How to Help Others With Technology

Tech Talker has 5 tips to help your friends and family with their tech problems without draining your time.

Eric Escobar
4-minute read
Episode #032

How to Help Others With Technology


Listener Luka sent me a great question that I’ve actually been dealing with a lot in recent months.

Luka has been her family’s main source of tech support for a while and is pretty much learning as she goes. She has been showing her parents how to do simple tasks such as scan a document or post something on Facebook, but often she is asked to show them how to do the same process repeatedly.

Well Luka, hopefully I can help you with this by using some of my own personal tricks that help me regularly.

I really enjoy helping people with their tech problems. I love to fix things, and it turns out I’m pretty good at it. (I wouldn’t be the Tech Talker otherwise!) Where I run into problems is when I underestimate the scope of the problem, or the time it is going to take to fix it. What starts off as a willingness to help with a simple task, fades quickly once 5 hours have gone by. So the first rule of helping others with their tech questions is…

Rule #1: Never Tie Yourself Down With Absolutes

Always leave yourself a polite way out. For example, when someone asks you for tech help, respond with “Sure, I’d love to take a look and see if it’s something I can fix,” as opposed to “I’ll fix it tomorrow.” The first response allows you a flexible timeline and flexible responsibility. That way if it really is above your skill level (or time constraints) it’s easier to just say you can’t do it.

My colleague Get-It-Done Guy has more on how to say no.

The next thing to keep in mind is that…

Rule #2: You are NOT the One Asking for a Favor

This means that the person who is asking you for help should be willing to work around your schedule. Not the other way around. It’s easy to feel pressured into getting the favor done on a deadline, but if you don’t have the time to devote to it now, come right out and say it. In the long run, it will make things better for both of you.

So far so good. But let’s say you have a close family member who is very computer illiterate and needs help repeating processes that are generally pretty simple. This goes back to Luka’s original question. Let’s take scanning a document as an example. Many beginner computer users will write down the steps of how to do something one by one in order to remember them. However, I’ve often found that this isn’t the best approach. Instead they should…

Rule #3: Learn by Doing

When I show someone how to do a task on the computer, I always make them actually perform it as I explain the steps. Remember when you were in school and completely zoned out as the teacher was showing or explaining something? It’s the same thing here. My motto is “Learn by Doing” because you gain so much more from doing it yourself rather than just watching somebody else go through the motions.

Now, while this is a great technique when you’re guiding them over their shoulder, having them repeat these tasks when you’re not there can be an issue. That’s why my favorite tool when I’m teaching a computer or technology-related task is to…

Rule #4: Make Screenshots

After you explain how to do something, create a guide by taking screen shots of each step. If you’re not familiar with what a screen shot is, it’s basically a picture of whatever you see on your screen in a given moment. This option is built into almost every operating system out there. With PC’s, there is generally a “Print Screen” button on your keyboard. With Mac’s, you press “Command,” “Shift,” and “3” to get the screenshot cursor and grab whatever portion of the screen into the image you want. This will allow you to paste the picture into your favorite word processor. After a little practice, this can become an extremely easy way to produce a picture-by-picture guide. This is much easier on the person you are helping, and it will save you from having to explain the same process over and over again.

Another great way to create user-friendly guides is to…

Rule #5: Record the Process

I recently started creating how-to videos of certain processes for my Mom and Dad and it’s worked very well. In each video, I narrate the steps as I do them and explain why I am doing each one. I then name the video as the question they have posed in the past, such as “How to scan a document,” “How to email a photo,” “How to disarm a nuclear warhead”… Just kidding.

These videos won’t be production quality, but they will save you from having to answer the same question over and over.

Here are your 4 Quick and Dirty Tips for helping people out with their technology questions, without going insane:

  1. Always leave yourself a polite way out and don’t give absolute timelines

  2. Remember: They should work around your schedule

  3. Make them learn by doing

  4. Use screenshots or videos to create easy step-by-step guides

Well Luka, hopefully this will help you out in the future! If you or any of my other listeners would like specific advice or just feel like venting, head on over to the Tech Talker Facebook page.

Until next time, I’m the Tech Talker, keeping technology simple!

Computer help photo from Shutterstock

About the Author

Eric Escobar

Tech Talker demystifies technology and cutting edge devices so that even the most tech illiterate can understand what's going on with their computer or gadget — and what to do when something goes wrong.

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