Why Virtual Training Shouldn’t be SRO

It is tempting, now even more than in the past, to fill a Virtual Training classroom to maximum capacity, to make it Standing Room Only (SRO).  After all, if the platform system can handle 100 people (or 500 or 1000), why not take advantage of that?  This should, however, be the last thing you do.  It will have disastrous results – wasted money and time, as well as increased frustration.

Presenting a workshop virtually is a different experience to be sure than a traditional Instructor Lead Training (ILT) event but the end result needs to remain intact – giving the participants the best and most engaging learning experience possible.

To determine the class size for an ILT event, one of the most important factors is the instructor to participant ratio.  Depending on the content and activities, one instructor can comfortably handle 12 – 35 participants.  A Virtual ILT (VILT) should never have higher numbers than the corresponding ILT.  In fact, it should have less participants.

Virtual participants need more of the instructor’s 1-on-1 attention, not less.  When a group of individuals are in the same room, there is a sense of connectedness that helps keep the participants engaged and involved.  They begin to act as a unit, supporting each other.  The instructor is now dealing with 1 large group rather than individuals and can tailor the experience based on responses, questions, and, never to be ignored, the non-verbal communication the participants are constantly giving. 

All of this fades away when presenting VILT.  The instructor is now dealing with each individual and there is little if any group cohesion.  Without an increase in individual interaction from the instructor, it becomes much easier for the participants to step away (physically and/or mentally).

Each participant is facing a large number of distractions that the instructor has no knowledge of or control over.  A (too) large number of participants decreases the amount of individual attention and chance to interact and therefore, these distractions begin to win, more and more.  Once a participant has checked out, getting them back is particularly challenging.

A well-constructed workshop will have chances for the participants to ask questions, discuss and debate the information, participate in and debrief activities.  All of this takes time.  The larger the number of participants, the less new content can be covered, unless the participant interaction is sacrificed.  That sacrifice will erode the quality of the learning environment and its overall success.

With each participant added, you start the slow roll from actual Training to Demoing to Lecture.  Lecture being the least engaging and effective of all the training methods.

While there is no “One Size Fits All” number for all Virtual Training, there is an ideal number for each one.  This requires that each training workshop be reviewed, bringing a number of factors into account to establish the optimal attendance number.  Once set, that number needs to be respected.

Virtual Meetings People Want to Attend

As a Duarte facilitator I have had the privilege of presenting workshops on how to develop great presentations for several years now. During these workshops I am frequently asked “How do I make virtual meetings better?  How can I grab and hold my attendees attention?  How do I get interaction from the attendees?

My answer always starts with a story about my daughter about 8 weeks after she was born. Her father and I were less than impressed with her. She didn’t giggle, or look at us, or really do much of anything. It took my Mother in Law to set us straight. She said, simply, “You are boring. You have to remember she is hard of sight and hearing and can’t speak. You have to be bigger, more enthusiastic and more interesting for her to even register you are there.”  She was right (as always). We changed our approach to interacting with our daughter and she immediately started interacting with us more. (For the record – I have been Super Impressed with my daughter since then.)

What does this have to do with your business virtual meeting?  The attendees are like the baby – they can’t see or hear you as well and they aren’t usually enthusiastic about speaking up.  You are now a smaller, flatter, 2D version of yourself.

We have all been on the receiving end of a virtual meeting.  The presenter is smaller, quieter and less interesting that the millions of things that could be happening right next to us.  Things like the dog needing to be loved, the distracting co-worker, or the refrigerator that is calling out quietly to be opened.  When you hold a virtual meeting, remember all of these things are distractors that you are competing with.

Here are some ways to gain and hold the attendees:

1) Start off by setting the ground work that lets attendees know their participation is not only welcomed but also required.  Start by asking a question that everyone has an answer to but isn’t germane to the meeting topic.  Follow up with a quick conversation about the topic. Some samples:

* Where is everyone calling in from?
* How long have people been with the organization/Company etc?
* What’s the weather like where you are?
* Who is calling from the location farthest away from the presenter?

Gently let the attendees know that you expect an answer (either through Chat or Audio) and wait a bit longer than usual for the answers to start rolling in. This lets them get their chat window up and running and/or reminds them where their Mute button is on the phone/computer.

