Training has been delivered virtually for more than two decades. If an organization did not have a plan for remote delivery before 2020 (the year that we would all like to forget), then they probably do by now.

The advantages of training attendees remotely are difficult to dismiss. There are no locations to reserve, no travel costs, no sandwiches to order, and in most cases, you can wear shorts to class. Unfortunately, the downside to remote learning is maintaining engagement with your group. One moment your chat is lighting up and attendees telling each other “Good morning,” and the next moment you’re not sure if anyone is paying attention, or worse, even there.

Trainers and facilitators have been compelled to up their game. While your presenter may be a subject matter expert (SME), there is no assurance that your attendees will stay tuned in. Business marches on though, and an active development program is critical to attract and retain, as well as train, employees. Necessity has led to invention at our firm and through much trial and error, we’ve arrived at a place where not only are people sticking around for the entire hour, but they’re usually eager to show up.

Among the many groups that we’re asked to deliver content to, our team leaders rank among the most vital. Despite economic challenges and a tight talent market, our company continues to expand. Every month, new names are added to the list of employees who are responsible for other employees. We’re all aware that effective leadership is a skill that needs to be developed and nurtured.

Without a program to help build efficient, productive, high-performing teams, growth will stagnate, and the competition will happily step in to provide a better service. Our team leaders need and deserve the best training experience possible. Through a series of common sense, thoughtful measures, we’ve taken our virtual training in a direction where attendees interact and felt heard.

Content

To begin with, selection of content should address the development demands of your teams and closely speak to current business imperatives. If your training team creates a session that focuses on internal communication when your company’s real need is recruitment, then you’re already at a disadvantage. To bring those needs into focus, the practice of holding ongoing conversations with your leaders needs to happen.

As training professionals, we must discern what the best return will be for most attendees. An added benefit of working closely with those we’re training is creating a sense of buy-in, which can go a long way in generating interest.

Know that modern slide deck is a far cry from what we were accustomed to seeing the early days. Research ideas for best practices on font selection, background design and transitions. Slides should be clean, easy to read and display thoughts instead of bullet lists. Someone will ask: “Will these slides be available later?” Have your finer points in the notes section when you send.

Meeting Invites

To say most of us are inundated with email would be considered a comical understatement. Your lowly invitation is now vying for attention from other emails, instant messages and mobile device notifications. Here’s where you’ll need to put your marketing hat on and draft an eye-catching subject line. Instead of using “Recruiting Training” in the subject line, you may try something a little catchier like “Becoming a Networking Black Belt.” Adding details in the body of the invite is important, but research indicates many of us aren’t taking the time to read beyond the subject line. Make it count!

The Tech

At this point, we’ve had our critical conversations, created our content and successfully filled up a roster. Now it’s finally time to deliver some virtual training. It should go without saying that now is not the time to try and learn new meeting software. Slow starts, no-starts and other facilitator issues are among the most effective ways to torpedo attendee attention. Don’t get caught off guard by problems you could have avoided with a quick primer. Also, time spent with colleagues testing and practicing using your meeting software features is time well spent.

You’ve finally started the meeting and flipped the toggle to turn on your camera. How does everything look? If your slides aren’t being shared immediately, then your face is taking up most of the real estate on the display. Have you positioned yourself where light is illuminating your face instead of shining in behind you from a sunny window? Is the camera positioned at eye level, or are you looking down at your laptop? Or the worst case, is your camera pointed at you from the side?

The objective is to replicate a one-on-one experience as much as possible. Do what you can to have that camera at eye level, directly in front of you. If your webcam is in your laptop, you may need to elevate it with a reem of printer paper or a few books. Ring lights are a cost effective way to light up your smiling face.

In rehearsal sessions, have you tried to find the best microphone for your needs? Many of us have been issued headsets for our day-to-day work, but do you want your group to keep thinking that you look like an airline pilot? Other options include native mics on laptops, wireless ear buds and even professional-style desk mics. With the advent of social media, a whole host of high-quality microphones can be found in the $100 price range.

Here We Go

There is no set style of interaction with your attendees, but in the spirit of mimicking a one-on-one conversation, it’s good practice to directly welcome attendees as they join. This may not be possible or practical with larger groups, but we’ve found a reasonable workaround: Tag-team your presentation with a chat moderator. Simple questions about how everyone is doing, what they’ve got planned for the upcoming holiday or anything else which will allow for relaxed messaging will create a more intimate, comfortable setting. Your moderator can read the more notable entries. Typically, your group will have a joker whose comment helps put the group at ease.

As you deliver your content, pause where it makes sense and encourage the group to comment or ask questions. We have found that a significant amount of learning can take place from each another. Online training works effectively when it’s managed more conversationally. Take a moment to get a temperature check of the group can also keep them on their toes — being prepared for the next question.

Closing the Loop

You’ve just delivered another award-winning session, and like with any good meeting, you’re leaving with some action items. The faster you can send those slides out to the attendees, along with any summaries or other materials, the more polished and professional your team will look.

Final Thoughts

The virtual meeting is here to stay. Our challenge as training professionals is to adapt and respond with methods that best fit the changing ways that people are accustomed to receiving information. Some things do remain constant though, such as the feeling of connection and purpose our attendees need to experience. Dialing up the energy, visuals, and especially the engagement, are steps that shouldn’t be overlooked for the best results for your training dollar. Fortunately, we’re all in the same place, and many articles on virtual meetings and software guidance can be found online.

While attention spans seem to be getting shorter, you still have a fighting chance to successfully deliver that critical content.

Register for the June Training Industry Conference & Expo (TICE) to hear Cindy Parker and John Ebel’s session, “Connecting and Engaging Your Audience in a Remote World.”
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