Lessons learned: making live virtual training work for our business

This week’s Secret L&D manager is German and has been working for one of the management consulting firms for 13 years. She is part of a virtual L&D team responsible for internal training solutions for a global group of analysts, specialists, and managers across multiple time zones. In our previous interview she shared how and why her organization got started with live virtual training solutions. In this post she shares more of her experience on how to deliver virtual training solutions well.

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Based on your experience over the last five years, what advice would you give a fellow L&D manager who hasn’t organized virtual delivery before and is planning on trying it?

If this is your very first move into live virtual training, I would suggest you start with a hard skill. Something which is more about skills than behaviours, for example software tools, processes etc. I would then search for a pilot group. For me a good pilot group is a group who will give you clear and balanced feedback. You should invest some time in preparing the pilot group. See it like setting the scene in terms of change management. People will probably be very sceptical and may even complain. You want to help them build an open mindset and help them understand why this move to virtual delivery is a good idea for them and the organization.

If this is the very first time you’re trying live virtual training then make the time to go and talk with people one-on-one and win them over. People don’t understand actually how “live”, interactive and fun, live virtual training can be. They might be thinking about e-learning or webinars where they just listen for half an hour. You want them to appreciate that this is live and that they will be expected to contribute in the same way as if they were in the same room as the facilitator. Tell them it’s not going to be a passive and boring experience, just pick up the phone and say “Hey John, you’re suggested for this training, we have this really cool format on WebEx, and it will be working like this and we’ll get you a really good headset and this will be really fun. You’ll meet people from Brazil and from Russia and ….”. Then see what you can do to help them be comfortable with the technology. Think about setting up a WebEx call with them beforehand and show them what WebEx looks like, how it works, how you’re going to use—and a few tips on making it a good experience, like finding a quiet place for the training session without people listening in, without background noise etc.

You want to light a fire in them. You want them to talk about the pilot session to other people and say at the very least, “Hey, actually that was not too bad!”

What advice can you share on designing and delivering live virtual training?

First of all, I would also invest in finding a fantastic and experienced virtual facilitator. You want the participants to connect with them and the training and leave with a positive experience. You can either look for an external vendor or learn-as-you go internally.

If you are going external you want to find an external partner who knows what they are doing and can guide you. If I use our example of working with you at Target Training, when we first spoke, and you asked me “Do you want a producer or not?” I knew that you knew what you were talking about.

Why do you feel a technical producer is so important in virtual training?

There are many people who don’t know what a producer is and what a producer’s role is. For me the technical producer is actually a key part of virtual facilitation and this is often forgotten.

The producer takes care of the technical part and if you use a producer, you can leverage all the functionality available in the virtual training tools, like breakout rooms, polls, whiteboards, combining whiteboards and summarizing them, letting people share output from the breakout rooms, managing technical glitches, etc. There are so many things that can be leveraged so easily. When this is covered by a producer then the facilitator can actually focus on facilitating – the human part of it!

Using a trainer and a producer works very well and everyone knows exactly know who is responsible for what when they have glitches. A producer means fewer distractions. It’s really a key thing for me to have a seamless experience and I wish that producers would be standard. I am a big fan of that.

What do you think makes an effective virtual trainer?

Being an effective trainer virtually requires different approaches. Let me share our first experiences. Prior to deciding to make this jump to virtual delivery, we had of course built up over the years a large pool of trainers and training companies who we worked with company-wide. This pool had a lot of experience with us and there were also a lot of alumni amongst them. We decided to invest in them and their development and help them learn to deliver live training virtually. They knew our company, they knew our people and they knew what our firm is all about. This key learning part was completely covered.

We decided to invest in them and their development in three ways – training them, learning by doing, and giving them constant feedback about really excelling in the virtual space. When we started with live virtual delivery, we said, “Just give it a try and let’s talk after 1 or 2 sessions about how they were delivered”. Our experience was that not every trainer can or wants to make the jump, and that is ok.

When I think about the better experiences I have had with facilitators, like your colleagues, what they all had in common was their ability to do a remarkable job in really building up trust quickly. They knew how to engage others and help people open up. I have also seen them play a lot with the pace which is so important. Generally, in the virtual training environment, people (myself included) tend to be talking much faster than they would in a classic residential training. Slowing the speed down really helps a lot, but if you are the facilitator it can at first feel kind of awkward and unnatural. The virtual facilitator can’t always see the other person and then there’s a delay and you feel as if you are talking into a black hole. But talking too fast is far worse as the participants feel they can’t contribute and are being pushed through the training as quickly as possible.  For me an effective virtual trainer can adapt their pace and play around with it. And the supreme discipline for me personally is when a facilitator can use humor in a virtual setting and makes participants laugh.

How much virtual training is delivered by your own trainers and how much by external partners?

I would today it is 60 – 70% by externals and the remainder by internal trainers. We have developed our own internal train-the-trainer programs for virtual delivery. This is delivered by those pioneers who were basically there at the beginning. We offer a “train the virtual trainer” program to our internal trainers. Our experts benefit from the experience, tips, tricks and advice the facilitators themselves learnt over time. They learn about designing and delivering virtual training.

Do you see a difference regarding training design in virtual training?

Yes, it’s absolutely different! Make sure you think carefully about the training set-up and format. For virtual training, the training design and the training materials need to be approached differently. In terms of training design, ask yourself what actually makes a face-to-face training successful and how can I apply this to the virtual training design? You certainly still want a lot of exercises, so the training is engaging. And, as the learners’ attention span is much shorter virtually, you might need to play more with timing and move fluidly between trainer inputting to discussions and then to exercises.

And a final question – how large would you recommend the groups should be for live virtual training?

It very much depends on the topic. For topics which require interchange of more sensitive things, for example soft skills or anything about teams or leadership, we say five to six people per group with seven being our absolute maximum. For what we call” technical trainings” I think we can accept a few more because the exchanges, discussions and conversations aren’t as important. For these kinds of topics our maximum is 15.

In the 3rd and final part of the interview the Secret L&D manager shares her views on which topics are best suited for virtual delivery and how she sees the future of virtual training.

 

 

 

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