revenue and Pricing team and then now on to the Digital Training team.
Luke: Oh, that's such an interesting background. You've lived in different parts of the world. You have a background in advertising and marketing that you don't see much in people who are leading training and learning initiatives. How does your background influence your approach to managing and developing training at Discovery?
Michael: Well, I'd say that, I mean I've always worked in advertising, I still work in advertising. It's not just training across all of Discovery's training within digital advertising. Actually being an expert and coming from, actually doing the job that I'm training, has certainly helped a lot. And also exposure, I mean, just the background of living in so many different places and working with so many different cultures and peoples, it has really given me a great deal of perspective when it comes to training because everybody's different. Everybody learns differently.
Luke: Talk a little about the training that you do and the primary audience that you do it for.
Michael: Yes, of course Luke. We typically train new hires. They're either people who either fresh in their careers or their first job straight out of college. They have entry level into digital advertising, a lot of it is brand new to them. We really cater to a younger audience and I'm sure a lot of people can relate to this, but with these younger generations, everything is now, now, now, have to absorb it quickly or they lose interest. A lot of our training is really focused on engagement and making it easy to consume so that we captivate our audience. To some extent, you have to entertain them at the same time just to keep their attention.
Luke: When you talk about those approaches, let's go a little bit deeper there. When you look at the visual design and how important that is to the success of your training, what design principles do you apply to ensure that your training is effective with that targeted learner?
Michael: Visual design is not only important to training. It's any sort of information transfer that it's important to, whether it's teaching, presenting, coaching, training, what have you. As far as digital design and how it's important, I think we all recognize bad visual design. I think we've all sat in on a presentation where you just lost interest and you don't know why, you know that it's bad visual design, you know that it's poorly presented, but you can't really put your finger on it. Visual design is important because it can really detract or enhance the content that is being presented.
When we talk about visual design, a lot of it boils down to cognitive load too. Cognitive load theory essentially states that how much bandwidth a person has to absorb information. And visual design can either increase that cognitive load or it can decrease it. From a visual design standpoint, there's all sorts of factors that can affect cognitive load, anything from animation, icons, placement, typography, noise versus signal, and the actual content too much. Is it overwhelming? Have you included too much content to absorb? All of those factors can either positively affect visual design, and so either increase or decrease cognitive load.
Luke: Absolutely. Do you see-- Depending on the type of delivery that you're doing with digital training, do the visual design approaches modify at all? Like whether you're doing instructor-led or some sort of live virtual training or something that's based on the intranet that's more information than actual training or an e-learning course?
Michael: So to some extent, yes. The training here we do in Discovery is instructor-led, but it's also designed to be something that can be referenced to, something that could be how-to guides that is not just a one-time resource. There's not much that varies for us, but if I had to say a difference that I would do between either an e-learning versus instructor-led, is I would probably include less content in the instructor-led training just so that there's more focus on my voice and I'm not competing with what people are trying to absorb or read during the training.
Luke: How about with the images, do you typically look for stock images or do you go create new images?
Michael: That's funny you asked that. Something that I tell people I train a lot is that I'm extremely lazy. I'm always looking for the easiest way to do things, and sometimes, that means going and finding a stock image. There's some really good resources out there like pexels.com or eighticons.com. Those are some great resources that are free out there. You just want to make sure that when you're using stock images that they are not watermarks, they don't look unprofessional, that they are real-life situations. I think we've all seen those crazy business stock photos where everyone's smiling around a handshake or something. That doesn't really happen in the real world, right?
So make sure that you're using high-quality images, that it's realistic, that if it's people that are in the stock photos, that it reflects today's environment and make sure that it's a diverse crowd in there, not just all white males in there. You have to be careful or smart about how you use stock photos. And the thing with visual design is. you don't have to be a graphic designer. I think a lot of people, when I start talking about learning through visual design, they think, "Oh, this guy must be some graphic designer or some Photoshop wiz." No, you don't have to. Just some basic principles you got to follow so that your visual design does not detract from the content that you are trying to teach or present on.
Luke: No, absolutely. When you look at a lot of the corporate training or different kinds of training presentations or e-learning programs, what typical mistakes do you see when it comes to visual design?
Michael: Well, I can only speak to the training that I’ve seen, and most of that has been within companies that I've worked for. There are certainly a lot of variants in how those things are taught, but probably the number one faux pas that I see is too much content. That doesn't mean that you should leave out content or not include how to do something, but maybe spread it out a little bit. I think we've all seen those slides or presentations where it's just a slide full of texts, and you're sitting there trying to read it and try to half listen to the presenter. It's just too much. A good rule to go by is the three-second rule.
If you can't absorb that content on that slide within three seconds, then you probably need another slide. I know that there are people out there that just want to get every single detail across and it'd be fine that there's too much information that you can include on one slide or even multiple slides, then maybe consider use a index or footnotes. Or if you're in some sort of like PowerPoint or Google Slides, they have a note section, so if this is one of those decks that get sent out, I know everybody asks during Zoom calls, will this deck be sent out? Well, then, you can include some more details in that note section as well.
