As virtual learning steadily became the new normal, facilitators and coaches have had to quickly adapt to a new form of facilitation. It’s no longer enough to rely on the same skills that made them successful at in-person training — they have had to develop new techniques to help them coach from behind a screen.

But they don’t have to go it alone. Let’s take a look at a few ways you can set up your facilitators for success when bringing your virtual program to life.

Be Prepared

Preparing your facilitator and your participants as much as possible before your virtual event will help create an environment where the facilitator feels comfortable and participants feel welcomed. Here are a few ways you can do so:

Send a Pre-Event Survey

Have participants answer light-hearted questions (e.g., “Where is your favorite place to go on vacation?” or, “What was the best meal you’ve ever had?”) to help your facilitator identify potential connections and conversation-starters.

Introduce Your Facilitator Early

Include a little information about your facilitator in any pre-session communications to build familiarity with participants.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Use your train-the-trainer and pilot time wisely. Help your facilitator become familiar with the virtual training platform and its main features (e.g., hand-raising, chat forums and screen sharing) and practice needed skills, like multitasking.

Have a Backup Plan

Whether they’re joining the session from an office or their home, make sure your facilitator has everything they need to stay connected. Set them up with a hands-free headset and a wireless hotspot device to prevent any audio or Wi-Fi issues.

Encourage Relationship-building

Many facilitators are great at what they do because they thrive on human connection. They build relationships with their participants early on to create a safe space where learners can share ideas and make mistakes. On a virtual platform, however, those relationship-building mechanisms are limited, if not eliminated. Behind a screen, it’s much easier for participants to be distracted and more difficult to help them feel comfortable sharing.

To create a welcoming environment, have your facilitator jump online 15 to 20 minutes early to start connecting with participants as soon as they join the session. Encourage them to practice looking at their computer camera, rather than at their notes or the screen, to simulate eye contact. Finally, early in the session, any participant-sharing should be met with positive affirmations to help other learners open up.

Provide Ongoing Support

While a facilitator may easily balance facilitation with participant engagement during in-person events, doing so in a virtual environment is not as intuitive. To help, make sure a producer is available during virtual sessions to manage chat discussions, help with technical difficulties and communicate with the facilitator throughout the session. While the facilitator focuses on coaching participants, a producer can act as a second pair of eyes, feeding participant questions to the facilitator and identifying participants who haven’t engaged in a while.

The New Normal

More than ever before, it’s important to find new and better ways to set up our facilitators for success in leading a virtual training program. While some facilitators will easily thrive in this new environment, many will need help cultivating the skills needed to engage training participants through a screen. By prepping your facilitators well, providing opportunities for relationship-building and providing in-session support, you can kick off any virtual training program without a hitch.

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