Creating Robust Virtual Training Experiences

Recently, I’ve heard many people say “I’ve just got to breathe! Everything is so fast and furious these days.” I know the feeling. For 40 years, our company’s work happened primarily in-person in the classroom, though virtual seminars were not uncommon.

Since the COVID pandemic hit our area, it’s been all virtual all the time, which meant we had to work to convert our training. Interestingly, our sales projections now are higher than before the pandemic hit. What is going on?

We adapted our in-person approach to the virtual classroom using skills-based learning, lots of interaction, and real-world application to help professionals improve their impact as communicators. As we take a breath, I thought it would be useful to share some lessons learned.

Plan your experience

What do you want learners to achieve in the time you have? To refine your objectives, use Bloom’s Taxonomy for levels of understanding and the verbs that specify the goal. For example, if you want your learners to synthesize content, “develop” is one of 30 verbs the taxonomy suggests.

Then, create a timed schedule for each briefing and activity. Some facilitators may find highly detailed schedules helpful for a virtual environment since the time is generally compressed. If you share slides or documents, include modern and simple graphics to illustrate your message. Use font sizes that attendees can read easily (14 and above). If your meeting or training lasts more than a few hours, “chunk up” the experience into more manageable pieces. And don’t forget to take a break! Even five minutes can refresh your group during a 90-minute session.

Prepare for success

Much like you would need to set up a meeting room, set up your virtual room. What platform to use? Choose one that allows you and participants to screenshare content, use a whiteboard, mark up slides (annotate), chat to the group and individuals, poll with questions, and breakout into small groups.

Practice in advance. It will take a few sessions for you to get comfortable with your platform features. A big help is to team up with “a producer,” someone who is familiar with the technology to assist with set up and handle logistics, like polling and breakouts.

Before the session, share objectives, pre-work, and ground rules with your group. Ask people to clear their schedule and use video. One meeting leader said to me recently, “Video helps us be 100% present with each other and avoid multitasking.”

Deliver with presence

By now you have seen a gazillion ways people come across on video: cameras pointing up noses, well-used athletic attire, shadowy images due to a bright window, noisy rooms, and poor connections. Here are some quick fixes to give you more presence.

Set up your camera so that it is level with your eyes and look into the lens for large groups. For smaller groups, position faces near the camera lens so you can see reactions and read body language.

Plan your attire. Clothing affects both how you feel and the audience’s impression. Good lighting helps too. Have a source of light in front of you and slightly to the side, to give your features depth.

Sit with strong presence: on the front two-thirds of your chair with your forearms resting on the table, slightly apart, and your feet planted on the ground. This set up will help you breathe, project your voice, and use gestures to support your words.

Finally, use a headset or a USB microphone instead of your computer or a cell phone, to avoid poor quality. In the film industry, there’s a reason they give multiple awards for sound in movies. A clear and crisp voice improves your ability to educate and influence.

Keep it interactive

“What if they don’t respond?” You ask a question during or at the end of a session and … … crickets. This fear is real for many. When you ask questions, direct them at the people in the meeting. “What questions do you have?” speaks to each person. “Does anybody have any questions?” speaks to no one (and the easy reaction from your audience is “nope”). After you ask a question, count to 10-one-thousand in your head, about double what you would in a live situation. Such a long pause might feel awkward at first, but have faith, they are thinking!

When you ask for interaction, give one option at a time. For example, ask participants to chat-in responses encourage volume and variety. After you have a good number of comments, ask someone to elaborate on theirs to encourage discussion. Aim for 10 minutes of briefing time and 20 minutes of application in a typical half hour so you don’t overwhelm the group with content.

Strategically place flexible sections, like discussions or Q&As, which can be adjusted depending on how your session evolves. Interactive technology can also support the virtual experience, with live polling tools, quizzes, and word clouds. Even micro-breaks work. “Stretch and flex everyone!”

Support the experience

“Nobody does their pre-work!” A common complaint, but actually many people do the pre-work and more people at least think about it. Keep your pre-work easy and simple. When learners bring something to the training, they are primed to engage. Use a supporting document to go along with the learning. An interactive PDF workbook, a shared document that attendees can edit, or a simple handout to reference will help your group stay involved, especially if they are in small breakouts.

Encourage an inclusive environment – if you need to use an acronym, define it for everyone. TLDR is a good warning for this article, but did you have to look it up? Avoid colloquial expressions that may confuse, especially with global populations. “We want to hit this one out of the park!” might work for those who know the baseball reference, but not everyone.

Consider other modes of learning during your group sessions, including self-paced options, forming teams within a larger group, and one-on-one coaching to extend and deepen the learning experience. Finally, end with goal setting where attendees identify learned skills and form a plan to practice them.

The good news is that professionals now welcome virtual experiences more than before. The bad news? Our patience gets tested every day. Many of these ideas are best practices in the live classroom setting. Taking the time to transfer them to the virtual world pays off by reaching a larger audience for a greater impact.

To be successful on this bigger stage, know what you want to accomplish, practice on the platform in advance, adjust your environment to improve your presence, and engage your audience with activities and supporting materials. Like any plan, you may have to adjust it. But the adage “Failure to prepare is preparing to fail,” holds true more now than ever.

For more tips & help with virtual training, contact us.

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