At the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown and being told that for the foreseeable future, I would have to run virtual training courses online caused enough beads of sweat to run down my forehead. It looked like I’d just stepped out of a thunderstorm and to be honest, that’s kind of what I was feeling inside… that a thunderstorm was brewing. I am a trainer who prides themselves on their ability to ‘work the room’, adapt to the ever-changing learning environment and respond to the individual needs and dynamics of different people coming together. I had anticipated that all of those years of honing my skills would be wasted by now sitting in front of a camera and having to somehow keep to the same standard and quality of training I’m used to delivering in a classroom. How would I engage the group, keep them focused, get them working in mini teams, still be able to do all of the exercises I do in the classroom… surely that thunderstorm I thought was coming over the horizon was going to turn into a full-blown Hurricane?
Well, six weeks on and having fully settled into lockdown mode, I have now delivered a sizeable number of virtual training courses varying from in-house bespoke to generically scheduled courses and with group sizes varying from 3 people to over 80 people. What I am pleased to say is that the Hurricane never came and in fact the skies look blue and the sun is shining.
Why this turnaround you may ask? The main reason is I think I decided to embrace the situation and not fight it. Sometimes it is easy as a trainer to forget that we should also strive to learn new things and develop our skillset. It’s easy to end up focusing on helping and educating others and not setting aside enough time for our own personal development. So, I’ve suddenly found myself talking about Zoom, Teams, WebX and various other virtual platforms as if they have always been in my life, like a friend I went to school with who I’ve grown up with and who I know all the ins and outs about… certainly not like someone I only met 6 weeks ago.
The fact is that these platforms have become more than a friend, they have become my right-hand man, my wingman so to speak. I have discovered that with these tools I can see people I am training, hear their voices and discussions and see just how engaged they are and be able to interact with them as I would in person.
My experience of using virtual platforms?
So what has been my experience of using virtual platforms to run training sessions on? … good question I ask myself. ‘Enlightening‘ is the first word that comes to mind! In this case it’s been nice to be proven wrong, and that the experience people can have if they open their minds up to virtual training, can be one of enjoyment and fulfilment. Yes, it may indeed be harder to focus on what is being said when your 3-year-old is climbing all over your lap, or your dog won’t stop barking. The other day I was running a session and the most prominent noise you could hear was not me talking about how to motivate your workforce whilst in lockdown, it was the loud noise of clucking chickens from outside someone’s home office window. It may also be harder to maintain people’s attention for long periods but as trainers it is our job to overcome these challenges and find different ways to engage our delegates is it not?
What have I learned about virtual training?
I for one have learnt that when delivering virtual training I will be:
1) Taking more regular breaks throughout the day or shortening courses into more bite-sized modules can work well.
2) Using breakout rooms to set smaller subgroups various tasks or get them working on activities together and then feedback their discussions to the whole group has worked amazingly well.
3) Keeping people engaged. For example in one section of our Presentation Skills course has been enhanced greatly by delivering the course online. I usually get delegates to pre-prepare a short PowerPoint presentation before the course, that they will present to the rest of the group. In the classroom, on the day, I find myself messing about with 12 individual memory sticks all with varying degrees of security to overcome or, they have compatibility issues to contend with but online, well all a delegate needs to do is share their screen and hey presto – there is the presentation in all its glory ready to go and for us to enjoy.
4) Presenting to the camera not the screen. I’ve learnt the importance of facing the camera when addressing groups of people online and not the screen. I may feel like a TV presenter and at times I’d like to think I would give Ant or Dec a run for their money true, but it’s the little things that all make the difference. If someone wants to leave their camera off then talk through at the start why you need everyone to keep their camera on and the importance of everyone being able to see one another.
5) Maintaining engagement: If someone isn’t that engaged or looks like their attention is wandering, draw them in with a question to help embed the learning. Find out what people want from your training session and set some goals and objectives. Do all the things you would do in the classroom and above all keep it fun and laid back, because learning should be fun.
Well, for me anyway it has been a chance to look at new and improved ways to run courses, it’s enabled me to take my creativity in developing courses to a new level. It reminds me why I got into training and coaching in the first place, to make a difference in people’s lives and make the experience as fun and engaging as I possibly could. Do I miss face to face training, yes of course. I miss the vibe you get in a room full of people, but and it’s a big BUT, you can still get that similar vibe using an online platform, it’s just a different one.
Don’t be Scared of Virtual Training
I’m still coming across lots of trainers who are scared to use virtual training platforms, or they have had one poor experience and it’s significantly knocked their confidence but if that’s you then don’t give up. Practice with some friends, family, test out the functionality, and be honest with your delegates as well. If you haven’t had much experience with a certain platform then tell your delegates upfront, it’s nothing to be worried about. From my experience people can be incredibly understanding and we are all in the same boat right now. If nothing else, then the current situation has levelled the playing field so to speak. I’m getting used to seeing people on virtual training sessions with cats on their lap or children fighting in the background, or working at makeshift desks (my favourite so far was the guy sat on the edge of his bed all day with his laptop resting on an ironing board set at its lowest level) but isn’t that all part of the experience? I’m pretty certain on one thing, that online instructor-led training is here to stay, even after we are allowed back in the classroom I think more and more people will embrace being trained in a virtual environment and so as trainers, we should probably do the same.
Please feel free to email me, email@example.com if you like to chat or ask me any questions. I’d be happy to help.
By Matt Reed May 2020