4 Steps and 7 Techniques for Better Virtual Training

Here is a 4-step training map (built on the brain science that is so helpful in our work) and a handful of techniques that enhance engagement in virtual environments.

I had an odd experience recently. At a national conference, I taught on how to be a better virtual trainer. Over the last two-plus years, I have taught thousands of people to be more “virtually excellent,” and every time I was teaching virtually, so we could immediately try and apply the lessons in a virtual forum. Never have I taught this in person, until now. Clearly, virtual and hybrid training is fully embedded in workplace training across the country.

So much of what makes for great virtual training is not the techie stuff. It’s about the things that make for “great training, no matter what” cleverly brought to life in virtual forums. Here is a reliable 4-step training map (built on the brain science that is so helpful in our work) and a handful of techniques that enhance engagement in virtual environments.

4-Step Training Map

  1. ENGAGE (the heart)—Connect learners to the training content/objectives, one another, and themselves (their knowledge, needs, WIIFM?, motivation), so they feel welcome, get oriented, and are primed to learn. For many people, “connections before content” is key to learning.
  2. EDUCATE (the head)—Facilitate learning that is interactive, multi-sensory, multi-directional, relevant, fun, and meets the training objectives, so participants begin to understand the content. This is often what people expect from training, so delivering it in non-traditional ways can create better engagement.
  3. EXERCISE (the hands)—Support participants as they try, apply, practice, build muscle memory, and personalize the lessons, so they can use them outside the training. This hands-on piece is vital to equip learners to use the lessons on their own. It is especially important when we teach behaviors, skills, processes, mindsets, etc., and not mere knowledge.
  4. EXIT (to the environment where they will apply the lessons)—Celebrate the learning and have them plan how they will adapt and apply the lessons, so they get the intended results. This final step—which includes action plans, commitments, and accountability—increases the odds learners will use the lessons outside the training.

7 Techniques for Engagement in Virtual Settings

  • Music: Use music to welcome learners, set a fun tone, add some surprise and delight, engage the whole brain, and indicate that this training will be different than most. Motown classics are always a hit.
  • Virtual Name Tags: Have learners add their names to their video blocks to create familiarity. You may have them include a content-related detail such as their DiSC code if your focus is teamwork, their dream job if the focus is career development, or their favorite hobby if the focus is self-care.
  • Sound Check Intros: To promote real-time interaction (in Zoom), have trainees check the “Press and hold SPACE bar to temporarily unmute yourself” box in the Audio Settings. Then call out names and have each press their space bar and share their name. This takes time at the start but saves the time during a session and allows them to speak freely.
  • Tweet Storm: Give learners a clear prompt to input something relevant in the chat (I highlight my prompts with a string of +++ or === or *** above and below). Have them use 140-ish characters and wait to hit “enter.” On your command, have everyone hit it at once, then review the storm of ideas that come up.
  • 1W1#: Have learners share 1 word and 1 number (on a scale of 1-5) in the chat to indicate how they feel about something—the course so far, the topic today, a field work assignment, an industry dynamic. Encourage honesty: Excited/5, Nervous/2. Add writing by having them boldly write the word on a colorful Post-it and hold it up to the camera (take a screen shot to use later!). Add movement by having them hold up their fingers to indicate their number.
  • Sticky Note Intentions: Have learners identify what they want from the session, write it on a sticky note, and post it where they can see it. You may have them share—or not. Declaring their intention will inspire their brain to seek and find more on the topic than it would have. At the end of the session, have them give a thumbs up, down, or middle to indicate if they got what they wanted. You may follow up with those with thumbs down or encourage them to talk with their supervisor.
  • Camera Polls: Have learners turn their cameras off, then on to respond to a prompt. It is uncommon to say, “Cameras off!” so this wakes up the brain. Here are two variations.
  1. Spectrum: Give a prompt with a series of responses. Have them turn their cameras to respond and keep them on until everyone joins. For example: “What’s the longest you have worked for one company? More than 20 years… (cameras on and keep them on), 15 years… (join us), 10 years (come on)… 5 years… 2 years… Thank you!” This lets you see individual responses and the group dynamic as the cameras come on and the video blocks are grouped together.
  2. Laundry List: Ask a series of yes/no questions and have learners quickly respond in the affirmative by turning their cameras on, then off between each. For example: “I know the next job I want (cameras on if you do, no judgment if you don’t, I’m just curious. OK, off.)… I can name three companies I want to work for (on/off)… I have a LinkedIn Profile that proves I can do the job…” This gives you an overview without capturing individual responses.

Technology can make great training even better. Every tech decision we make as we design and facilitate training should promote learning. Thanks for letting me be part of your good work.