2) Be more enthusiast.  This means using more hand gestures and facial expressions.  Changing the volume and tone when you are talking.  We stay interested in things that are not consistent and/or monotone.

This may feel fake and awkward at first but it is worth it.  Remember the attendees are only seeing you through a small box probably in the corner of the monitor. 

3) Show the emotion that you want the attendees to feel when you want them to feel it.  We humans mimic.  If you show the emotion you want them to feel, they will be more likely and willing to feel and show that emotion.  You are the guide during the meeting, lead them down the path you want them to take. 

4) More visuals not less.  Break your 1 slide with 8 long bullets into 8 slides with just 1 bullet each.  The change rate of the slides will keep pulling attendees back to the screen.  That really complex diagram?  Make it several slides, each one highlighting just the topic you are talking about.  One complex slide that you stay on for 10 minutes will just encourage them to start drifting away (or going to sleep). 

With a little work and constant attention to your audience’s needs, you can hold the virtual meetings that everyone wants to attend.

Encouraging “dumb” questions

Many people do not have time for “dumb” questions but encouraging all questions will quickly bring greater transparency, trust and understanding to all forms of communication.

As a corporate trainer for over 25 years, I cannot count the number of times that I have heard someone in class say “that was my question too”.  Getting a class trusting enough to ask questions, is invaluable.  It can make the difference between a fine class and a great one.  Hint: it works the same in meetings too.

I approach this several different ways:

I always respond positively to all questions. Give all questions respect and space, answer them seriously and without signs of frustration or annoyance.

I ask the first “dumb” question (even if I know the answer).  Might as well be the one to break the ice.  Where is the Ladies room?  Is there a kitchenette nearby?  How do I get back to the parking garage?

If I overhear a question before class I will address it as part in class (without mentioning names).  This lets the attendees know that I am okay being asked whatever questions they have.

Encourage all questions – remember: One person’s dumb question is another person’s smart one.

The First Question is the Most Important

The first question in a training class is the most important question of the day.  It doesn’t matter what the question is.  More importantly, how the trainer responds to the question will set the tone for the entire class – whether that is one hour or several days.  Having participants feel comfortable asking the “dumb questions”, or repeatedly asking the same question, is a sign of success for a trainer. 

The goal of a trainer is to create a safe, comfortable and engaging environment for participants to absorb new information, play with it a bit and even try to break it.  They cannot do this if they feel uncomfortable asking questions, making comments and even, cringe, challenging the instructor.  The trainer must be seen as approachable for this to happen.

When the first question is asked, the trainer needs to take it seriously – the rest of the class is watching and noting the response.  No eye-rolling, no deep sigh, nothing that would show frustration or annoyance with the question.  Even go so far as to ask if there are other questions before moving on.  Setting the tone of “all questions are welcome” in the beginning is much easier than dragging questions from a hesitant audience later.

This precept is valuable in all areas of life, questions aren’t just for the classroom after all.  Job interviews, meetings, networking events, etc.  The first question is the most important question.

Social distance doesn’t mean isolation

Social distancing doesn’t have to mean total isolation. Working from Home doesn’t have to mean being completely alone.  We are all social creatures who require a certain level of personal interaction to stay healthy, happy, and with a good outlook on life.

Here are 12 small ways to help yourself and others in this time of social distancing.  Of course, use you best judgement about which will work best for your personal situation.  A brief reminder about the Basic CDC guidelines if you need.

