Live-virtual Training – How to Create and Maintain Engagement (Part 1)
Updated: Oct 11
Welcome to this two-part series on facilitating great live-virtual training. It's loaded with tips for becoming a more engaging facilitator of virtual instructor-led training (a.k.a. vILT, instructional webinars). Be sure to check out Part Two for more tips.
I recently wrapped-up a fun, how-to-run-an-engaging-webinar program for one of my clients. Here are some practical recommendations from it.
One of the most important things that helps make and keep live-virtual programs engaging is their relevance to the participants’ work and/or their personal or professional needs or goals.
If participants are there of their own accord, they are invested in having you, the facilitator, make good use of their time. A large part of your responsibility therefore is staying focused on teaching the concepts, principles and tasks they’re expecting you to teach.
Don’t let side conversations—both the conversations from participants and those conversations in your head (i.e., your personal interests related to the subject matter) drag you off topic and away from the path of the course. Sometimes it makes sense to veer from the path, but don’t stay there long.
Maintain your focus on the course objectives and helping the participants accomplish them.
Protect yourself from everyday common distractions, as much as possible, and encourage your participants to do so as well: e.g., hang a Do Not Disturb sign on your door or entrance to your cubicle.
Close down programs and turn off tools that are likely to distract you—Slack, email, instant messaging/texting apps, mobile phone, etc.
Use Visuals that Are Simple and Easy to See and Understand
Keep your slides and any multimedia you use relatively simple and easy to read.
There are many rules for use of PowerPoint slides; they center around principles of this nature: keep the slides simple and easy to read; use lots of “white space” and moderately large, simple fonts.
Use only a few words per line and only a few lines per slide.
Use only images that support your message, and keep them simple and few.
Have a good, strong message. And make your message—your speaking and demonstrations—not the slides, the primary focus of the program.
Work with your producer (your technical support person, a role which we recommend as essential) to keep the items on the screen few, relatively simple and non-distracting.
Be Deliberate in Your Word Choice and Tone of Voice
Strive to make your tone of voice congruent with your words—especially regarding your enthusiasm for the topic. