Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear

If you haven’t embraced the world of live virtual workshops, here’s what you may be missing.

For those companies that have not yet experienced live virtual workshops, also known as virtual instructor-led training (VILT), there may be a perception that this approach essentially takes the form of either a typical webinar (one-way communication) or computer-based training (compulsory, canned content that is generally not very engaging). Because these companies don’t see the value that live virtual workshops can deliver, they may be waiting for the return of face-to-face (F2F) training rather than explore the emerging VILT frontier. But, according to the Harvard Business Review, putting learning on hold during times of crisis can be ‘dangerous,’ because ‘learning will be the foundation of our survival’ for both businesses and individuals.

Indeed, we must continue to learn in order to adapt and respond to an uncertain world with agility and resilience. Live virtual training offers us the opportunity to do just that. Even better, I propose that VILT can be as-good-as, or even better than, traditional F2F workshops. Exciting developments in this space are happening very quickly, enabling a wide variety of options to design virtual training that are highly engaging and effective.

In fact, a lot of organisations are switching over to VILT. A multi-national company that I work with had been concerned with the cost and carbon impact of flying people in from all over the world for training. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, they were very quick to pilot VILT. This was so successful, they have switched entirely to VILT for 2020 so that all staff (including those would otherwise not have the budget to attend F2F events) can access the training.

What you need to know to design and deliver a successful live virtual workshop

1. Choose an appropriate platform. WebEx Training, Zoom, and Adobe Connect are good choices, while Skype and WebEx Meetings don’t have the right functionality to maximize the benefits of the experience. Once we know what platform a company will be using, we can design the training around its available features.

2. Utilise tools to maximise engagement. The goal of the trainer in a virtual workshop is to create interactions for participants every three minutes. We know it takes more energy to stay focused in the virtual environment. That’s why trainers need to bring workshops to life with multiple tools and techniques, such as:

  • Chat: enables all participants to contribute/respond to questions/share thoughts at the same time, which could never happen in F2F training. This is especially helpful for those who would normally hesitate to participate in F2F meetings for a variety of reasons.
  • Live polling: allows participants to respond to multiple-choice questions which provides a quick way to instantly understand knowledge levels.
  • Annotation: allows everyone to interact with the screen. For example, the trainer can list influencing skills on a whiteboard and ask the group to select their favourites. The group is not only interacting with the content, but they are visually able to see the group’s results.
  • Breakout rooms: enable smaller groups to work through the material for a more direct, hands-on experience. The trainer can move among the breakout rooms to facilitate and answer questions. When the sessions are over, everyone reconvenes for debriefing, just as they would in traditional F2F training.
  • Reactions: enable non-verbal responses (think smiley face, annoyed face, clapping hands, thumbs up, etc.), providing an additional way for participants to interact. For example, in a recent Presentation Skills training, I held, each participant had to deliver a presentation at the end, and each received a ‘virtual’ round of applause which was quite nice.

These are basic features that training would be designed around. That said, with a platform like Zoom, the sky’s the limit when it comes to additional features you can bring into the mix. Because I can share my screen, I can share any application that’s available on the Internet. Which leads me to the next point:

3. Go beyond the basics to extend your virtual environment. We ran a virtual assessment centre for a company that was recruiting digital graduates. Six graduates were given the task to jointly create a presentation during the session. They decided to use Google Docs to collaborate and launched the shared document from Zoom. Observers from the hiring company were able to see and evaluate how participants interacted with one another by watching both the video, and the Google Document being updated.

 One of the cool apps that we are using quite a bit at present is Mentimeter. Mentimeter allows you to solicit participation using a variety of tools (multiple-choice and open-ended questions, ranking, quizzes, etc.); results are then visualized on the screen via word clouds, graphs, scales, comments that run up the screen, etc. Anonymous responses free people up to express themselves honestly (especially important in the context of deep uncertainty and ambiguity, political unrest, etc.). Another useful feature—especially for large groups—is Q&A. Let’s say a group of 400 participants is asked to submit questions for their CEO to answer. Obviously, the CEO cannot answer all 400! Mentimeter collects and consolidates questions so that the group can then vote and promote their favourite questions for final consideration.

4. Find a trainer who is passionate about live virtual workshops. As a training consultant, I believe it’s important to not only embrace the virtual environment but to be curious about its potential—finding ways to replicate traditional interaction and bridge gaps that the virtual space creates. Development in this space is happening quite fast, so trainers need to stay on top of what’s out there. They need to be able to find what’s new, understand how to apply it to the virtual classroom, and be adept at using the tools and technology. If a trainer is not fully utilising new tools, the training will not be as dynamic, memorable, or effective as it needs to be, and companies will be left with a poor impression of the value of virtual training.

Trainers also need to reimagine the training delivery, pace, energy, flow, etc. Content should be delivered in smaller, more tightly packaged components while leaving more time for participants to interact and engage with the material. Trainers must think about being ‘on screen’ and all that it entails. Professional production quality is an essential aspect of the overall experience. For example, a trainer can utilize green screen technology to project slides behind them as they stand and present, simulating a traditional F2F engagement. Beyond that, trainers need to understand how to keep things moving so that participants stay focused and engaged. This can include creative ways of incorporating physical movement into sessions.

Finally, a big bonus companies get when they invest in VILT: their leaders get exposed to the latest and greatest tools out there, so they can turn around and use them in their own team meetings—making them more interactive and engaging. Let’s face it—people like to try new things. They want to be stimulated and surprised.

Once everyone started working from home earlier this year, the trend was to use virtual training to quickly deliver wellbeing topics in an effort to help people manage stress and disconnection brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Today, topics around digital change are in high demand (like virtual collaboration, working from home, virtual meetings, creativity, and agility). We are also seeing the emerging trend toward virtual conferences. Companies are reimagining their offsites which traditionally would involve flying in hundreds of managers for several days. Instead, they are opting to hold a series of virtual events over the course of several days or weeks, to include things like panel discussions, breakout group activities, master classes, crowd polling and feedback, live chat, quick fireside sessions, keynotes, and more. One of the biggest benefits of this approach is that companies can now open up some of these sessions to their entire staff—in essence democratizing training and leveling up skills globally across the enterprise.

Are you ready to go big and embrace the emerging VILT frontier?

If so, I’m happy to meet with you for a complimentary consultation.


Steven Peng

About Steven Peng

Steven has an international background in executive coaching, leadership training & development and team coaching. View Steven's Profile

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