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For those of you who have ever been to one of my live seminars, you know how seriously I take the ‘end of seminar’ evaluation forms, where you share your comments and thoughts on the day. I read every single evaluation form myself and my goal is to use your feedback to make my next seminar better. I really listen to what you’re saying, and I made changes to my New York seminar based on what I read in your comments the week before.

I also hear lots of feedback during the day itself, about what people want me to cover, or are hoping I’ll cover later in the day, or problems they’re having, and I thought I’d combine both to share something people have been asking about; discuss a few Lightroom specific things that are causing confusion with users, and give you some insights into how I plan the seminar day to make the most of the time we have together.

A tale of two cities
I just wrapped up my New York seminar this week, and I did Ft. Lauderdale the week before, and it’s always fascinating to me how similar people’s problems are (I know what you’re thinking—everybody in Ft. Lauderdale is originally from New York), and yet how two seminars can generate such different groups of questions. There was lots of overlap, yet each city had its own separate areas of concern.

For example, the question I heard on breaks over and over again in Ft. Lauderdale was “How do I get my photos out of Lightroom?” I heard it a dozen times or so, all worded slightly different, but the same basic theme. (I learned what was throwing everybody is that there is no “Save” or “Save As” menu command in Lightroom. Instead, Adobe calls it “Export,” which for every other Adobe product means “Save as a PDF” for but some reason, Adobe chose to call it “Export” in Lightroom. While Export may be a technically correct way to describe what it does—it’s not what photographers who are used to using Photoshop call what they do to save a JPEG file. They call it “Saving.” They use Save and Save As. We all do. It makes sense to us. (Don’t get me started).

However, in New York, not a single person asked that. I’m hoping it’s because I completely changed the way I explain the process of exporting your images from Lightroom, and I did it earlier in the day, and taught it in a completely different way, and I thank the photographers of Ft. Lauderdale for that, because I could tell while I was explaining it, it was “clicking” with people in New York.

So what was everybody stuck on in New York? How to get their photos that are trapped in Apple’s iPhoto, over into Lightroom. I can’t tell you how many people asked about that during the day. So much so, that I asked our own Matt Kloskowski, over at LightroomKillerTips.com to do a movie next week to show the step-by-step process, and I asked my New York class to stop there next week.

My Q&A on Q&As
One thing I saw a reasonable amount on the evaluation forms was people asking for an open Q&A. They either wanted to end each session with a 15-minute Q&A or to devote an entire class as an open Q&A where the crowd can ask questions. I know they think that’s what they want—until they actually sit in an hour long Q&A. Within the past couple of months, I wound up teaching a class where I was required to do an open Q&A, and it reminded me of precisely why we don’t do them. Here’s what happens in an open Photoshop or Lightroom Q&A:

(1) At least half, but usually more, of the questions asked aren’t questions at all. They’re statements.
They usually start with the question person giving their personal resume for the whole room to hear, including a statement about the important work they’re doing, with high-end demanding clients, on their high end computers (including how much Ram they have installed), and they go on about how large the files they work on are, and basically they try and separate themselves from the rest of the crowd, letting everybody know they’re doing “serious work.” Then, they usually detail how they do a particular task, and all they’re really looking for is for me to tell them they’re doing it exactly right. Usually they are. They also know they are. They don’t really have a question at all. They’re making a statement. About themselves.

This happens over and over during the open Q&A. I called a fellow trainer after my last live Q&A, and he asked me how it went. I told him that during the entire hour, I had only one single legitimate question–the rest were statements, and questions the person asking already knew the answer to. Most of the people who asked the questions were clearly very good at Photoshop, and they wanted me, and everyone else in the room to know that, too.

(2) People ask questions about problems that are very specific to themselves
Most of the others are real questions, but they are usually incredibly specific about a particular problem that they’re having with their copy of Lightroom (so, it’s a troubleshooting problem that only pertains to them), or a workflow problem often based on some particular piece of hardware they’re using with Lightroom.

For example, I spent a good chunk of one of the breaks trying to answer a question from a woman using an Imacon image scanner who was having issues with embedded profiles coming into Lightroom, and then another long time talking with someone struggling with a complex problem he was having because he uses a particular hardware RIP (Raster Image Processor), and the company hasn’t updated their driver, and how that problem is messing up his Lightroom workflow. Luckily for the crowd, I was the only one who had to hear about it, but if this had been an open Q&A, you all would have sat through both, and there’s 20 minutes of your life you’ll never get back. I don’t mind at all—that’s my job, but you’d have to sit through it hoping to hear at least one question that would pertain to you.

