Whether it’s an online meeting, a presentation via webinar, or live online training, engagement is the main question on everyone’s mind. Will it be worth my time to attend or will it be an opportunity to check email instead? Interaction is the answer to successful engagement and using the features of the platform is the answer to interaction. However, the features alone do not engage the participants. It is what you choose to do with those features that will make the difference in your next virtual training, webinar, or meeting.
This blog article sums up the main points from a LinkedIn Live talk about interaction and engagement Kassy LaBorie (Virtual Classroom Master Trainer | Blog Virtual Hero Trainer Tips) and Barbara Covarrubias Venegas (Founder #virtualspacehero).
Virtual Classroom Master Trainer
Table of contents
What elements should be considered when you plan your virtual training sessions?
Way too often in the virtual space, the focus lies on the task hand, rather than on the people that have to complete it and their surroundings. Some of the aspects that are often forgotten about or ignored but can make a huge difference in the quality of your virtual training will be listed and explained below.
💡 Have a clear objective. The used activities and interactions should help the participants reach an objective set at the beginning of the planning process. Of course, this objective is different for every session. It might be better teamwork or better knowledge about a certain software or process. Once the objective is set, the activities that will ensure that it will be reached can be chosen.
💡 Allow the training to be about the participants. Virtual training sessions are about so much more than smiling on camera or sharing your screen and nice slides. They are about getting the participants engaged and helping them to learn what they need to learn. Truly getting people engaged in a virtual training will only work by involving them as much as possible, letting them work by themselves, and asking them questions.💡 Set expectations about how to be in the virtual space. Many have been thrown into the cold water during the pandemic when it comes to working virtually. Meaning that many have not learned the proper “etiquette” of the virtual space yet.
“The way we were thrown into the virtual space because of the pandemic certainly did not bring out our best behavior. For example, we are used to being muted all the time, and if participants are asked to unmute themselves, you sometimes can even see them taking calls or talking to someone in the background.” (Barbara Covarrubias Venegas)
Therefore, it is important to communicate certain expectations to the participants before the virtual training. Specifically, the following points should be included:
- How are the participants expected to set up their environment?
- In what way will the communication with the group take place? e.g. verbally (headphones and a working microphone might be needed), or in a written form
- Technology set-up: e.g. proper audio settings and internet connections, so other participants are not disturbed, etc.
- General behavior expectations: e.g. no phone calls are to be taken, etc., participants are invited to be active via chat or audio etc..
For example, before the first session of a #virtualspacehero events our participants receive the following mail with instructions. Besides, we often attach a short video explaining the platform so that all participants feel onboarded from a technological point of view.
In #virtualspacehero events you will be engaging in live conversations with real human beings. Expect to be heard and seen throughout. As with any remote meeting, each participant brings part of the meeting space with them. Please help yourself and others by ensuring you:
👉 Participate from a quiet place.
👉 Have a stable broadband internet connection. Optimum bandwidth, i.e. internet speed on your side will be at least 10 Mbps download / upload. You can measure it using speedtest.net.
👉 Use a headset.
👉 Turn your video camera on (if possible!).
To optimise your set-up, follow these suggestions on how to have a great video conferencing setup. Join on a laptop or desktop. The workshops are immersive and experiential; you will have a better experience if you can interact with a variety of tools easily.
What else do we need? ONLY your positive ENERGY 🔋 and positive vibes 🌊, which is the most important!
💡 Let the (adult) participants work and give them enough time to do so. Particularly, when working with adults, there is no need to spell out absolutely everything for them. They will have their opinions, stories, and experiences about most topics, and including them in the training will make it way more interactive and memorable. Also, when working with a new software the participants should actually work with it and not just read instructions from a PowerPoint presentation. Training is there, so what needs to be done in the daily work-life once the training is over can be practiced. However, this approach takes much longer than the frontal presentation, which needs to be considered when designing the time frame for the training.
💡 Keep it simple. There are so many great interactive tools that can bring a lot of fun and effectiveness into the training. Despite the vast offer, it has to be remembered that including too many different platforms or tools can just be very overwhelming for participants that are not used to it. Ultimately it might even get in the way of the process or the final goal of the training. The goal is the learning and not the tool!
🤓 Want to know more about how to create Spectacular Live Online Training?
What features are essential to give a trainer the best chance of connecting and creating connections?
“I do not think that it is difficult to connect in the virtual space. I think that people are making it difficult by not paying attention to more than just a lecture and smiling at the camera. The bar in terms of behavior was way too low for way too long. My mission is to raise this bar and have people do better.” (Kassy LaBorie)
Very often, everybody is expected to be “muted” when they enter a virtual meeting room. Because of that, it is often overseen what a powerful way of creating engagement and connection the mute/unmute button can be.
🔇 Creating a more participant-centered training approach also means granting them the power to decide for themselves when it is appropriate for them to be muted or unmuted. This, of course, also depends on the size of the group. A group with 200 participants cannot have all microphones on at all times. In a small group, however, this is possible and can contribute to a successful outcome, as people learn while contributing. And inherently people are less active in joining the conversation if they have to be on mute.
Another easy and fun way of creating connections with and between participants are so-called ice-breakers at the beginning of the training or during a break. Three ideas can be found here:
🖼️ Prepare a slide with 3-5 different pictures (e.g. different animals or flowers) and ask the participants which one of the images describes them or their current situation best and why. Then have everyone turn on their camera and microphone and one after the other answers. In that manner, everyone can get to know each other a little without any performance pressure.
👜 The above-mentioned exercise also works with asking the participants to take an object from anywhere close to them at that moment. This can also be used to debrief at the end of a session: look for an object and describe how that object relates to one learning/key takeaway.
💰 Even theoretical knowledge about a website or software can be acquired in a fun way! Prepare theoretical questions that relate to the knowledge that needs to be acquired, as well as some fun ones in between. Then let the participants go to the website or browse the software and find the answers themselves. They can either do that alone or in small groups. Dividing them into groups can increase the fun and teamwork even more as the “treasure hunt” can be turned into a little competition between the different groups.
🤓 Want to know “How you can create interaction with breakout rooms?”
What techniques can we use to drive engagement, interaction, and learning in our virtual sessions?
There is one simple golden rule in regards to driving engagement: TRANSFORM your in-presence activities to best fit for the virtual space. Conversion is not enough! Here are some starting points that you should consider during your planning process and the facilitation:
💭 Listen to the participants
💭 Ask relevant questions
💭 Participants should be able to feel good on camera (at the beginning or before the meeting give them some tips about camera settings, positioning themselves, etc.)
💭 Give the participants opportunities to actively participate
💭 Use all available features as much as possible without overwhelming the participants (e.g. chat, annotation tool, raised hand/green tick function,…..)
💭 Encourage people to speak and answer instead of you as a trainer saying everything first
“The person doing the talking is often the person doing the learning.” Jen York-Barr
Sometimes it seems like we have already accepted that the same level of interaction and engagement as in real-life training sessions cannot be reached in the virtual space. That is by no means true! Become a #virtualspacehero and learn how to make your virtual training sessions as interactive as possible. 💪🚀
🤓 Want to know “How to shape meaningful interactions?”
Covarrubias Venegas, Barbara (2020): How to use objects/props in your virtual training?
Covarrubias Venegas, Barbara/Keischnigg, Katja (2021): How can we create interaction with breakout rooms in our virtual live sessions?
Abril Canale & Barbara Covarrubias Venegas (2021): How to design online courses to bring learning journeys alive?
Abril Canale & Barbara Covarrubias Venegas (2021): How can we use stories and fairytales in our training