Luke: Have you been using audio or video in any of your training programs to train on particular skills or behaviors?
Michael: We record all of our training sessions. It's more of a fail-safe, honestly, and I know video is big, but all of our training sessions that we record are really just for new hires to go back, to look at if they really need to reference something, or if they miss a training. Honestly, I'm not a big fan of video just because you lose out on that engagement. That is so important during training. I think we've all sat through mandatory training whether it's HR and you just have it on the background, so you can say, "Yes, I did it." By the end of it, you didn't really learn anything.
I know video is popular and yes, we do some video training, but I feel like you lose out on a lot of the engagement and the impact and the recall for the people that you're training. The other thing is in our industry, digital advertising changes so quick that by the time you do a video, it's out-of-date.
Luke: Do you give the learner opportunities to practice what they're learning as part of the virtual learning environment?
Michael: Absolutely. We definitely buy into the 70/20/10 model where 10% of what you learn is really the formal training. I often joke with the people that I trained that it's not because our training is really bad. It's just, that's what people learn. 10% of what they learn is from that formal training. Another 20% is in social settings, and then another 70% is actually on the job. You always hear people, "I learn best by doing things." There's a lot of merit to that. What we try to do in our training, is try to replicate those situations, those on-the-job trainings.
We do a lot of training exercises. We do a lot of quizzes. We do group exercises and really, what we'd be getting into a lot here in the past year is gamification. That really suits well to our younger audience or our younger employees that we're training.
Luke: You want them to be competitive as salespeople so that competition can really help. You generally are looking for people who are competitive to be salespeople and then, if you can engage them with gamification, that's great. Have you been able to measure the impact of the training that you're doing in terms of evaluation?
Michael: Yes. Everybody wants to quantify things. Not everything is quantifiable, but we try to measure what we can and that is something that we really invest a lot in. We're always asking for feedback and not necessarily in-person. The way that we have our training program set up is like, during the actual training we send out anonymous surveys for our trainer or for the people that we’re training in to fill out as we go along so we can adjust to their specific needs too throughout the training, so real-time adjustments. Then we also send a survey out two months after they actually get into the workforce.
So they've had to have some time to actually be in the workforce, get an idea of what they need to do, and compare it to what they were trained on. Was it really effective on the things that we train them on? Did it really prepare them for the real-life workforce? We send out a survey two months after they get into the workforce just to see, was our training really effective? And we measure across all sorts of things, not only delivery, but topics, really just about everything that we can get our hands on is what we try to be a feedback on.
Then annually, we also send out a survey and we call it our comfortability survey across all the different topics that they have been trained on and say, "What are you really comfortable on?" That creates two opportunities for us. One is to go back and do some retraining on those things that people were not comfortable on or maybe don't do as often or what have you, but also, it tells us how effective our training was on a specific topic. If those surveys are coming back and where we're constantly doing bad on one aspect of training, then maybe we need to approach it from a different perspective.
We're always looking to quantify, get feedback, become better. I know when I first got into the game, I always thought I had all the answers. The training that I did was amazing and it looked cool. Looking back on it now, there is so much that was not my idea that came from feedback. One thing that's always stuck with me is when I worked at Apple, one of my managers there would say, "No matter how bad the criticism is, there is always one piece of golden nugget that can make you better at your job. You just got to find that golden nugget."
Now, most of the time, it's not that bad, the feedback or anything like that, but I think we've all probably experienced some feedback that's really hurt or that you really disagreed with, but there was a reason why that feedback was given. That's something that we place a lot of weight on, is getting feedback, quantifying things, and looking to become better at training.
Luke: That's excellent. How do you share both what you're learning from feedback and learning from the evaluations and also other best practices that you want to see in training that's maybe not just done by you, but done by others?
Michael: A few of those best practices and we've touched on some of them so far, is have moderation in what you do from a graphics or from a visual design standpoint. Just because you can do some fancy animation, don't do it. Just because there are all these crazy cool little icons out there, you don't have to go overboard with them. Use visual design in moderation. The other thing I would say is that three-second rule. That's the number one thing that I really come across is that people try to pack too much information in there. Then all of a sudden, you're competing against yourself to get your content across.
Then finally, I would say, you don't have to be a graphic designer to have good visual design. Again, I get it all the time. I'm not a graphic designer. "How could you have good visual design?" Well, you don't have to be a graphic designer. You just have to follow some basic principles, some basic factors, that drives back to the cognitive load that we talked about. As for implementing it around the company, we're constantly working with other teams. That's the luxury of the actual department that I'm in in digital ad sales. We work with so many different teams, from our programmatic team, our ad ops team, or ad tech, ad sales marketing, pricing and planning, the linear side of things.
We just work on the digital side, but we've got a linear training team that we share our results with and look to take and pick out things that they do that work for them. We're already working with a ton of teams that have adopted some of our training, our tech team, our ad ops team for instance, we work closely with them on developing our training. And in fact, because we work with so many different teams, we have assigned process owners and subject matter experts for every single topic that we train on.