  1. Host a WFH day at your house. Many people are being thrust into the world of working virtually for the first time. It can be difficult and makes people feel isolated. Host a day of working from home – but at your home instead of theirs. Set the start and end time (it doesn’t have to be a full 8 hour day either), make sure you are aware of their allergies (if any) and they are aware of your pets (if any) and talk about what the day will look like (i.e. an actual day of work not of talking). Make sure they have all the tech requirements they need and enough space to feel comfortable. Make it as much like being in the office as possible.
  2. Reach out.  If you know someone who is limiting their time out of the house or someone who is actually quarantined, call them.  You can have a virtual lunch or get on the phone and play a virtual game with them (i.e. Scrabble, chess, Uno).  Some suggestions: POKIPOGO .
  3. Connect each day. Reach out to those you know – via email, text, phone call, whatever. Make it a point to connect to someone different each day. Once you make contact, keep the conversation going, build a network of social interactions.
  4. Create a “Community Advice” email. Start by writing a piece of advice, talking about a resource that you like or just share some information you have found valuable.  Send that to a friend/contact (include yourself in the CC: field). Ask them Copy/Paste your list to their email and then add to the list and send it to a contact of theirs (keeping the CC: list inclusive). As each person adds to the list, everyone should get the new advice/information.  Repeat the process. Watch the list of shared advice and information grow as the days go on.
  5. Deliver a care package. It could be the just the basics, or a batch of cookies or a home cooked meal. Check with the recipient so make sure they are ok with it and when you should deliver it. Have a chat with them when you deliver it. Make sure they are doing ok.
  6. Send a card or a letter.  Email is great and efficient but we all love getting mail (well, anything that isn’t a bill).  It doesn’t have to be long or elaborate, just a quick “I am thinking about you” will do.  Don’t have a stamp?  The Post Office will deliver them to you.  USPS.com
  7. Host a virtual movie (binge) night or book club. Most phones can create conference calls. Someone in the group is likely to have access to a virtual meeting systems. Pick a movie (TV show) that all can get to via a streaming service, network TV, Cable, DVD. Set the date and time and have everyone click start at the same time. A book club is even easier as long as everyone can get and read the book in time.
  8. Take a trip to the grocery store together. We all need to go to the store sooner or later, why not go with a friend? Carpool to the store or meet there – whichever works best for you. Ask a neighbor if they need anything while you are at the store if they can’t go themselves.
  9. Host a small game night. 2 or 3 people and each can bring their own snacks if there is concern over food service. The games don’t have to be elaborate, remember – you are doing it for the social interaction and contact.
  10. Give blood. If you need a reason to leave the house, giving blood is a great one. The staff at the blood banks probably could use the interaction with people as well. More importantly, the current blood supply is down. Help someone with a different kind of need.
  11. Host someone in your house. Invite someone (or 2-3 people) to your house for coffee or dinner. If concerns about food service are an issue, have each person bring their own food or order take out. What you eat isn’t important, eating it together is.
  12. Go for a walk. With a friend, a neighbor or a local walking group. The exercise is good, being out of the house feels great but the interaction with another person is the goal.
  13. Create a “Write your own Adventure” email. Start by writing the beginning of the story, a few paragraphs or a full page. Send that to a friend (include yourself in the CC: field). Ask them to add to the story and then send it to a friend of theirs (keeping the CC: list inclusive). Repeat the process. Watch the story unfold as the days go on.

Whatever you do, make an effort to connect with someone in a meaningful way, every day. For your own sake but also for the sake of others.

How to Market Yourself as a Freelancer

As a freelance corporate trainer, I am always looking for help marketing my company, myself, my brand.  This great article in the TD magazine boils it down to 4 “simple” steps: *understand your brand, *position your brand, *think about your clients and *execute your brand strategy.  It evens includes a quick exercise for you to practice Positioning Your Brand.  Take a moment to do the exercise and share it in the comments section.


My Positioning exercise answer:

For consulting and training companies who have more work than their training staff can manage, Training de Jour is a company comprised of experienced, certified trainers that help close the gap between what needs to be done and what can be done.  Training de Jour is different from other training companies because we move across the training topic spectrum; providing training for business and management skills, team building and interpersonal topics as well as computer applications.

6 Fun Ways to Network While on the Job

The goal of networking is to meet people and form relationships. To share opportunities. To be known by a larger circle of people from a variety of backgrounds and places. This is as important for those people who have a full time job as for those of us independent agents/business owners.

But how can you work networking into your day to day routine, while on the job? Here are some quick, easy (and maybe even fun) ways to do that:

o Company Event planning (Company Open House, Science Fair etc)

o Join an internal committee (like your company’s Annual Conference Planning committee or a “Go Green” committee)

o Birthday club (a once a month birthday celebration)

o Community Volunteer opportunities (Join – or help plan – your company’s local community volunteer activities)

o Gardening/walking clubs and any other social club that is company based

o Mentoring Program (as a mentee or mentor)

Whatever option(s) you choose – Get out! Have fun! Meet people!