3. People don’t generally ask wide ranging questions
Nobody stands up at an open Q&A and says “Can you tell me how to set my White Balance in Lightroom?” That’s a question a lot of people would benefit from, but sadly that’s not the type of questions I ever get. Here’s more like what I get at every seminar:

“I have four 2-terabyte hard drives where I have my photos, and I have these daisy-chained together, and I have my main Lightroom catalog on the first of the daisy-changed drives, and it’s connected via Ethernet to my computer, but then 2nd drive is connected via Firewire 800, and I don’t use the last two all that often, so they’re connected via USB 2.0. I want to get a new drive to replace my 2nd drive, but I read somewhere that if you use a drive less than 4800 RPMs it affects catalog performance, but since I’m only using this on my 2nd drive, which only has photos, and not my working catalog, do you think that will affect my overall performance enough that I should go with a 7800 RPM speed drive, or do you think just daisy-chaning it with Ethernet will be enough?”

I am not making this up. I get a question like this, each and every seminar. Sometimes two. Sometimes more. Just depends on the city (and if it’s a full moon). Anyway, that’s what really happens during live Q&As.

Mic Me Up During my Private Q&As
Because I know people often come to seminars like this with a particular question in mind, I spend every single break during the entire day (15 minutes each), plus 40 minutes of our 60 minute lunch break, plus at the end of the day I invite anyone to stay after the seminar who hasn’t had a chance for me to answer their question one-on-one during the day. I stay and answer questions for at least one-hour after the seminar or until literally my ride leaves to take me to the airport (if I fly home that night).

I do this, because I know how important it is to get that question answered, and believe me, nothing would make me feel worse than you leaving without having that one nagging question answered. That being said; I read a number of comments asking that I leave my microphone on during the breaks so they could hear my one-on-one questions with people. I don’t do this for a number of reasons:

(1) I don’t think it’s fair to the person asking the question. A lot of people are genuinely nervous to come up and ask a question in the first place—they’re afraid of asking a silly question, or looking foolish, and I would never want to put them in that position. I think that knowing your question would be broadcast to the room would keep a lot of people from asking what could be a very important question for them.

(2) You need a break. That’s why we take breaks in the first place. I’ve been teaching live Photoshop seminars since 1993, and I’ve tried every length of class possible, and I can tell you without reservation that after an hour of Lightroom and/or Photoshop, your mind needs a metal break so you can keep learning at this level. You need to go to the restroom, walk around, get a drink of water—just take a mental break so you can re-engage fully in just a few minutes later. Plus, I need a mental break, too. I need to switch gears and talk one-on-one for a few minutes to refocus myself as well. Plus, I need to sneak out to the restroom every once in a while, too.

(3) You would, once again, hear lots of very specific questions and often problems that an individual is having with their monitor, their computer, their backup drive, or Lightroom itself that I’ve never heard of happening before. So we go down a checklist of possible problems, and we may or may not solve the issue, but usually it’s so specific that only that one single person would benefit even if we came up with the answer. Is it possible that someone else in the room has their exact same problem. Absolutely. Is it probable. Nope.

(4) You would certainly hear some legitimate and not terribly specific questions, but there’s a reasonable chance that you already know the answer, in which case, it’s just more time ticking away between the opportunity you get to learn something new.

Adjusting During the Day
When I see a pattern of questions start to emerge, I start the next session by telling the class about a particular question I was just asked, and then I share the answer, because I see that it may help a number of people. Often, I’ll share two or three great questions (without giving any names or embarrassing anyone) that I answered during the break, so if there was anything that wasn’t terribly specific, I share that with the entire crowd anyway. It’s why I keep a pen and pad of paper handy while I’m answering questions on break—so I can remember to share them when we kick off the next class.

The Numbers Game is Against You
When you take an hour to answer questions in a live seminar, how many questions really get answered in that time frame? Realistically, about 12 to 14 questions. A couple are quick and easy, but that’s rarely the case when someone is willing to stand up in a room full of people and state their question (or make their statement). In Ft. Lauderdale I had over 400 photographers. In New York, it was nearly 600. So, if I did an hour long Q&A, 14 people out of 600 might get their questions answered. That’s a little over 2%. So, if you’re thinking, “I want an open Q&A so I can ask my question!” the odds are really against you.

The best way to get your question answered at my seminar is simply to come up and ask me. I love meeting people. I love helping them and answering their questions, and I’m always very kind, especially if you start the question with, “I know this may be a simple question, but…” (by the way—simple questions are my favorite kind, because I usually have the answer).

Fielding Live Questions in my Live Online Classes
When CS5 shipped, we did TWO free live Photoshop CS5 workshops a day for an entire week (you can watch the archived workshops for free right here), and during each live workshop we answered your submitted questions too, as we went.