Not only are we the trainers' resources, but we actually have process owners and subject matter experts that our new hires can go to as a resource, but then also makes sure that those process owners and subject matter experts are on board with our training, to make sure that it's not only correct, but that they agree with how it's being trained.
Luke: That makes all the difference in their enthusiasm for delivering it and doing it consistently, which is super important if you want to have best practices shared across different groups. Good stuff. You mentioned doing gamification. With gamification, what do you want to accomplish with that going forward? Do you have any newer ideas in terms of what's next for you with Discovery in terms of how you can implement gamification? And then maybe any other learning trends that you're excited about.
Michael: Gamification is definitely like the new kid on the block for us. It may not be as new in the actual industry, but it's really something we started exploring. We're always looking to figure out how can we get games in there. I know it sounds a little old school, but whether it's crossword puzzles or there's all sorts of PowerPoint slides out there that you can download that are games, whether it's actual PowerPoint or Google Slides or Google Sheets is something that we use a lot. Any of the Google workplace tools that are out there, there are always a bunch of prebuilt games in there, especially this year.
When you see so many teachers having to teach from home and coming up with these little innovative games to capture their young audience, which is the audience I'm going for as well. It's blown up this year, especially. We do some fun games too. We do some Jeopardy games, which is through these already pre-made PowerPoint slides, all sorts of games out there that we're really trying to get into this year. I know that micro-learning has been a trend, especially amongst a younger audience that you're teaching. That's something we found interesting and yet challenging at the same time.
The roles that we train for, just includes so much information. So it's really tough to tackle that micro-learning avenue there. Even when we do, "Okay, how can we create this content that is really easy and short to consume?" Then the other challenge becomes, "How do we distribute it?" You're not scheduling five-minute calls with people you're trying to say, "Oh, here's the micro learning mode moment. Okay. Now we're done." How do we reach them? Is it through LinkedIn? Is it through some sort of social media or is it some sort of company software that whether it's HR software or email reminders or whatever sort of CRM tool you use?
How do we reach them with those micro moments has been a challenge for us, much more a challenge than actually creating the short consumable content. So that one's been interesting for us as well. We haven't really explored any sort of AR or VR or simulations or anything like that, but it's certainly interesting to follow, to see what the industry is developing there.
Luke: No doubt. And like what you said about the micro-learning, creating is one thing, but to have it at the fingertips of the learner so that they can consume it maybe right at the point where they need it, which is the big learner benefit is that right before they go into a situation, they can get a quick nugget to help them prepare for that situation and be better prepared to talk to a prospect, for instance. Oh, it's been really great talking to you Michael. Really enjoyed hearing about your different approaches to visual design and what you're doing at Discovery to engage your young learners and to get them up to speed ready to sell and ready to help the business at Discovery.
Susan: It's very exciting, Michael, lots of new things ahead for you. I love the comment that you made about the best training coming from the feedback that you're getting. I think that's very smart. Good luck to you and thank you for joining us today.
Michael: Yes, of course. I appreciate your all’s time, Susan.
Luke: Okay, great talking to you.
Susan: Luke, that was a great conversation with Michael. What are some of the takeaways that you got from your chat today?
Luke: It must be a fun place to work for an entertainment company and he gets to apply different things to engage those new employees which he says, in a lot of cases, are right out of college, young people just starting out. He talked about the effectiveness of having well-designed screens and opportunities to practice, and then also including gamification in the training. He talked about how important visual design is, and you don't have to be a professional designer to have well-designed screens that are part of your training.
He talked about the three-second rule, so anything that the main point of the slide can't be absorbed in three seconds, there's probably too much information on it. He said when you use stock images, make sure that they're easily understood icons or they're photos that are very representative and then also have diversity in the people that are part of them.
Susan: They're realistic too.
Luke: You need to be realistic. He talked about how they measure training, which was interesting. How they do it at different periods, like right after the training and then a little bit out and then toward the end of the year. And then using the feedback that comes from their measurement to get better with their training and to decide on what follow-up training might be needed. And then as they develop these best practices with design and engagement, that they share with other people doing training with the same people so there's that consistency.
When he talked about gamification, he talked about using familiar kinds of games so then you're not spending time teaching how to play the game. People are familiar with how to play the game so it's easier to apply that to the training. Good stuff from Michael.
Susan: I loved how he said too about using visual design in moderation. I thought that was good advice that he shared as well.
Susan: Thanks, Luke. Many thanks to Michael Friis-Jensen, Manager, Digital Training from Discovery. If you have any questions about what we talked about today, you can reach out to us on d'Vinci social channels, through our website, dvinci.com or by emailing us at email@example.com.
Announcer 2: Powered By Learning is brought to you by d'Vinci Interactive. For more than 25 years, d'Vinci has provided custom learning solutions to government agencies, corporations, medical education and certification organizations, and educational content providers. We collaborate with our clients to bring order and clarity to content and technology. Learn more at dvinci.com.