In 2020, many companies have needed to move their internal trainers from classroom to virtual training delivery. Outside of the circumstances and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the advantages of virtual training delivery are obvious. With virtual training, you reach more people, training can be deployed faster, more regular training events can be set up, and it costs less. We’ve been delivering virtual training solutions for more than ten years, and we know that the transfer to virtual training delivery can be smooth when the trainer understands the differences between classic face-to-face training and virtual delivery, and is able to adapt and develop him/herself.
We were recently asked about this topic by an in-house training team for a global company who train the company’s technicians on customer service and product updates for their range of consumer household machines. They asked us:
- What are the new skills that internal trainers need to master in order to train virtually?
- How quickly can our existing trainers master these skills and how can we help them to do it?
- How can we train trainers with no experience of virtual training to be confident with it?
Part 1 of this post is about the key facilitation skills for virtual training delivery, which we identified and worked on with our client’s new virtual trainers. In Part 2 you will learn how we designed a session planning template to support them. Part 2 includes a download of the template for your own use.
Essential facilitation skills for virtual training delivery
1. Using your voice effectively
Why this is important? – You won’t be able to communicate using body language and eye contact in the virtual classroom. You (and your trainees) will rely entirely on your voice. The challenge with listening to someone’s voice is that it’s just more difficult to pay attention, due to lack of visual stimuli. This adaptation is a challenge for trainers new to the virtual training delivery environment because it takes a lot of practice and self-adjustment.
How to develop it – We worked with trainers on adapting 3 voice elements:
- Clarity – pronounce words more carefully by stressing each syllable, avoid complicated terms, and repeat repeat repeat. After each segment, check in with trainees by asking, “Was that clear?”
- Speed – you can reduce the strain on listeners by just slowing down. This takes a lot of conscious effort in practice; a technique we suggest is to imagine you are speaking 50% slower and you will probably speak 25% slower (which is an improvement!)
- Pace – listening to a continuous stream of speech is a strain, so trainers need to practice pausing regularly. This gives listeners a chance to catch up and process what they heard. Try the 3 second rule – pause after each sentence and count to 3 in your head before continuing
2. Ensuring active participation
Why this is important – In a virtual classroom the trainer won’t have much idea who is paying attention, and trainees can easily become distracted by what’s going on around them and other things that pop up on their computer or phone. The only way to overcome this is to keep them engaged because (unlike the physical classroom) they are not a captive audience.
How to develop it
- Make sure everyone participates by calling on trainees by name to answer questions or share their thoughts; we recommend making a note each time someone contributes so that you can call on those who haven’t yet contributed. Of course, this is easier in smaller groups; beyond 20 trainees it becomes a challenge, but you can still use the technique.
- Make the session active by giving participants something to do; this can be a task (e.g. discuss this problem together for 5 minutes and present your solution) or using the tools in your virtual classroom (polls, icons, annotation, etc.) to ensure active participation.
- Ask questions regularly (as often as every 90 seconds works well) but avoid closed questions (e.g. yes/no questions) and avoid asking questions to the whole group as you will probably be met with silence; instead use the nomination technique described in the first point above.
3. Managing time and attention spans
Why this is important – Technically it is possible to run an entire day of virtual training but in practice this doesn’t work because it’s much more tiring and harder to keep trainee’s attention compared to the physical classroom. GoToWebinar researched the most popular length of sessions in thousands of training sessions and found it is 60 minutes. So, aim to break up longer training into shorter segments. Within sessions there are tips that trainers can follow to manage both time and attention spans, which you can read below.
How to develop it
- Plan less than you would for a physical training session; we see that trainers who are new to virtual training find that the time just runs away, partly due to technical issues but also because the tips and techniques you have read about in this post just take more time.
- Break up your session into shorter segments; if you have a longer training segment you can still break it up into chunks. This gives everyone a ‘cognitive’ break, which addresses the increased strain of concentrating in a virtual classroom.
- Don’t plan anything for the first 10 minutes; allow this time for participants to log on, test their connection and greet each other. We also recommend wrapping up 15 minutes before the finish, to allow for extra time you might have lost during the session, and also take questions. This will all impact the amount of content you can plan for a virtual session, which is the first point you read above.
Part 1 conclusion
We found that identifying and working on these three key skills areas can help internal trainers make the jump to become virtual trainers. In part 2 of this post, you’ll learn more about the elements of planning an effective virtual training session. If you want to continue reading, here are a few recommended posts on the topic of virtual training delivery.