Virtual training is becoming more and more common, and one of its biggest challenges is keeping learners engaged and participative. There are more distractions in a virtual setting, and it is also difficult to keep participants engaged through a computer. That being said, there are strategies that you can integrate into your training to improve your training engagement rates. Here are 10 strategies to create more engaging virtual training:

1. Set Learner Expectations Up Front

As you kick off the session, let learners know that they should plan to actively participate throughout the program. Encourage them to turn off notifications and close other applications on their browser. You have limited time together, and they’ll make the most of it by focusing.

This information is also helpful to include in a pre-event email. It sets the tone for the training and reminds the audience to focus.

2. Turn on Video

Simply having their video on improves learners’ engagement in training sessions, because they will want to appear attentive and engaged. However, encouraging participants to use video can be tricky. Here are three tips that can help:

    • Set this expectation in advance in an email. Some people like to be “camera-ready,” and this advance notice helps them to be sure they have the right setup.
    • Ask participants to turn on their video at the beginning of the session, and give them a reason why it is important.
    • Thank participants by name who have turned on their video. This positive reinforcement works wonders.

3. Engage Learners Within First 5 Minutes

The key to an interactive training session is participation and engagement. Integrate opportunities for participation in the first five minutes (ideally in the opening) to set the expectation that you will be requesting engagement throughout the session.

4. Ask for Learner Engagement Every 10 Minutes

To keep participants engaged throughout the session, aim to engage them every 10 minutes. While it may seem like a lot, the engagements don’t have to be formal; in fact, casual engagements work best. This cadence will keep learners paying attention, since they know you could ask a question at any time.

Here are some examples:

    • How many of you have experience with this topic? Share in the chat.
    • On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you already know about this subject?
    • What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about this topic?
    • Raise your hand if you’ve done this before.
    • What is your biggest takeaway from this section?

5. Wait for Responses

Sometimes, you may have learners who are difficult to draw out. If you ask for participation and don’t receive responses, you’ll need to wait until someone responds. If you just move on without a response, you are telling participants that they don’t have to answer your questions.

Instead of moving on when you lack responses, try these three tips:

    • Let the audience know that it can take some time to type their responses, so you are happy to wait a few minutes to share.
    • Reframe the question; perhaps it wasn’t clear.
    • Make the question easier to answer — for example, a “yes/no” question. Sometimes, it is difficult to answer more complex or vague questions in a chat.

6. Use First Names to Acknowledge Participants

When people respond, it is important to acknowledge their responses. For example, “John says he’s done this before. Mary is saying she is a beginner.” Using learners’ names rewards them with attention and positively reinforces that you care about responses.

7. Create Feedback Loops

If you ask for feedback or questions, integrating learners’ responses into the training shows them that their feedback matters. For example, at the beginning of a topic, ask participants to rate their knowledge in that topic from a 1 to a 10. If most people respond between a 2 and a 4, you can say, “I see that a lot of you are just starting out; that’s great! I have some excellent tips for you.”

Find ways to loop back to the feedback from your audience so they know that it matters, and use it to shape the way you conduct the training.

8. Begin and End in Full-screen Presenter Mode

It can be challenging for attendees to feel engaged when looking at a slide deck. Most virtual presentation software highlights the slides and shows the presenter in a smaller view. When you stop sharing your slides, your video becomes the full-screen focus. Beginning and ending the training session with yourself in full screen will help you build a connection with your audience.

9. Be Conversational With Predictive Reactiveness

A conversational tone and style will help you build a deeper connection with the audience. You want your learners to feel like you are speaking to them, not at them. One of the ways to build a conversational tone is with predictive reactions — reacting based on how you predict your audience will react.

For example, if you tell a joke, laugh as though participants are laughing with you. If you speak about something that is difficult, assume they’ve just nodded at you, and nod back. The idea is to predict or assume their response and react accordingly. This approach creates a conversational style and acknowledges the audience.

10. Use Breakout Rooms

Breakout sessions are a great way to drive participation in virtual training. Some participants don’t feel comfortable speaking out in a larger group, and breakouts give everyone the opportunity to participate. Here are a few tips for effective breakouts:

    • Give clear and detailed instructions so the groups know exactly what to do in their breakout.
    • Appoint a leader to avoid awkwardness at the start of the discussion or activity. It could be a formal leader or someone selected randomly, like the person whose first name is closest to the top of the alphabet.
    • If groups are working on a task, it can be helpful to give participants time to think in advance of a group discussion. Try five minutes of solo preparation, 15 minutes of group discussion and 10 minutes of sharing insights with the whole group.

Virtual training is a powerful delivery format. As a virtual trainer, you must be deliberate in creating an engaging environment to drive participation and keep the audience motivated. The good news is that virtual training experiences can exceed the quality of in-person sessions when they’re structured properly with the right strategies.