May 14, 2020 | 5
Minute Read

How to Hold an Effective Virtual Training Session


There’s a reason why so many think pieces, reflections and memes about video calls have been circulating the last 2 months. So many of us are only seeing people outside of our household on video calls, which is a huge adjustment to make. Many members of our network are pivoting to virtual meetings, conferences and training sessions while we figure out what the new normal looks like.

The good news is that TTI SI is here to help with those transitions. I’ve already shared my best practices for working from home, but I know you need help facilitating online training as well.

While various states start to reopen, others remain sheltering in place. The future of the workplace and training might feel uncertain. However, it’s safe to say that virtual training is here to stay, and will only get more popular in the future.



How Does the Role of a Facilitator Change Virtually?

I’ve been facilitating training for the last 18 years, and I’ve been running training virtually for the last 11 years. There have been a lot of changes in technology and best practices, so I’m here to help you get started off on the right foot.

Your role is the same. I like to take a facilitation approach, rather than a training approach. In my opinion, trainers are giving technical instructions, like facilitators are supporting the growth and learning of trainees, while promoting a growth mindset and the sharing of ideas. Facilitation is a conversation, not a dictation.



What Are the Challenges of Virtual Training and Facilitation?

No Physical Cues

When people are together and in-person, it is much easier to pick up on the non-verbal communication clues. Those cues are eliminated when training virtually. Business Insider shares that 55% of your presentation is non-verbal. While you can still prioritize your own body language and eye contact on a video call, it’s going to take a lot more work.

Added Element of Technology

Here’s the biggest change. If you’re not tech-savvy, you need to catch up, fast. Some people are fabulous trainers in person, but struggle to control a room and communicate effectively online. You can’t rely on charisma alone! If you don’t know how to use your tools and manage different elements

Here’s what you can do to run an effective online facilitation.



Practice Your Tech— Then Practice Again

I cannot overstate the importance of being comfortable with your technology. If you’re not comfortable with your technical abilities, you’re not going to succeed.

The solution here is simple: practice! Before any training, get a friend or loved one on a call with them and run through materials, screen sharing, and any other tricks you have up your sleeve. Zoom has a lot of resources that I will share more about below, but you need to be comfortable using them if you want them to have a strong effect.

Even practicing muting your mic and turning on and off your camera is a great idea. If you don’t have a laptop camera cover, now is a great time to get one so you’re not caught off guard.



Use All Your Resources

This might be out of your comfort zone, but the good news is that you can learn the skills you need. There are tons of resources online for every video platform. I personally use Zoom the most, and they have a robust library of resources to help you use their tools effectively.

Here are some of my favorite facilitation tools that are built into Zoom!

Use the Whiteboard

Do you miss collaborative, on-the-fly brainstorming? The whiteboard feature on Zoom can help you get in tune with your creativity! This feature lets you write and share on a virtual whiteboard. Check out their resource page about it here.

Split Into Breakout Groups

If you are running a large training and want to use an exercise that works best for smaller groups, use the breakout rooms feature on Zoom. You can plan your groups in advance or you can create break out rooms on the fly. This allows small groups to work privately on an exercise or discussion. As a facilitator, you can join and leave the different groups to check on their progress and help when needed. Learn more here.

Change Your Background

Zoom has a neat feature where you can change your screen background. This can be an opportunity to have some fun on a call, but it’s also a branding opportunity! Sharing your logo and brand on your background is a great way to look professional with a little effort. (Bonus: if your office is messy, no one will know!) You may need a portable green screen for the best visuals.



Get Their Attention, Then Keep It!

While training virtually, you can’t rely on being able to read the room or pick up on body language. You have no control over the environment; you’re fighting against every distraction in their homes— their phones, kids, pets, email, and anything else. Since you can’t control the environment, you need to be much more direct than you might normally be.

"I use names much more frequently than I do in-person, to keep attendees engaged and on their toes. Understanding the underlying neurological implications of our social interactions can mean the difference between rejections and acceptance,” said Dr. Ron Bonnstetter, Senior Vice President of Research and Development at TTI SI. If you want more information about how the brain lights up when someone hears their own name, check out this article.

I also look directly into my camera, so I am looking directly at them. Your initial reaction while video chatting is likely to look at your screen, but this prevents direct eye contact. It’s a small change, but it makes a big impact!



Set Yourself Up For Success With Boundaries

This step is crucial to running a successful training. Each team is adjusting while working remotely for the last few weeks, especially if it’s the first time your team has worked from home.

By now, you’ve likely been on your share of chaotic video calls! It’s easy to step on toes, talk over others, struggle with a delay, or any other number of issues. I also know that, in my past experiences as a facilitator, I’ve dealt with inappropriate or derailing questions that have thrown the session off course.

The good news is that it’s easy to avoid those issues by building your session around boundaries. I usually have both video and chat turned off for the entire group. That way, they can see me but not each other. I am able to monitor a private chat channel where all their questions appear, and I then read those questions aloud and answer them for the entire group. This lets me filter questions and keep the training on track.

Obviously, if you’re facilitating a team debriefing session and the group knows each other, cameras should be on and communication can be open. It is a best practice to have everyone mute their mics while not speaking on a call, so encourage that up front.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to shut it down if there is problematic behavior on a call! You are in control. If someone continues interrupting you or others, thank them for sharing and then ask for other ideas. Simply saying, “Let’s get back on track” and moving onto your next point is normally effective. Document questions and topics that should be addressed in a different session, and share that you’re doing so. That way, your attendees feel heard and you have the opportunity to keep everyone on task.

If you’re overwhelmed at managing all these moving parts, get a moderator on the call with you. This person can monitor chat, help with technical issues, and help keep the group on task as needed. Again, make sure you’re practicing together beforehand!



Move Forward With Better Virtual Training

Virtual training won’t always be our only option, but its popularity is only rising. By adding these skills to your toolbelt, you’ll be improving your knowledge as a trainer overall. I hope these tips can help you conquer any fears about virtual training and move forward with confidence.

If you have any feedback or thoughts about these methods, share with us on social media! I’d love to continue this conversation and make sure every trainer has the skills they need to thrive, right now and in the future.


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