President Of TrainSmart, Inc.
Several years ago, one of my clients made a blanket decision that all of their contract facilitators needed to start leading virtual training classes. The decision was not met with enthusiasm. In fact, the majority of facilitators lobbied and eventually won the right to avoid the virtual classroom.
When it was all said and done, there were just three of us who were regularly scheduled to handle the online work. While attendees liked the convenience of the classroom, many said they preferred a face-to-face class. Not surprisingly, after a few years, that company’s online classroom disappeared.
What went wrong? Expectations. The company expected online learning to replicate a face-to-face classroom. They didn’t consider or opt to adapt the design of the learning for the virtual environment.
The facilitators expected that they couldn’t do their job without relying heavily on non-verbal communication to “read the room.” For them, taking that ability away was like cutting Samson’s hair —they felt their facilitation mojo would disappear.
The biggest mistake a facilitator can make is expecting to have the same experience in a virtual environment than they have in a classroom. Listening to a radio drama is different from going to the movies. And going to the movies is different than live theater. All are forms of entertainment, but they create different experiences.
It’s the same thing with facilitation. A virtual training does not have to be a poor substitute for “the real thing.” It can be engaging, energizing and effective as long as there is an expectation that it is different from face-to-face training.
Here are my four favorite virtual training tips that will get participants saying, “This was so much better than I anticipated!”
1. Use a webcam. While a webcam cannot help you “read the room,” it does create a sense of intimacy that is often lacking in virtual training. People are funny about webcams. Most don’t like them. They don’t like how they look on them. Despite this, my recommendation is to overrule their objections. Your class will be more successful for being persistent on this issue and they will thank you for this!
Whether you are on a platform that just allows you, the facilitator to be on camera, or a system that allows all participants to see each other, the webcam is an often overlooked tool that helps eliminate the tendency of participants to disengage.
2. Stand-Up throughout the class. Facilitators are used to standing up while they are working. Typically, virtual classes are conducted via a computer and facilitators often find themselves sitting in front of their computer. I’ve found that simply standing up helps me mentally. It makes me feel more like a facilitator.
3. Use the chat section generously! It can help you get everyone involved in the conversation. When the participants are reading and writing in the chatbox, they are actively engaged in their learning and as a bonus, they are less likely to look at emails or talk with people who stop by their office.
Many people do not like speaking out on a virtual call. However, if you ask a question and direct them to write in a “Y” for yes and an “N” for no in the chatbox, you’ll have participants who are engaged. Giving them something tactile to do like typing in the chatbox is an easy way to create positive energy in the classroom.
Another use of the chat section is to have people answer open-ended questions while someone else is answering that same question on the call. Once the participant finishes speaking, share some of the answers in the chat section, and then follow up by asking the author a question or two about their response.
4. Create smaller breakout rooms. You can either assign phone conference numbers or another virtual meeting room. These breakout rooms serve the purpose of a table discussion in a classroom. These smaller groups allow you as the facilitator to create group exercises and it allows participants to share information with other people on the call. Not only is it an effective learning tool, it typically helps energize the class.