As we navigate the shift from in-person workshops and sales training to virtual instructor-led training, there are many challenges to overcome as we forge ahead. Here are five:

1. Keeping Your Audience Engaged

As training professionals, keeping participants engaged is at the core of the design and execution of our programs. With the shift from a classroom atmosphere to an online experience, the challenge of keeping an audience engaged is magnified.

The key for instructors is to embody their role as a facilitator by doing just that: facilitating. It’s important for them not to flash a bunch of information on the screen and “talk at” trainees as if they’re a college professor giving a well-rehearsed lecture. They can’t hide behind the screen and assume their audience is hanging on their every word. Their role is to facilitate an active dialogue.

Here are a few strategies to share with your facilitators to help them accomplish that goal:

Don’t Spend Too Much Time Lecturing Before Giving Participants Something to Do

Use polls and the chat feature, or call on individual learners (as appropriate) to read a slide or answer a question. Switch it up every two to three minutes to ensure a continuous and intentional engagement.

Have Other Activities Planned

Planning an exercise for learners to do, a video for them to watch or something else for them to focus on will help eliminate monotony.

Step out of Your Comfort Zone, and Reach out to Individuals in Your Audience

If you don’t, you’ll hear crickets after you pose a question to your participants at large. There is, of course, a polite and tactful way to extract responses from your trainees without coming off as intrusive or overbearing. Try asking:

    • [Name], could you help me gain some understanding from your team?
    • If you don’t mind, [name], would you share some of your thoughts on this idea?
    • [Name], would you mind reading this slide for us?

2. Audience Attention Span

Attention span and audience engagement go hand in hand. There are multiple tools at a facilitator’s disposal to help recapture the audience’s attention and keep things flowing, including chats, polling and breakout rooms.

Because attention spans are short online, you can’t approach virtual instructor-led training like a full-day, in-person workshop. You’ll need to completely reimagine the structure and delivery of your information. Look at your content, figure out where there are logical breaks and break the training into multiple sessions over multiple days. Instead of a full day of training, for example, you may choose to deliver training in three hour-long sessions over three days.

This approach will give learners the opportunity to take a step back and digest the information they’ve received virtually and then reset with a fresh perspective for the next part of the training. It’s also a great opportunity for to assign some homework. Give learners exercises to reinforce the concepts covered each day and help them prepare for the training session ahead.

3. Tailoring Your Content

You may have a habitual method you’ve used in the past, and you may be wondering, “How much do I have to change the structure and content of my training to fit a virtual format?”

The answer? It’s a whole new ecosystem. Even though your core content and philosophy will be the same, it’s in your best interest to start from the ground up and build something that’s specifically tailored to a virtual format. Fit your content into the new and improved virtual “template” or structure.

In other words, start with the virtual environment in mind, and design your training around it. Don’t try to force an in-person training into a virtual format; instead, build something new that makes sense for virtual delivery, and then plug your core content into the new format. Your goal should be to deliver a seamless virtual experience to your sales training participants.

4. Learning to Walk and Chew Gum at the Same Time

Under the best of circumstances, technology can pose challenges for many of us. The added pressure of switching offerings to a virtual format amplify those challenges. If they’re not tech-savvy (or even if they are), it can be nearly impossible for your trainers to deliver and facilitate a virtual session while managing attendees, checking the chat, posting polls and sending groups into breakout rooms. It’s like learning to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Here is the most important tip for pulling off a successful virtual training: Have a producer. Have someone available to help the facilitator execute the virtual workshop by managing the technical side of things, including welcoming attendees and letting them into the virtual classroom. When you have a producer, instructors can focus on engaging with trainees, facilitating the best virtual training that they can deliver, while letting someone else manage the technical work.

You also may want to consider investing in equipment that will make the virtual training process easier, such as additional screens, a better camera and lighting.

5. Timing

Keeping training on track and on time is a challenge that piggybacks on the difficulty of managing technology. Much of this challenge is due to technology issues and the time it takes to resolve them.

Because travel is obsolete, many people are scheduling themselves on back-to-back virtual meetings and calls. You don’t have time for overlap, which means that mastering timing has become imperative. In a virtual environment, potential “time-sucks” include making sure participants’ cameras and microphones are on, making sure they have the meeting link and correct password, and general troubleshooting. All of these activities mean less time spent on content delivery.

The only way to overcome this challenge is to take time (ahead of time) to prep participants, and your team, for the virtual format. Consider recording and sending a short video beforehand. Don’t go overboard and give them too much information (you don’t want to overwhelm them), but provide a short, simple introduction with information about how to log into the virtual classroom. That process will be their first taste of the workshop, so it’s important to make sure it’s as seamless as possible.

Do a test run with your producer and relevant team members to make sure everything is working as it should, and make sure the facilitator and producer sign on an hour before the training begins to troubleshoot any issues before attendees begin entering the virtual classroom.

The prep work requires a lot more “heavy lifting” up front to ensure a seamless virtual delivery — but it will be worth it in engagement and retention.