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Golden Rules for Virtual Training

This pandemic has truly turned the world topsy-turvy! But like finding a silver lining in any dark cloud, we must look at all the innovation and solutions that are emerging because of remote working. I, for one, have been particularly impressed with how the Learning Industry is still thriving and how seamlessly trainings have moved from in-person classroom set up to virtual experiences. While virtual trainings are not new, there is an increased focus now on the learner experience and the efficiency with which the learning objectives are met. However, I find that a lot of trainers (even experts) still need to excel in providing the ultimate learning experience while delivering trainings virtually. Below are some golden rules that I think can help with the same. So, if you are involved in virtual trainings, read on:

  1. Tailor your content: During a virtual training, it is easy to forget about the learner because they’re not physically present. The focus is more on what you need to cover during the training. But what we miss out is this key fact – what is important in a training is not just what ‘you want to share’ or what ‘learner needs to know’ but also what ‘learner wants to know’. Always tailor your content keeping in mind what the learners may be interested in knowing based on their background, their role, their context, their current level of understanding and their grasping levels. Doing this homework will help you come up with content that learners want! Also, keep reminding yourself this key fact all through the session as it is easy to switch to your wants and lose focus of what the learner wants when you’re not interacting with learners face-to-face.
  2. Pause for Q&A throughout the session: In many virtual trainings, the trainer asks attendees to hold their questions till the end. This is a debatable rule that I personally think comes in the way of virtual learning and so trainers should really reconsider it. Encouraging curiosity and keeping participants engaged is as important as maintaining the schedule. And this is challenging during a virtual session. The quick fix to this would be to insert a brief Q&A time after every 20 or so minutes depending on the duration of the session. At least pause and just do a check-in even if they don’t have a question. This will make the participants feel involved and be curious through-out the session as opposed to only in the last 15-minutes during the question and answer time.
  3. Energy levels: I cannot stress enough on the importance of energy levels, especially in virtual trainings. Think of it this way  – your participant’s learner experience is directly proportional to your energy levels. You may ask “I can showcase great energy in a classroom, but how can I possibly demonstrate energy levels when I am delivering a training on a VC?”. Well, there are many ways you can do it. Word choice – as simple as ‘saying’ that you are enthusiastic, the pace at which you are proceeding, the pace at which you are pausing, the volume of your voice, the audio quality, the look and feel of your slides; all of these can reflect energy. You just need to put in some thought and reflect “If I were to make this a high-energy learning experience for my learners, what can I possibly do?” You will be surprised at what you can come up with. Bottom line – don’t underestimate your energy-levels and spend some time thinking how you can do it.
  4. Participant interest: In a classroom set up, it is easy to observe interest levels based on your live assessment of participants sitting in front of you. But in a virtual set up, you do not get this instant feedback and cannot assess interest and attention levels easily. Also, it is easy to forget this aspect in a virtual training. So take a pause once in a while and check if everyone is still with you. Ask them to type their comments or raise their hand (virtually) to show they are still with you. You can think of having one or two ‘assistants’ who keep giving you feedback in 1.1 chat about how the training is going. This way you can keep a pulse check on their attention levels. If there is information that you feel may lose your audience attention, share that as a disclaimer but stress on why you still need to cover it. This will get you a better buy-in and will sub consciously make the participant still pay attention.
  5. Voice is the virtual body language: Often I tell people who are still new to trainings that in a virtual set-up, don’t think you can’t display body language. Accent, diction, tone, speed of your speech, audio quality is equivalent to your body language in the physical world. Think about how much you focus on body language in an in-person classroom set up. Do you do the same with your voice? Your focus on your voice in virtual trainings should be the same as you would focus on your body language in a physical set up. That is going to define the training experience.
  6. Time Duration: This is a big one. Many trainings go on for hours and hours in a single day. My recommendation is do not have any virtual trainings longer than 90 minutes at one go. If your aim is to improve learner experience, then you must accommodate this somehow. Think of splitting your sessions. Plan for a 15-30-minute gap in between two sessions. Learner attention during a long training is more challenging to hold and can be draining for both trainers and learners.
  7. Fun element: Just like you have ice-breakers, activities and other fun elements planned in your classroom sessions, plan for the same in your virtual trainings as well. The more people you can involve, the more the fun. It can be as simple as multiple-choice quiz questions interspersed all through the session. Or, mini-group games by dividing the participants into teams. You can think of different ways of providing a gamified virtual learning experience no matter what the topic is and who the audience is. The options are limitless if you are creative enough. And the result is always great.
  8. Video option: A picture speaks a 1,000 words, and a face speaks what words cannot! It makes a big difference if learners can see their trainer’s face. So even if the interaction is brief, make sure to turn the video on. But know when to turn off the video as well. Play around with it depending on what the participants should focus on at any given time.
  9. Group discussions, whiteboards and other interactive features: A couple of online platforms offer great options for interactions. You can use virtual break-out rooms for group discussions. There are also polls, whiteboards, interactive typing options. These are great way to keep participants engaged in two-way conversation through the session.

You may be new to virtual trainings with more experience in classroom trainings. But believe me, that shouldn’t stop you from delivering a world class virtual learning experience. Dip into your experience to figure what will work and what won’t and try to translate that to a virtual set up. Key thing to remember is to put in the effort to make your own golden rules keeping in mind your learners and that you are not in the same room with them. When you have these two as your guiding principles, I am sure you can provide an ultimate learning experience to your learners no matter where they are located and what topic you are delivering on.

I hope some of these tips come in handy for you. Do let me know your ideas and best practices

This blog is written by Neetha Jagan – Principal program Manager, GCC Bengaluru, Sabre Corp.

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