We had literally tens of thousands of people watch those live seminars as they were broadcast live, and you could pose questions to us live as we were teaching. There were five of us on the set fielding questions, plus Nancy Masse´moderating as we went to keep things moving. How many questions do you think we really got to address in an hour? Just a handful. Maybe 15 per hour—-more than usual because since we saw the questions up front, and we could cherry pick the ones that would interest the most people. But still, your chance of getting your particular question answered during a live web seminar is probably 1/1000 at best. Maybe worse.

That doesn’t stop us
We just launched a new series of free monthly live Q&A sessions with myself, Matt, Dave, Corey and RC just for NAPP members, where we answer your questions one-on-one, online, live as you submit them. We do this now every month— and we post the entire thing online for free after the fact on the members’ Website. That’s the good news.

Here’s the bad news: Do you know how many months you’ll have to watch to get even one of your questions answered during a live online seminar with thousands of people watching? I hope they’ll still be making Photoshop by then. ;-)

That doesn’t stop us, because some people will get their questions asked, and we’ll be trying hard to answer just the questions that we hope will pertain to a large group of people, but the numbers don’t lie. Think about it.

Are you willing to trade?
So, I’ve put together a solid, jam-packed hour of Lightroom stuff I’m pretty sure you’ll want to learn. Stuff that in fact, I think you’d expect to learn at a full-day Lightroom seminar, but to give you a full hour of Q&A (or 15 minutes at the end of every class), you’ll have to give up that hour I have planned, and take a roll of the dice on an open Q&A, and just hope that one or two of the questions that get asked (between the statements that aren’t questions at all, and those incredibly specific questions, and your obligatory “stump the trainer” questions) will actually pertain to you and your workflow. Are you willing to trade the class I have planned out for you, with step-by-step notes in the workbook, for a live roll of the dice? My guess is—most of you wouldn’t.

The other Q&A feedback
I do have to balance the feedback that I get from people who say, literally, “Thank you so much for not doing an open Q&A,” and they go on to tell me about other seminars where they had an open Q&A and how far off track they got, and how useless it was to them. I hear this again and again. I also get personal emails and thank yous from those I do get to spend one-on-one time with at my seminars. Sometimes these people even teach me things. It happens at every seminar. Now I can share that in my next city.

Take me up on my offer
I’m going to ask you to do something, but I’m going to offer something in return. First, I know this post is going to ruffle the feathers of some of the people who have said they wanted more Q&As on the eval forms, and if that’s you, I would ask you to close your eyes, and consider the things I’ve told you here. Consider how frustrated you would feel as you sat through the multiple-hard drive nightmare question, the Imacon scanner issue, and the hardware printer driver questions, only to be followed by hearing another attendee’s verbal resume (and attempt to elevate themselves above the rest of the photographers in the room), only to learn that the person that actually did get their question addressed was the guy that was the loudest, and was willing to jump up on his chair and wave his arms to get my attention, just so he could share with the room about the important work he’s doing, and then detail his own complex workflow. Picture how you’d really feel after sitting through all that.

Now, here’s my offer. There is a better way to get your question answered than an open Q&A. Next time, don’t get up and just stretch your legs at break time. Come up and ask me a question one-on-one. You’ll probably have to wait in line a few minutes, and you might not even get up to the front that break, and you’ll have to try again next break, but know this—I won’t leave that day until your question gets answered. Each year, I stay long after and answer literally hundreds of people’s questions that didn’t get answered during the day. Why not yours next time?

If I don’t have the answer, I’ll send you to someone who does have it. I answer many questions in the days right after a seminar—-after I do some research, or ask my colleagues. I’ll email you back directly, or have them email you themselves, but I’ll do my best to make sure you don’t leave my seminar without getting your question answered.

A word of thanks
I know filling out those evaluations forms is a pain in the butt, but I do want you to know that your comments aren’t wasted. Every one counts. I try to make each seminar I teach better than the one before, and it’s your feedback that tells me what to focus on, what to do more of, and what to spend less time on. If I see a comment appear again and again, then I know it’s something I need to address. However, there is one comment I read from every single seminar, as long as I’ve been doing seminars, but I still don’t see us adding to the seminar anytime soon. “Give us free beer!” Hey, you can always dream. ;-)

P.S. One more comment from the seminars. Matt and I both ran into the same little hiccup using the Tethered shooting directly into Lightroom (which is awesome, by the way). If you connect your camera, turn on Tethered Capture, and it doesn’t see your camera, just close the Tethered Heads Up Display, and reopen it. It’ll see your camera now.