Virtual facilitation skills are more critical than ever, as many organizations adapt to remote work.
PSI has been at the forefront of virtual learning for a long time, and we are eager to see companies transition to virtual training effectively. Successful virtual training starts with a quality design based on sound learning principles. The seven tips described in this post provide a roadmap that will put your virtual training on track to “bring down the house.”
Tip #1 – Hold a Dress Rehearsal (or two)
With virtual training, it is not enough to know your presentation like the back of your hand. It is critical to familiarize yourself with the technical aspects of presenting your material online. A dress rehearsal is the best way to get comfortable with the software platform that you are using, whether it is WebEx, Zoom, Adobe Connect, or one of the countless other tools available today.
Do a few dry runs to learn how to use the tool. These practice sessions help avoid technical issues once the “lights go on,” and the live session begins. The goal is to minimize mistakes, not eliminate them. Mistakes are a fact of life, but don’t let them derail your presentation. Remember the show must go on!
During your rehearsals, be sure to practice a few skills that will be critical to managing the session, including:
- Quiet please – Mute all attendees at the beginning of the session to keep the noise down. You can unmute as needed when the time comes for learners to speak.
- Set up breakout sessions ahead of time – Breakout sessions can be organized around topics, job roles, or other factors where small group conversation or role-plays are beneficial. Be sure to set clear expectations about when breakout session attendees should return to the main session.
- Preserve your bandwidth – Many organizations are currently experiencing bandwidth issues, so utilize features in your training software that minimize bandwidth utilization to prevent interruptions. Strategies like uploading your presentation in advance and turning off HD video can make a big difference.
- Get by with a little help from your friends – Consider lining up a second person to assist you with tasks like taking attendance when attendees join (if required), resolving technical issues, and setting up breakout rooms. This will free you up to greet learners and ensure you start on time. Your helpers should participate in all dress rehearsals so that you are in sync.
- Think about the clock – Make a plan for adjusting the training if time runs short.
Tip # 2 – Set the Stage for Success
Make sure that your training gets off on the right foot by minimizing distractions and establishing engagement. Get to know the audience before the session and prioritize content that is important to them. Consider strategies that will help you grab the learners’ attention right from the start (Here is a fun video to help ensure you “ace your video call“). Be aware of your surroundings to ensure you make a good impression. Find a quiet location and check your video background and appearance.
Print your instructor notes before the session, so you can rely on those notes if needed. Highlight important points for emphasis by adding a prompt in bold or all caps (i.e., “DISPLAY POLL QUESTION #2” or “POSE THIS QUESTION”). This makes it hard to forget or miss a vital element of the course.
While you’re prepping for the session, don’t forget to prep your voice! Perform some vocal warm-up exercises and help Sally sell seashells by the seashore! Have your go-to drink at the ready (maybe a cup of tea with honey in the morning and water with lemon in the afternoon) to keep your voice fresh throughout the session.
Tip #3 – Avoid Showstoppers
Begin the session two-minutes after the scheduled start time. Some learners will inevitably be a little late to the “show.” Be sure to let the participants that are already in the session know when you’ll be starting.
Keep your introductions to a minimum. You will lose your audience quickly if it takes too long to get to the “main act” during a virtual session. Get down to business as soon as possible.
Set expectations for the session – Tell learners what you expect from them during the session:
- Explain that they will be asked to participate
- Briefly discuss any exercises they will complete, etc.
- Describe the functionality of Chat, Annotation or other features you want them to use
Promote participation and help the learners get comfortable with the virtual format by asking a question or two very early in the session. This encourages learners to use virtual features like Chat, helping them get oriented and engaged so that you have their attention right from the start.
Tip #4 – Always Hit Your Mark
Project energy and confidence during the session, whether you are using video or just audio. Learners pick up on these subtle cues. As you instruct, maintain good posture and keep your energy level high. Vary your tone and inflection as you speak.
Don’t be afraid to inject your passion and personality into the session. Use personal experiences and real-life examples. A good story is often the best way to convey a key learning point. Have fun and be enthusiastic, but remember “less is more” in virtual sessions if you want to keep the learners’ attention. Be succinct and move at a good pace.
Use your mute button throughout the session to clear your throat or get a drink. No one wants to hear you swallow or sneeze. Short pauses are not noticeable by the learners, so don’t be afraid to take a quick breath to reset.
Tip #5 – Read Between the Lines
Clearly articulate the requirements of any exercises or breakout sessions to make sure you stay in sync with your learners.
Ask learners to type “Done” in the chat feature when they finish an exercise. Keep the class moving once 60-70% of learners complete the task. If some learners don’t fully complete the exercise, they will hear the answers during the debrief. We have found keeping a virtual session moving is best, and learners appreciate that. Do not wait for every learner to complete the exercise because you waste so much valuable time.
If you are using breakout rooms, join in as a fly on the wall, to see how it’s going and ensure learners are staying focused.
Tip #6 – Take a Cue From Your Audience
When facilitating in-person learning, it’s easy to tell when your audience has “checked out” or when they’re confused. It’s much more challenging to do that during a virtual session.
Questions are your greatest tool to ensure you are accurately gauging your audiences’ interest and keeping them engaged. During the session:
- Ask questions every few minutes – you should never talk for more than 10 minutes without having some interaction with the learners
- Encourage learners to use Chat or Annotation
- Use polling to get feedback from learners or to introduce a new topic
If you feel you are losing the audience’s attention, ask a question or consider a short break just as you would during an in-person class.
Never be afraid to adjust on the fly. Use your experience and judgment. Don’t feel tethered to the script. After you teach a few virtual sessions, you will begin to get a feel for whether your learners are engaged.
Tip #7 – Leave ’em Wanting More
Wrap up the session by reiterating the key takeaways related to your audiences’ job or role. One simple technique is to ask the audience to summarize what they learned from the session using Chat or by unmuting their phones. This is a great way to see what they learned, and you can fill in the blanks to conclude the wrap-up. Keep the participation level high till the end.
After the session has ended, stay on the call to answer questions. Consider leaving your contact information on the last slide in case learners have follow-up questions.
Finally, when the session is over, take a few minutes to write down what you think went well and what you want to do differently next time. There’s always room for improvement.
Hopefully, these tips will help ensure your next virtual session is a success. Break a leg!
About the Authors
Chris Lawton, a founding partner at Performance Solutions International (PSI) has been providing training and consulting services to various industries and clients for the last 29 years (after a career in public accounting).
Jill Gualtieri, a partner at Performance Solutions International (PSI) has been providing training and consulting services for the last 25 years.
Performance Solutions International (PSI)
PSI is the leading provider of industry-focused training, custom learning solutions and learning consulting services to empower your professionals with the knowledge, skills and tools they need to succeed in today’s highly competitive environment.