I have been lucky to be involved in delivering virtual classrooms for the past 6 years. To be honest, I was not really convinced that this could be effective…until I started facilitating them. With over 200 virtual sessions delivered on multiple topics and audiences from every region of the world, I can share 7 tips to create an engaging environment for virtual learners
1. Adapt your content
Virtual sessions cannot be, at least for behavioural skills, conducted as a content download. Most people are taking these from their workstation and if you going to talk at them for 2, 3,4 or even 12 hours, it’s just not going to work. Most platforms (WebEx, Adobe Connect Pro, HP’s Virtual Classroom) allow you to include multiple functionalities like surveys, polls, list tools and whiteboards. Use them. These will give an opportunity to the participants to be active but will also give you an idea of their engagement level. This will allow for a more facilitated workshop that usually keeps people more engaged than traditional training.
2. Be personable
Listening to as disincarnate voice for many hours is not easy. Make sure you build rapport by greeting people as they log in. Make your introduction professional AND personal by sharing some personal aspects of your life. Encourage some personal disclosure from your participants and make sure your pick up on things that are shared. This will encourage others.
3. Be sensitive to cultural differences
Don’t force participants to interact in the way you think is more effective. I have seen a lot of virtual trainers losing morale – if not their temper – because people don’t interact verbally. This is especially true when dealing with participants whose first language is not English. Group orientation and an indirect communication style, as often met with Asian audiences, also add to the discomfort of participants to speak up in the VC. Work you way around this. All platforms have chat and/or question functions. Make sure you let your learners know that they can use these functions too, if that makes them more comfortable, and keep reinforcing this. In my experience this leads to much more engagement. I recently conducted a 2 day VC for participants from China, Japan Taiwan and South Korea, all of it was done through chat and it worked wonderfully well.
4. Use breakout room activities
This allows for the participants to interact with each other on specific tasks/discussions and thus know each other better. It also allows for participants that are not comfortable speaking up in the main room to put ideas forth to a smaller group and still be represented during debrief. When you have different language groups, it also allows them to discuss more effectvely in their mother tongue before sharing the group’s output in English through one speaker.
5. Put some life into your delivery
Avoid what I call the History Teacher Syndrome (at least in my experience it was History teachers). Voice modulation and energy are key to keep people engaged. If you sound passionate about your topic it will be easier for participants to feel that the topic of the session is interesting. If you drone, don’t be surprised that they switch off.
6. Ask for feedback
Regularly ask your participants if what you are doing is working for them. Ask about style, content and methodology and be ready to adapt either one of them on the spot to satisfy them.
7. Be patient
All audiences are different and adapting to this model of delivery is a skill. Like any skill it takes time to build. If you lose patience because you are not getting the traction that you expect, you will lose all credibility in your learners’ eyes.
All things considered, I love virtual delivery. I meet people from all over the world and I love the challenge of keeping them engaged…and I can do them in my pajamas.
What about you what’s your experience? Any best practices you could share?