When an organization invests in a training solution, it places significant trust in the training team to produce a return on that investment. They’re expected to not only select or design effective content, but also deliver it to the intended audience through meaningful and engaging learning experiences. That isn’t a small ask, but it’s a necessary one: It has been estimated the total cost to an organization incurred by ineffective training is a whopping $13.5 million per year, per 1,000 employees.

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed webinars and other virtual instructor-led training (VILT) into the mainstream in industries and capacities that hadn’t previously embraced remote learning. Out of necessity during lockdowns and travel restrictions, instructional designers and training facilitators worked together to virtualize learning experiences typically hosted in person. While the pivot wasn’t easy or ideal, it did highlight the need for trainers to develop and continuously hone a strong and versatile training delivery skill set.

Versatile, because the skills required to effectively manage a remote session cross over but are not identical to those engaged in face-to-face learning environments.

Why is that? First off, typical physical cues that signal learner understanding (i.e., facial expressions; body language) are not always available or obvious in virtual delivery. Trainers need to incorporate more knowledge or “tracking” checks to ensure learners aren’t left behind.

Further, engagement can be challenging between screens! Making connections with learners and building rapport can be especially difficult in virtual training, and maintaining focus can be tough. Trainers need to approach these challenges using a different lens, pacing content differently, limiting the duration of sessions, and providing more opportunities for learner interaction. It’s also a good idea to plan for more breaks than face-to-face sessions, to allow virtual learners time away from screens to stretch and rest their eyes.

As we start to establish “new normals,” the cost savings and efficiencies realized by virtual training encourage us to lean into multimodal learning. The difficult first few years of the 2020s have inspired training organizations to look for opportunities to incorporate both virtual and face-to-face, synchronous and asynchronous components in learning solutions, connecting more deeply with learners that have varied learning preferences and realizing better training return on investment (ROI).

These are the realities:

  • Ineffective training is expensive.
  • Stellar course design simply cannot overcome a disorganized or illogical presentation of the material.
  • Trainers who are unable to maintain engagement or manage the nuance of virtual training delivery present a real risk of undermining strong content.

This is why training delivery matters just as much as design, and why trainers accountable for synchronous live training have a responsibility to keep leveling up their facilitation skills.

So, what makes for effective training delivery, and how can trainers level-up their delivery skills across virtual and face-to-face learning experiences?

The following five key competencies and associated recommendations are a good start — these highlight skills all synchronous trainers should develop. In a follow-up article, we’ll take a look at five more.

 1. Clear and engaging presentation style. This is arguably one of the most important and obvious characteristics of a good trainer! Whether in person or virtual, if a trainer can’t present the information in a way that’s both comprehensible and interesting, learning and engagement will both take a hit. To strengthen their presentation style, trainers should focus on making improvements in two broad areas: verbal communication (pace, projection, tone, enunciation) and non-verbal communication (confidence, eye contact, gestures, facial expressions).

2. Time management skills. Delivering training sessions on time is an important quality standard, and time management is a challenge many trainers struggle with. It can be difficult to determine how much material is too much…or too little. Proper pacing is tricky to nail down, but it’s critical to get this right in order to avoid finishing significantly early or needing to rush so the session ends on time. The key to success is to plan well and practice, practice, practice. Most trainers initially plan for what will likely be an overage of material. Expendable topics are identified, and training activities are prioritized so that parts of the session can be included or omitted as necessary. The best trainers practice each session many times before delivery. They know where they should be at pre-determined intervals, and they know how to adjust if they miss the mark. Intervals are usually set by quarter-hour, because the typical learner’s attention span is 15-20 minutes (shorter in virtual delivery). After that, the method or activities need to be changed to maintain engagement – something as simple as pausing to take questions or inserting a quick knowledge check can be enough to do the trick!

3. Comfort with use of visual aids and learning technologies. When learning technologies are incorporated into a session or used as the delivery modality, they should be practiced well in advance. Trainers should familiarize themselves with basic troubleshooting steps and should always develop a back-up plan. If technical difficulties arise during the session, it’s okay to briefly troubleshoot, but trainers should be prepared to move forward with their “Plan B” in case they’re not able to quickly resolve. Visual aids should support comprehension, reinforce key points, and be designed with clarity and simplicity in mind. Trainers should not use visuals unless (1) they serve a clear and important training purpose, and (2) the trainer is confident in their own ability to guide learners in making the connection between visual aids and learning objectives. Trainers should exercise particular caution when using presentation software. Presentation software tends to promote passive learning and shouldn’t be used simply because it’s available. Trainers also run the risk of becoming so concerned with the presentation itself (i.e., bullets, graphic elements, animations) that the learning objectives are virtually lost.

4. Leadership skills and the ability to influence learners. Great leaders and great trainers have a lot in common but perhaps most notably, strategic thinking and influence. A trainer’s influence can be limited to learners and training stakeholders, but strong trainers recognize the grassroots opportunities there. They focus on finding the most effective and efficient ways to deliver information, facilitate change, and support organizational development. Successful trainers know the work they do often feels like an interruption to the learner’s day. To flip that thinking, trainers apply strong leadership skills and earn the investment of a learner’s time and focus. Effective leaders and trainers earn trust, welcome questions and critical thinking, and opt to listen, understand and guide rather than give orders.  

5. Empathy and rapport building. People are typically more receptive toward those they have established a good rapport with, so the benefits of a trainer creating links with their learners are numerous. Learners will be more likely to engage in learning activities, share information, recommend training to others, and support training programs and initiatives.

Meaningful relationships are at the heart of both learner and trainer success: This is especially true of learners who learn or think differently than others. When trainers make an effort to lead with empathy and take time to develop rapport with learners, they often find the ROI astounding. Common techniques include perspective-taking, mirror and match, and embracing teachable moments. Teachable moments can’t be planned for and often require a quick departure from the original lesson plan so the trainer can explain a concept that has captured the learners’ attention. Teachable moments offer invaluable opportunities to make connections with learners and when coupled with strong time management skills, these brief digressions are more than worth it!

In the next article of this two-part series, we’ll explore five more competencies that trainers should focus on developing to improve their delivery game.