Don’t Build Your (Virtual) Outfit Around Your Socks

Big-picture tips for converting in-person training into a kick-butt virtual classroom.

Around the globe and across all industries, the pandemic has moved in-person training to virtual classrooms. Independent, freelance training consultants who want to stay in the game must embrace creativity and innovation. Now is the time to convert your in-person training to a virtual classroom. It’s not as daunting as you may think.

One of the most important tips I can offer is to place yourself in your participants’ flip-flops by partaking in virtual training yourself, then asking these questions:

  • Was the instructor stimulating or boring?
  • What made it so?
  • Did the instructor connect with me on a human level?
  • Were the activities appropriate for the content?
  • Was there actionable advice when asked?
  • What would I have done differently?

This article won’t be dealing with the technical issues because they’ll differ from one platform to another. However, my experience is that nearly all my clients working from home are using Zoom, which is straightforward and easy to learn. It allows everyone to participate, share documents, and mute/un-mute as necessary. Regardless of the delivery platform, the conversion is an organic process with certain basics:

Do’s for Preparing Content

  • Place key information up front. Because virtual instruction tends to be of shorter duration than in-person, make sure the most important information appears early. Identify content near the end of your session that you can skip if you’re short on time.
  • Do spring cleaning. Reorganize. Repackage. Discard. Focus on critical pieces of content to maintain a high level of engagement.
  • Put your content on a diet. Studies have shown that two hours is the maximum amount of time participants can digest a single virtual session. If your session needs to be longer, consider dividing it into two or more sessions.
  • Interact more; show less. “Death by PowerPoint” is even more deadly in a virtual setting. They can be so toxic that they’ve become the jokes of well-received, stand-up comedians.
  • Keep your content short and to the point. Make your language simple and straightforward, and avoid any extraneous information. Remember that attention can be lost if your presentation is overly complex, too wordy, or too long.
  • Find balance in your design to keep participants engaged. Consider discussions, question & answers, chats, polls, whiteboards, self-directed learning, and performance support tools and activities.
  • Engage all the senses. Some participants are audio learners, while others are visual learners. When possible, supplement your presentation with sound, videos, photos, and media illustrations that may enhancing the learning process.
  • Plan some pre-session activities. This will whet participants’ appetites before the training, so they come prepared to engage. If this isn’t applicable to your presentation, send out something that introduces you and sets some guidelines for participation.

Do’s During the Session

  • Set the expectation for participation at the outset. Let participants know they’re expected (not just encouraged) to actively participate. Provide ample opportunity through dialogue and open-ended questions. Call on people to answer questions if you don’t get volunteers.
  • Include virtual introductions. If participants don’t know each other and there are fewer than 15, take a few minutes for each to mention his or her name, job title, and department. (Just because learners are participating at a distance doesn’t mean they can’t feel connected to each other. This brief “getting-to-know-you” will go a long way.)
  • Encourage feedback throughout the session. For example, at the end of a particular section, you may ask, “Is that clear?” “Do you have any questions?” “Would anyone like to share something from their own experience?”
  • Pay attention to body language. This is less obvious in a virtual format, so be proactively alert to when you may be losing participants’ attention. Use the same tactics you’d use for in-person training to stimulate engagement.
  • Avoid distractions. Ask participants to turn off phones, e-mail and text notifications, and limit other distractions. And remember to do that yourself!

Taboos

 

  • Opening the session by introducing yourself. Most trainers start by introducing themselves—that’s a big yawn. Start with a question, an activity, a relevant story, something to get them listening and involved. Then introduce yourself.
  • Trying to clone your in-person workshop. One of the common pitfalls when translating pre-existing in-person training to virtual training is believing that the virtual session should be a near-clone of its predecessor. You must anticipate, adjust, and adapt.
  • Using dense slides. When you’re creating or revising slides, they should look more like signs (with graphics) and less like paragraphs or lists and charts. They’re aids for your participants, not crutches for you. If something is very complex, consider sending a copy in advance of the presentation.
  • Going live without having tested. It’s imperative that you run through your program with a trusted colleague, friend, or relative. It’s often surprising what you think will work that doesn’t.
  • Dazzling with dress (in the generic sense). Dress from the waist up in something that isn’t flashy, striped, or will distract from the content.

On a final note, remember there’s no magic to this. Use the same savvy you did when you prepared your in-person presentations. Your clients found you and what you presented to be of valuethat’s why they invited you back. And don’t be too hard on yourself if things don’t go flawlessly the first time. We’re all trying to shepherd our way through this brave new world of learning.

Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts has been a training professional for the last 25 years and has successfully and profitably converted her popular in-person training to virtual classrooms. She’s the author of 25 books, including “New Rules For Today’s Workplace,” “Speaking Your Way to Success,” “Business Writing For Dummies,” and several other Dummies books. She’s been quoted in The New York Times and other publications, and has appeared on radio and television networks throughout the United States.

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