Right now, somewhere in corporate America, a trainer is giving a presentation to a group of sales representatives. The trainer is animated and informative, and the participants are attentive and engaged with the trainer and with each other. As the training ends, the trainer offers some parting encouragement, closes the session … and then takes her dog out to the backyard.
Even before the world changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, this scenario was not uncommon. Companies have long benefited from the option to deliver remote training to their far-flung staff. Rather than coordinating travel and logistics for training under the umbrella of a larger event (such as a global product launch), companies have been embracing the option to light up multiple online sessions for the sole purpose of training.
Whenever the new normal arrives, those multi-day events at a convention center may still be a worthwhile endeavor and a vehicle for training a group en masse. But right now, there’s nothing optional about remote training delivery, and trainers might as well embrace it. In that spirit, here some tips to share with your trainers to help them deliver an engaging training from the comfort of their own home.
1. Know the Motivating Factors
Understanding your audience is key to any effective training but more so when your connection is made solely over the internet. You should be able to find out ahead of time why your participants are in this training. Is it required or elective? What problems is the organization trying to solve? Having some background knowledge can help you convey the right tone.
2. Pick a Reliable Platform
All remote meeting platforms are not created equal. Depending on your budget and training needs, you may want to consider software that includes interactive elements such as breakout rooms, chat capabilities, whiteboards, polls and more. Overwhelmed by options? A knowledgeable consultant can provide you with the pros and cons of the top platforms.
3. Use Engaging Scenarios
As microlearning and other situation-based training modalities gain in popularity, one element remains clear: Learners will pay attention when they see how the training can help solve their problems. Work to incorporate use cases that mimic real-world situations. Then, present them in ways that are friendly to remote learning by avoiding slides that are bogged down with text, increasing the use of graphics and charts, and providing plenty of opportunities for feedback and discussion.
4. Set the Pace
In live, face-to-face training, the class moves along as one, and reticent or distracted learners can’t hide from the trainer for long. In remote sessions, it’s easy for participants to multitask, stay muted and otherwise feign attention. Some software can check against this problem by flagging inattentive participants, but trainers must add an extra level of engagement to ensure adoption of new skills or behaviors. Review your content to identify areas where you should speed up, slow down or involve participants. You can afford a brisk but comfortable pace and still help everyone reach the finish line.
5. Encourage Collaboration
Our propensity to learn from our peers doesn’t go away just because we can’t be in the same room together. Look for scenarios that encourage your learners to collaborate. Depending on the software you use, you may be able to leverage it for those scenarios. Try an exercise that uses a whiteboard, chat or discussion feature, and open up the line to participants. The benefits are twofold: Participants can learn from each other, and as a trainer, you may hear unique insights or see patterns emerge.
6. Take Frequent Breaks
Learning works best with frequent breaks. It’s not just the digital age zapping our attention-addled brains; science suggests that breaks are important in order for our brains to synthesize and retain new information. For lengthier online sessions, aim to pause every 10 minutes or so. These breaks don’t have to be lengthy or even breaks in the traditional sense. Any type of pause, whether it’s for a knowledge check, a discussion or a quick check-in, will help the group reset and be mentally ready for the next section.
7. Stand and Deliver
Standing while speaking results in more assured and powerful delivery, so limit “Zoom fatigue” by positioning your camera for a wider shot. If you’re not up for the challenge, at least position your camera at chin height and your computer screen just below it. This way, you can look into the camera and give the appearance of looking at each participant, the way you would in person. Your delivery will benefit from the change in your volume and pitch.
8. Provide Take-home Reference
Sharing resources at the end of training is always a good practice, and remote training is no different. In fact, your options may even be wider. Quick reference cards and other documents are tried and true and are usually emailed to participants at the end of a session. But your participants may appreciate something with an extra level of engagement, such as an interactive workbook, online knowledge checks or links to videos that learners can bookmark.
9. Use Technical Support
Technical issues can occur at any time. The key is not letting them derail your training, which is where an experienced support resource becomes invaluable. It’s worth making sure someone inside or outside your organization who knows the platform and training environment can be available during the training or on standby. He or she can step in and debug issues so that you can keep your focus on the participants.
10. Retain the Human Element
You are probably already aware of the importance of a distraction-free environment when training remotely. Remember in our opening scenario, where the trainer had a well-behaved dog that waited patiently to go out and did not bark during the training session? It could happen … but more than likely, you’ve been on one or more calls where a household pet or small child (maybe even yours!) had no regard for professional decorum. Especially now, when the barriers between home and office have been forced down, take comfort in the fact that the situation will be relatable to all or most of your participants.
While the differences between online and face-to-face training can be numerous, with preparation and creativity, remote training can still take advantage of our human ability to learn socially.