Takeaways From Our Virtual Training Programs
By now, we’ve all learned a lot about virtual-first work, like for example, virtual meetings or events are best in chunks or small bits that are easy to digest before the screen fatigue sets in.
From the virtual leader and team effectiveness programs our FlashPoint team has facilitated in the past 6 months, we’ve gained many lessons. Here are some things that we like about virtual training (some of these surprised even us!).
One thing that is no surprise to our team of learning and development experts is that the best ways to avoid screen fatigue are similar to our leadership development design best practices, which also suggest it’s best to spread learning opportunities out over time to encourage application and avoid information overwhelm.
In a virtual meeting everyone can engage all at once by using chat features to comment or cheer other participants on while sharing. Our team member Linda is a chat aficionado, often heard saying: “Where else is it possible to get every participant to give feedback and engage all at the same time?” Whether you ask participants to share thoughts, list small group discussion takeaways, chime in to echo a shared experience, or more, the chat is a great feature to engage everyone in the room.
Engaging and effective virtual trainings foster back-and-forth dialogue and polls are a great way to do so! Poll functions can create an easy warm-up discussion or better understand specific challenges with the skills or content covered. Skilled facilitators can use polling to personalize a session to participants’ needs, quiz participants on their understanding of topics, or invite examples of how they apply to their daily work. Polling can create a unique ice breaker – like asking participants their favorite candy – or encourage vulnerability by giving participants a more anonymous way to express how they feel about a statement or action.
We’ve also been pleasantly surprised to see how small group breakouts allow for deep vulnerability and bonding. Younger generations are accustomed to technology-mediated sharing via social media and other platforms, so there often is a built-in level of comfort. We’ve also seen that it’s even easier for some to engage with others, perhaps because it feels like a more private and comfortable environment. After all, the odds of someone overhearing from another table are slim and if participants are working from home, they may find themselves more at ease than a conference room. Rapport has come easily in full group sessions as well – participants often want to have a virtual “lunch” together with their fellow session participants, rather than logging off, to continue to get to know each other.
Inclusion in Participation
Virtual meetings can “lower the bar for participation, so you have an opportunity to glean thoughts and insights from people who ordinarily might not speak up in person.” Since everyone takes up the same box of space on the screen, it can be an equalizer, making it feel easier to speak up with a thought or idea. When asking for comments of feedback during in-person sessions, individuals might not feel comfortable speaking up, or get accidentally overlooked. Simultaneous chat allows for everyone to give their valuable input, in real time.
Virtual Facilitation Tips
We also polled our facilitators for their top tips. If you are just getting started with virtual training, or just want to know what others are finding useful, here’s a quick list of helpful hints:
- Just like in the regular classroom setting, facilitator’s energy plays a big role in participant engagement. In this virtual environment, that sense of presence and energy should be much higher to create the best possible engagement.
- It’s necessary to adapt, sometimes on your feet, to add more time for activities, interactions, etc.
- Teach backs are extremely important to engage participants.
- Provide very detailed instructions for activities and expectations.
- Facilitators should practice technology/resources/timing a couple times before going live and if possible, have a person who can handle tech support so they can focus on the content.
- Sharing whiteboards or notes from a discussion in a breakout room in the main room is great for conversation.
- Always have a tech check ahead of time so participants can get started learning with ease.
- Have links and other resources you share available to the participants immediately afterwards.
- Make it fun! Have people share something from their space they’re working in when we get back from a break, like a pet, a child, a picture, or an award.
- Our final facilitation tip comes from one of our client partners, Adrienne Sims, Vice President of Talent Management at OneAmerica. She encourages us to "consider adding an element of peer-to-peer learning, like peer coaching circles or learning groups. It creates an opportunity for greater inclusion, a safe space to share and learn from one another, and allows participants to build and sustain a network of relationships. Making these groups intentional cross-functionally and cross-level illustrates the importance of learning from one another."
These are just a few of our insights based on what we’ve seen so far in our shift in this current climate to primarily virtual training. What are you seeing as you’re doing more virtual leadership and team effectiveness programs? We’d love to hear how your participants are finding new opportunities for connection and learning opportunities.