Chris Benz grew up in Orchard Park, NY, a southern suburb of Buffalo. Chris attended St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY, and after graduation, settled there for several years. After three decades of dealing with western New York winters, he and his wife decided to relocate to someplace warmer and settled in the Durham/Chapel Hill/Raleigh area of North Carolina. The have been enjoying the mild winters and fantastic scenery for nearly 20 years.
If you plan on attending the Learning Solutions conference in Orlando next week, then you’ll easily be able to pick Chris out of the crowd since he typically towers over most others.
Chris, Besides this introduction, what else can you share about yourself?
Anyone who has met me in person knows that I am very tall: 6’7”; but not everyone knows I am only the third tallest in my immediate family. Speaking of family, a poorly kept secret is that one of my sisters, Karen Hyder (who is the fifth tallest within our group of six siblings) works with me at The eLearning Guild. You can see Karen’s interview at http://ldglobalevents.com/2013/01/13/meet-karen-hyder/ and you can meet her next week at Learning Solutions as well.
Chris’ dog Daisy Mae
One of my favorite activities is hiking with my dog along the Eno River, a local waterway that I have been somewhat active in helping to preserve. I’m also a beer connoisseur; I used to brew my own when I lived in Rochester, but I now enjoy microbrews. At last count, I had 33 different varieties of beer in my beer cellar.
Kat (my wife) and I are both animal lovers, and we currently serve every need of our animal family: a dog, two cats, a hamster, and a parakeet. We live in a small house on a large wooded lot, and when I can tear my attention away from my smartphone, tablet, and three laptops (used to manage and view the Online Forums in multiple session views), I work on general home-improvement projects, gardening, and landscaping. On most weekends, I go hiking at least once.
Chris and Karen building the new office addition
I work from home in a new addition to my house that I, my wife, one of my sisters (yes, Karen), one of my brothers, and a friend converted from a screened porch. We did just about everything, including framing, insulation, siding, flooring, windows, and doors. It was a lot of work, but you can’t beat the commute!
How did you get started in L&D?
My first professional job out of college was in public relations at the Rochester Chamber of Commerce, where I was also the resident computer geek. One part of my job was serving as staff liaison for the Chamber’s Small Business Council, which is how I met Barry Keesan, then president of Logical Operations (LO), a training and curriculum-development company. When I mentioned to Barry that I was looking for a new opportunity after serving 4+ years at the Chamber, he encouraged me to apply for a curriculum-development position at LO. His company had traditionally drawn its curriculum developers from its training team, so Barry had me serve as a trainer for three months. Bob Mosher, who was also working for LO at the time, taught me how to train effectively, and I fell in love with the role. Even after I started developing curriculum full-time, I would teach a daylong class here or there as the need arose.
Chris working on home improvements
What challenges have you faced in your career?
My biggest challenge has been finding jobs that engage my wide variety of passions. My resume shows the result, with roles ranging from trainer to sales VP, from curriculum developer to operations director, from book author to event director.
What are you passionate about in L&D?
Chris’s office addition when nearly complete
After leaving LO and writing several retail-market books on computer applications, I started working in technical communication, and served in local and international leadership positions for the Society for Technical Communication (STC) for almost a decade. As I straddled L&D and tech comm, it became clear to me that the two professions were doing a lot of duplicate work, so I started exploring and promoting the idea of sharing more content between technical documentation and training materials. That led me to single-sourcing and eventually, the Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA). I’m pleased to see that with the advent of mobile learning, L&D professionals are finally starting to embrace single sourcing and, in some cases, even DITA. If you’re unfamiliar with DITA, see my Learning Solutions Magazine article at http://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/524/what-is-dita-and-why-should-you-care.
How does your job align with your passions?
As the Director of Online Events for The eLearning Guild, my job is a wonderful vessel not just for my passions, but also for my talents and experience, as well. My chamber job and STC leadership roles taught me about membership organizations and event management. My T&D jobs taught me how to design, develop, and deliver training. My book authoring and technical-communication jobs honed my writing and editing skills. And my jobs as manager, sales VP, and business owner taught me how to get the best work from others, sell ideas, and think like an entrepreneur. I can’t think of a better job for me!
How did you get involved with your current work role and what is your daily work life like there?
I am responsible for four series of online events—Online Forums, Thought Leaders Webinars, “Best of” webinars, and sponsored webinars—and for the eBooks we have started publishing in support of the Online Forums. My daily life consists of keeping multiple plates spinning at the same time. For example, just yesterday, I sent formal acceptances to the presenters for the June Online Forum, sent invitations to and scheduled meetings with the presenter candidates for the July Online Forum, worked to recruit thought leaders for June and July webinars, recruited the presenter for our April Best of mLearnCon webinar, and started preparing for our inaugural Best of SolutionFest webinar. I spend a lot of my time reviewing presentation proposals, meeting on the phone with potential presenters, tracking the progress of my presenters and their coaches as they prepare for online events, supporting online events in real time, editing eBooks, tweeting about Guild events and other offerings, and looking for ways to improve or enhance Guild online events in ways such as finding a wider variety of speakers. I also have the pleasure of attending most Guild face-to-face events, where I get to run around for two-and-a-half days scoping out potential online presenters and meeting wonderful people.
Can you give us a brief overview of the webinars, online forums, and other resources you provide for The eLearning Guild?
- All the online events and eBooks I manage are designed to help L&D professionals learn and grow.
- Online Forums are two-day, 10-session, fully online conferences we hold 10 times each year. Each event focuses on a specific subject area such as instructional design, performance support, visual design, or mLearning. You can learn more about these forums at http://www.elearningguild.com/online-forums/content/1586/home.
