A colleague shared a screen shot of a recent Zoom session he led for a client. In the center of the screen was a blissfully ignorant participant who had logged into the training session on one laptop (with the camera turned on). She had turned her back to that web camera and was using a second computer to check her email.

You could argue that if someone is going to pretend to participate in a virtual workshop, they should probably know whether their web camera is on or off! However, there is more going on in this example of poor participation. We’ve paid a lot of attention to whether the virtual facilitator or trainer is prepared to fully engage attention in the virtual classroom. This article, on the other hand, focuses how you can prepare virtual participants. When you invite them to attend a virtual meeting or training session, you can help them show up at their best in these four areas: goals and objectives, technical readiness, web camera use and full presence.

1. Goals and Objectives

Prior to a virtual classroom experience, many trainers provide a description of the program, including learning objectives. Ask participants to take a few minutes to review the content of the course and ensure that they know why they have been asked to participate. Have them review the objectives and connect them to the challenges and issues they face on the job. Even better, ask them to set a personal goal for participating in the session. If you really want to hold them accountable, have learners share their personal goal with their manager or a colleague.

Encourage learners to double-check the information to see if there are pre-assignments they are required to complete before the online workshop. You want them to take responsibility for being fully prepared to participate actively in the virtual meeting.

To receive credit for attending a course, learners should actively participate in the virtual training experience. Suggest that they take notes as they listen and participate, recording actions they want to take. If you want them to retain what they have learned, require them to discuss the key points with their boss or a colleague. You want them to show up at their best, knowing exactly what they intend to gain, to achieve the most from the virtual session.

Your key message for participants: Understand the goals of the virtual training session, and link them to your personal goals.

2. Technical Readiness

Usually, pre-event communication includes a link learners must click to sign in. Remind them to download the latest version of the web conference software a day or two prior to the event. Provide a link to test the software, especially if it is a new web conference platform for everyone. This way, you can have learners find out in advance whether their video and audio are working correctly, rather than at the start of an active virtual event.

The producer will likely review the interaction tools quickly at the start of the session, but to increase learners’ comfort in an unfamiliar virtual training environment, suggest that they watch an online tutorial in advance that explains how to chat, answer a poll, or select a reaction or status icon.

Audio is sometimes the most challenging aspect of participating in a virtual training experience. If the session uses Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to stream the sound over learners’ computers, it may be necessary for them to use a headset rather than the audio on their computer or device. You might also suggest that they use earbuds if they are dialing in on mobile phones. If the event requires two-way communication, make sure that participants can both hear through their speakers and talk over their microphone, whether they are using a computer headset or earbuds on a cell phone. Unless they have no other options, tell them to avoid the poor sound quality of a speakerphone or the microphone built into the web camera.

Inform learners in advance that if they sign in at the start time of a virtual event and run into technical difficulties, they may not receive much technical support. While it can be frustrating for learners to feel left behind when the event starts without them, it is up to them to test everything ahead of the meeting so they do not impose upon everyone else’s time.

Your key message for participants: Take ownership of your technical readiness, and be prepared to participate.

3. Web Camera Use

Prior to the pandemic, we often had to persuade people to turn on their web cameras. With the increasing use of videoconferencing, it’s no longer much of an issue. Now, participants are simply unaware of how they come across on camera. Here are a few tips for virtual trainers and attendees who will be on camera:

    • Find a location where you can be undisturbed and undistracted.
    • Place your camera at or slightly above eye level.
    • Avoid sitting with your back to a window, which causes your face to be in shadow.
    • Avoid swiveling or rocking in the chair.
    • Do not carry your laptop or mobile device from room to room with your camera on.
    • Use a stand for an iPad or tablet rather than balancing it on your knees or holding it in your hand.
    • Sign into the event early so you can adjust your camera before other participants arrive.
    • Dress appropriately for the virtual event, even though you may be working from home.

Your key message for participants: Prepare to be on camera, considering appearance, lighting and camera placement.

4. Full Presence

It can be tempting for people to multitask during a virtual meeting or training session. They may think they will be more productive, but the reality is that they will give any project they are working on half their attention while giving your virtual training session the other half. This attention-splitting increases the sense of fatigue or stress that sets in when people attend (or lead) back-to-back online meetings.

Sadly, errors will increase as well. Learners will be less likely to retain much of the training content, they probably will not read email thoroughly and they will not use their best thinking on that project. People must make the choice to be fully present during any virtual session they have committed to attend.

Your key message for participants: Make the choice to be fully present, focused and participating actively for higher productivity and reduced stress.

In the virtual workplace, it can be easy to feel disconnected and distant. The choice to be fully present in a virtual meeting or training can change the experience from one of isolation to one of positive collaboration. It is a gift to all involved when attendees make a choice to show up fully present and ready to participate.