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Could PowerPoint Be Ruining Your Virtual Training Sessions?

President Of TrainSmart, Inc.

When facilitators/trainers started transitioning their workshops to the virtual space, they knew they had to give up many of their go-to tools – no need for colored markers, masking tape, and flip charts. Activities like paired conversations and table tasks had to be redesigned.

The one thing that most trainers considered non-negotiable- a virtual third rail, if you will— is the ubiquitous PowerPoint Presentation.  Conducting training without a PowerPoint is like a peanut butter without jelly, a horse without a carriage, and a trip to Target without a face mask.

There’s just one problem. PowerPoint doesn’t translate well to the virtual training space. Sure, you can easily share your screen and show a PowerPoint –that’s not the problem. The problem is when you share your PowerPoint in a virtual session; it becomes the star of the show instead of playing a supporting role to the trainer.

Visualize a typical training session in a brick and mortar space. There’s usually a pulldown screen or an LCD monitor that allows the Facilitator/Trainer to project their PowerPoint behind them.   The PowerPoint is there – it often has relevant information, but it’s a background visual. Nothing more. A tool to help remind the trainer/facilitator of key talking points.  It is not designed to be looked at nonstop.

In the nonvirtual world, when the PowerPoint lived in the background, the trainer usually walked around the room, making eye contact, connecting with learners, and hopefully “owning” the room.

In a virtual platform, when the trainer decides to share their screen, the PowerPoint now dominates. The facilitator often cannot see participants-the PowerPoint is in the way. Sometimes, the facilitator’s head is still visible to learners when they appear in a small video panel on the side of the screen.  Other times, the PowerPoint completely obliviates any visual of the trainer.

Instead, the trainer becomes a disembodied voice-over.   It typically takes about 10-15 seconds for people to read a PowerPoint. Then what? Their eyes aren’t going to stay glued on an inanimate visual. So their eyes wander– to their smartphones, their chat app, TikTok, The New York Times daily crossword, anything that isn’t the PowerPoint.

In the process, the participants become disengaged faster than it takes to finish discussing the facts associated with your first bullet.

The question every facilitator/trainer needs to be asking themselves is, “Why am I sharing a PowerPoint?  What is its key role?  How is it enhancing my training?”

Virtual training sessions are most successful when the trainer has the opportunity to look at participants in a gallery/grid view. That means cameras on.   It should not be optional. It’s hard enough to be successful in the virtual space, and when you take away a trainer’s ability to see the audience, it just gets a lot harder.

As a trainer, having people attending a session with their cameras off is like having someone in regular training sitting with their back to the trainer. It’s uncomfortable.

The gallery or grid view –where the faces of participants fill the screen – is the view that most closely emulates the sensation that a trainer has in a brick and mortar room. It allows the facilitator/trainer to scan the room. While you may not be able to make eye contact in the way you do when you are “live,” it’s a close second.

Spending more time in the gallery or grid view puts the facilitator/trainer in “the front” of the room. So, what do you do with the information you used to put in a PowerPoint?  There are a couple of choices.

Using a combination of emojis and bullet points share your information in the chatbox.  Maggie Chumbley uses this technique in many of her Virtual Coffee Friday Sessions.

  • ⏰We meet today  8:30-9:30
  • 📵 Stay present with us
  • ☕️ Bring your morning beverage!
  • 🎧 Headphones really help
  • 🔇Mute and unmute skillfully
  • 📹 Keep your camera on (unless…)
  • 💬 Chat with purpose 💬

Since PowerPoint is often filled with bullet points, this technique can be used throughout your session. Using this technique allows participants to access the information, just like on a PowerPoint, with the extra benefit of not blocking their view of the trainer or other participants.

What about the intriguing pictures that you may have on slides to emphasize your point?

Try using an interactive tool like Google Jamboard or Google Slides. Jamboard is an interactive whiteboard. While many of the virtual platforms offer their own whiteboards, those tend to be a bit clunky.  If you ask people to write something, their comments often end up on top of someone else’s.

Instead, try using an interactive whiteboard like Jamboard, Participants can share thoughts via the application’s sticky notes feature.

Jamboard also allows you to upload images…much like a PowerPoint slide. It’s just that you can have participants interact with the visual. The icons in the circle provide a variety of ways to annotate, add sticky notes, or highlight.

All you have to do is share the link to the Jamboard in chat, and everyone can be part of it.  Note: check the settings when you use the SHARE feature in Jamboard. If you want people to use the Jamboard, it needs to be set to Editor rather than View. FYI be sure you have a copy of the entire presentation saved because when everyone can edit there is always the chance that someone will accidentally delete something.

Another tool that you can use is Google Slides.  Like Jamboard, you just have to send all the participants the link to the document. You can then assign them to teams and have the team members work on the answer to the activity in the corresponding slide. Team one works on the first slide, team two works on the second slide, and so on.

Using Google Slides in this capacity is a great way to simulate flip board activities in a brick-and-mortar session. Since everyone has access to the document, they can move from slide to slide and see how other teams responded to the assignment.

The key in the virtual session is to move back and forth from the interactive tools to the main room so you can “see the participants” and do check-ins.

So, consider retiring PowerPoint in your virtual sessions. You can still share the information that you would have put on a PowerPoint, just try sharing it on platforms better designed for engaging virtual learners. Some will work great for your sessions, others not so much.  We’re all in a learning mode – and that is a good thing.

If you have a great interactive tool that you are using to enhance your virtual training, we would love to learn about it.