10+ ways to train your users on Office 2007 for free

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Buried deep within the sitemap of Microsoft.com are lots of options for training your users on Office 2007. But ever since the incredible Mr. Clippit, users have been quick to shrug off Microsoft help, and IT has had to reinvent the Office Fundamentals Training Wheel. Here are some tips for getting the most out of free Microsoft tools to help you educate and support your users.

#1: Links to tip sheets and articles

Instead of telling your users to go out to Microsoft.com and do a search for Word 2007, put hyperlinks to the printer-friendly version of tip sheets and articles like "Word or Publisher? Which one should you use?" on your company's main portal page. Providing links to information you know they need will help you cover the training bases. And presenting the links on an internal Web site they already use will show your users that it's okay to go outside of their four firewalls to learn something new. Include your favorite hyperlink in your signature line so it goes out in every e-mail you send.

#2: Online training

Office online self-paced training courses are a great way to link your users to 30- to 60-minute onscreen, clickable demos to walk them back through the steps you just took them through over the phone or as a replacement to that step-by-step e-mail you always take the time to write.

Since these demos do have sound, remind them to turn their speakers on or put on their headphones before following the link. These videos do not require multiple clicks to get to the start of the course nor do they require a logon with a Windows Live ID.

As a point of reference, these are the same demos that are returned via the Help menus in Office. Common problems are broken up into one- to two-minute increments so that it's easy for users to pause the course and rejoin it later. So the next time someone complains that they've hit their size limit in Outlook, send them this link: "How to clear away the clutter in your Inbox."

#3: E-Learning

Microsoft E-Learning includes free, self-paced, onscreen fundamentals training courses for Live Meeting, Groove, Windows Vista, and the Office 2007 user interface. Users must log on with their Windows Live ID, but no ActiveX controls are required. Navigation is explained in the introduction to each course.

You might also want to check out the free courses for IT professionals listed in the course catalog at the top of the screen: BizTalk Server 2006, SQL Server 2008, and Security Guidance training. Don't forget to find the word FREE on the Developer Catalog page as well.

#4: Webcasts

Live and On-Demand Webcasts also require a Windows Live ID; however, there is a new Web viewer for LiveMeeting that allows users to view the Webcast on demand without downloading LiveMeeting, which is key in the managed PC environment. Users won't be able to download the Windows Media file for offline viewing of an on-demand Webcast from a managed PC, but check with your Microsoft rep (see Tip #7). They typically have some of these Webcasts available for you on a DVD to upload into your training tracking system, if you want to make watching one or more of these Webcasts required for your users.

#5: Virtual training

Virtual Labs are admittedly not for the average user, but they can prove useful in teaching your SharePoint designers and help desk staff. These labs do require ActiveX controls to run, so take care not to recommend these labs to users unless Virtual Server VRMC Advanced Control and Virtual Machine Remote Control Advanced ActiveX are in your standard PC build.

A lab manual is available with each course and it connects you to a clickable Virtual PC environment. Disregard the Office 2007 First Look labs, since they were built on Beta 2, but scroll down to find gold in "What's New in Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 Feature Walkthrough Virtual Lab."

#6: Partner events

In-person events mean going offsite, and besides submitting an expense report for the extra 3.26 miles you had to drive to get there, it is a great way to send a couple of your favorite users in any department to learn about solutions and ideas on how to leverage the software your company already owns.

I especially recommend this site around Administrative Professionals Week. Instead of taking the boss' assistant out to lunch, send him or her an invitation to a Microsoft event that is sure to yield free lunch and swag. (Pssst: Administrative Professional Week is in March.) The IT human that always knows where to get branded stress balls is the IT human with the most stress balls. And I think we can all agree that when we're back at the office at 2 o'clock in the morning on a weekend to oversee a data transfer, nothing comforts you like squeezing a cleverly shaped stress ball.

#7: Trucked-in training

If you followed the partner event link in the previous tip, you might have noticed the Microsoft Across America Truck as one of the options. If your company is a Microsoft partner, you can book this truck. If you're not a Microsoft partner, encourage your Microsoft rep or third-party solutions provider to host an event. As a partner, it's a great way to gather new leads; as a customer, it's an opportunity for you to talk to industry experts and service providers about solutions you need to manage your Office 2007 rollout.

#8: Microsoft Marketing Events

If you don't know who your company's Microsoft representative is, you can go to the Microsoft U.S. Office Locations page to find the Microsoft office closest to you. Then, just call and ask to talk to the IWSS (Information Worker Solutions Specialist) for your district. IWSSes are given corporate resources to deliver onsite events to their clients.For example, a "Tips and Tricks" team is available to present 60- to 90-minute scenarios at your location, and most offices have a TS (Technology Specialist). The TS is tasked in part with visiting clients and creating these types of events for their clients.

Althoughthere is no cost to you, there is typically an attendance minimum of 60 people per day to justify Microsoft's cost of sending a presenter, and it's all rolled up into the benefits of being an Enterprise customer. What types of seminars do they present? Follow the webcast link in Tip #4. Most of those topics can be delivered at your location.

#9: Multilingual ScreenTips and translations

¿No habla Inglés? For many international companies, rolling out Microsoft software worldwide is a daunting task due to language barriers and the lack of training materials available in foreign languages early in the software lifecycle. Fortunately, translation assistance is available.

Open up a Word 2007 document and right-click anywhere on the page. Click Translate and then chose Arabic, French, or Spanish. Give it a moment to activate, and you should be able to scroll over any word in the document and get a ScreenTip that translates the word for you and gives you a definition in the language you selected.

Still not satisfied? Right-click and choose Translate from the shortcut menu. Choose the language you want to translate the document from and then the language you want to translate the document to. Click the green arrow under Translate The Whole Document. When you see a message telling you that you're being sent to Word Lingo, click Yes. This is a free Internet service that has been available from the Research pane since Office 2003.

#10: Command Reference Guides

If you do nothing else for yourself, include this link in your signature line and don't call it a command reference guide when you do. Name it something like "Where have all my toolbar buttons gone?!" These interactive reference guides show an Office 2003 toolbar. When users click on a familiar button, the screen fades to an Office 2007 screen and highlights where that button is on the Ribbon.

For users who complain about the time they waste each day looking for things like Print and Spell Check, this tool will eliminate their frustration with the Ribbon. If you make one item mandatory for all training classes and corporate communications, let it be this one. Make sure every user knows it's out there BEFORE you push Office 2007 to their PC.

#11: Office Online At Work

One final tip as we round out the list of training options. Remember that when you reference Microsoft.com, you are referring to a lot of things that don't apply to your users. Remove Microsoft.com from your IT reference guide and replace it with office.microsoft.com. Go out to this site every day, and you'll see that it is not a static page. The pictures and links change daily as new content is added and refreshed. I included the At Work link above because it has plenty of resources to tire out your busiest busybody. This is the link to include in your Out of Office Assistant message when you finally get go on vacation once the rollout is complete.

Tiffany Songvilay is a Microsoft Office Specialist and co-author of So That's How! 2007 Microsoft Office System: Timesavers, Breakthroughs, & Everyday Genius. She has presented productivity scenarios at Microsoft's Convergence, ITEC Conference and Exhibition, and for IAAP. Currently engaged as a business analyst for Microsoft Enterprise customers, she designs and implements training plans that help companies transition their workforce smoothly into new technology. Her Office Over Easy blog covers a variety of IT and end users issues.

Additional Office 2007 "10 things" resources