- Thought Leaders Webinars are monthly interviews of prominent individuals in our profession and/or authors who have recently published books of interest to L&D professionals. You can learn more about these webinars at http://www.elearningguild.com/content.cfm?selection=doc.1289.
- “Best of” webinars are occasional events that feature the most popular sessions from our face-to-face conferences. This program also includes our very popular annual Best of DemoFest Webinar, which features the winners from our annual DemoFest event at DevLearn. This year, we’re also adding a Best of SolutionFest Webinar that will feature winners from that event at Learning Solutions.
- Sponsored webinars are online events we co-sponsor 6–8 times each year with clients such as Adobe and Citrix.
- Online Forums eBooks are PDFs of tips we have gathered on a specific subject area from the presenters for a given Online Forum. We publish these 4–6 times a year. You can download these eBooks for free from http://www.elearningguild.com/content/?mode=filter&source=publications&selection=doc.2587. (Look for the publications with “Tips” in the title.)
What do you appreciate most about working for The eLearning Guild?
I appreciate that my two bosses, Heidi Fisk and David Holcombe, are excellent listeners and value me for who I am and what I have to offer. They put Guild staff first because they believe, as I do, that the best way to drive long-term business success and client/member satisfaction is to make sure your staff are happy and have what they need to do their jobs well. Because of this, The eLearning Guild can attract and retain some of the best people in the industry, and I appreciate working with the best! Plus, I am proud that we help make a difference in the lives and careers of those in our industry.
What is the accomplishment you are most proud of in your career?
First, I need to say that the proudest accomplishment of my life is my 25-year marriage to my lovely wife and artist, Kat. But professionally, it’s a toss-up between winning Best of Show for my retail-market book, How to Use America Online, in the STC’s International Technical Publication Competition and co-founding the Technical Communication Professional Certificate program at Duke University.
Chris at Learning Solutions 2012 with (left to right) Patti Shank, Karen Hyder, and Marc Rosenberg
Which is your favorite eLearning Guild conference and why?
The Online Forums are my favorite. They provide regular opportunities for L&D professionals to gather and learn from each other, all without needing to set foot in an airport. And because we record every session, they provide 24/7/365 access to the best, brightest, and most current ideas in L&D. I enjoy the other Guild online events for the same reasons.
If you’re asking about face-to-face conferences, I really don’t have a favorite as they each offer something different. Learning Solutions is a great opportunity to meet people who are relatively new to eLearning, mLearnCon is a more intimate gathering that lets me focus on just mobile learning, and DevLearn feeds my inner geek. I haven’t had a chance yet to attend the Performance Support Symposium, which debuted last year.
When you speak at conferences, what do you usually speak about?
My first Guild presentation was an introduction to DITA for L&D professionals. Since then, I’ve presented on cooperation and content sharing between training and technical communication, and producing successful online events.
How else do you contribute in the L&D community?
While it isn’t strictly L&D, I teach in Duke University’s Technical Communication Professional Certificate program. My most recent class was on software for technical communicators, but several of those packages were designed primarily for eLearning development. It just goes to show that the line between training and documentation isn’t as sharp as it might seem! I’ve also started organizing informal gatherings for L&D professionals in my area, and I occasionally present online and face-to-face for The eLearning Guild and other organizations.
Where do you find the most benefit for yourself in the community?
I like exposing myself to a wide variety of ideas, and boy does this job deliver! I really enjoy having a broad view of what’s going on in the industry, and working with our industry’s top experts.
Who are your favorite L&D role models?
At the risk of leaving out dozens of deserving people, I would say, in no particular order Bob Mosher, Ruth Clark, Thiagi, Connie Malamed, Saul Carliner, Jean Marrapodi, and Patti Shank. I also need to recognize my team of online presenter coaches: Karen Hyder, Melissa Chambers, Bill Bateman, Paula Cancro, Jennifer De Vries, Tammy Olson, and Karen Davis.
What advice can you give others to help them thrive in L&D?
I would give three pieces of advice:
1. Be open to new ideas. Realize that while your way of doing things works, it’s not always the best way, and you can always learn from others.
2. Know your audience. Really, know your audience. Don’t assume that every student is the same. Different people have different experiences and knowledge, and they learn differently. The better you can understand the needs and preferences of individual students, the better you can provide what each student needs.
3. Be loyal to your L&D peers. Jobs come and jobs go, but how you support and are supported by those in your profession lasts a lifetime. Feel free to take what you need, but remember to give back what you can. (Did I just hear someone offer to present at an Online Forum?)
What else would you like to do with your career and/or what would you like to do to improve yourself and your approach in L&D?
Even after 2+ years with The eLearning Guild, I still feel like I’m in absorption mode, and improving myself every day. Maybe ask me again in another year.
Where can others see examples of your work?
We record all The eLearning Guild’s online events, but access to those recordings differs by program:
- Live Online Forum and recordings are available to those who registered for any given Forum, and to Guild Member-Plus and Premium Members. However, we provide sample recordings at http://www.elearningguild.com/online-forums/content/1632/online-forums-sample-sessions/.
- Live Thought Leaders Webinars and recordings are available to all paid Guild members.
- Live “Best of” webinars are available to everyone, and the recordings are available to Guild Associates (free) and all paid Guild Members.
- Live sponsored webinars are available to everyone, and the recordings are available to Guild Associates (free) and all paid Guild Members.
You can view the list of our online-event recordings at http://www.elearningguild.com/content/?mode=filter&source=olfarchives#facetednav.
How can others reach you?
I have listed most of my contact information at http://scan.me/0nw9zd/ or you can scan this code:
Thanks, Chris, for taking the time to do this!