The State of Virtual

As the government lockdown rules start to reduce, many of our clients are excited and enthused about taking their events back into the classroom rather than remain online.
There certainly is a growing wave of fatigue with online and virtual events, with a growing desire or even a need to meet people face to face and create those highly impactful shared experiences.
As a dedicated virtual trainer and coach, I am keen to reinforce to my clients the ongoing value and benefits of virtual interventions, some of which have been lost through the improper deployment or overuse of virtual meetings and training events.
So, with a view to getting the most out of virtual training (and meetings), here’s our top 10 ‘Best Practice’ for effective virtual professionals.
  1. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should
    • One of the first phenomena to exhibit itself at the start of the COVID lockdown and expansion to the virtual world for a large majority of training professionals, was to try and use every single application and tool available them. Breakout rooms, whiteboards, links to quiz apps and dashboards. All of which can offer some added value, especially when considering the experiential nature of training. However, there are some considerations to be made before embarking on a technical journey of discovery in the virtual training world. Your technical expertise. There is always something of a challenge in managing a virtual event without really knowing the ‘ins and outs’ of the platform you are using. Invest some time to really get to know the operations, common problems and fixes. Consider your communication with delegates who maybe can’t connect or have low signal, don’t have the right equipment or aren’t in the right environment. If you are using external links, make sure you are fully aware of how they work. Even the simplest issues can create a negative experience for the whole event. Stick to what you know you can operate and make that experience seamless.
  2. Screen fatigue is real
    • At the start of the pandemic and the need to manage virtual meetings and training sessions, the first few interventions were quite novel for most. As time went on and it became the ‘norm’, the number of meetings and length of meetings seemed to extend. Often, we find delegates joining us a few minutes late, having come directly from another meeting and having to leave a couple of minutes early in order to join another meeting. We keep our sessions to 1-2 hours, with breaks, simply because staring at a screen causes fatigue, loss of concentration and general a poor level of transfer of information.
  3. Invest, invest, invest
    • Having the right equipment is essential. I don’t just mean the right equipment to log on, but the right equipment to log in, communicate effectively, have access to other files and communications, enough screen space to view, share and access information, comfortable keyboards and good quality microphones and speakers/headsets in order to fully communicate effectively. We generally invest a lot in office space, seating, screens and IT equipment, but this investment isn’t always considered when working remotely. It’s important to consider this from 2 aspects. As the meeting host/ trainer/ deliverer, are you fully equipped to run the session right through from accessing the platform, loading up materials for presenting or sharing, allowing participant access, ensuring connectivity issues are dealt with, advice for participants on set up, signposting the meeting and navigating everyone through the session? Investment in equipment, time for learning and developing technical expertise and virtual presentation skills are all essential.
  4. Knowledge, skills and competencies
    • The ability to create virtual learning rests on the trainer’s ability to develop robust training. A lot of training structure is often missing in live classroom sessions, due to the ability to create peer-to-peer learning and use open led discussion to find answers. However, in the virtual world it’s even more important for each session to be built around a strong pedagogy and written to a highly effective level through defined learning outcomes, methodology, the integration of structures such as Kolb’s learning styles theory, Bloom’s Taxonomy and the like to ensure participants are taken on a personal journey of discovery, regardless of the peer-to-peer ability.  In essence, back to basics is the key. Without flamboyant delivery, peer-to-peer discussion and open led discovery, the success of the virtual training session will depend on good old robust learning that increases knowledge, develops skill and creates competencies.
  5. Train the trainer, train the delegate
    • The virtual training room is often a new environment for participants; therefore, it is essential that not only is the trainer or host trained to manage and deliver via this platform, but also, they are able to ‘train’ the participants in everything they need to fully benefit from the experience. A higher level of technical expertise is required for the trainer, as is a focussed knowledge of the pedagogy. For the participants it’s important to ensure you have time to talk them through both simple and complex issues, are able to share relevant information and take away any barrier, technical or behavioural that may create a negative experience.
  6. Comfort is king
    • Considering both meetings and training sessions comfort truly is king. Although we advise against back-to-back meetings and over extended training sessions, we know it happens, therefore make sure you’re comfortable. A good seating position, lighting, screen, refreshments, etc. all go to make a virtual session more productive. From the trainer’s perspective, make sure you allow time for refreshments, breaks, movement, concentration down times and in general to put people at ease. A brief chat of ‘non-business’ discussion will provide a huge return on investment in the long run.
  7. Work is work
    • We’ve enjoyed several discussions over the past year about how to approach meetings and training sessions virtually and, for me, the answer is simple. Work is work. I approach each session as if I were in a client’s training environment or office. I dress appropriately, arrive on time or early to set up, prepared to host/ deliver whatever the desired outcome it. Yes, it’s easy to make excuses and justify a lack of professionalism because you’re ‘working from home’, but why should you let our standards slip?
    • If this means you need to take extra steps to ensure you aren’t disturbed or distracted, then you should take those steps to ensure you can be fully present.
  8. I’m still judging you
    • Turn up late (or just in time), not prepared, with poor video camera/ mic/ backdrop, etc. and I will judge you, sorry, that’s just my nature. If anyone tells you otherwise, then they’re probably lying.
  9. High impact takes preparation
    • When delivering virtual training we follow a simple formula. A one-day live training session in a classroom can be broken down into 4 x 1-hour virtual sessions, as long as there is an adequate (45-60 minute) work-based task that accompanies the learning content. This will not only provide you with the overall learning time required but will also have the added benefit of embedding the learning directly into the business, leading to a greater adoption of behaviours and better success. Shorter, high impact sessions that provide the right levels of information, access to further supporting evidence, the opportunity to embed the learning into the workplace and the chance to reinforce the learning through trainer presentation and discussion can result in an improved learning experience.
  10. Less is more, more is essential
    • Less time, more detail. Essential virtual training or meetings should take less time, mostly due to everything we’ve discussed so far, but that doesn’t mean they must be less effective. Taking the time to prepare for each meeting by preparing materials for attendees to take away, detailed presentations, handouts, supporting documents or media collateral are all essential in delivering a highly effective meeting or training session in a shorter space of time.
So, in summary, I believe virtual interventions are the future, or at least a big part of the future. The benefits are numerous and include a massive reduction in time wasted travelling to and from meeting venues, pollution caused by miles of driving, reduced work time for travelling and less associated stress. Yes, the process must be managed in a slightly different way, but with the right preparation, attention to detail, development of knowledge, skills and competencies in managing the virtual world, it is more than possible to perform to an exceedingly high level, you just need to embrace it!


Thank you for reading

– Alan


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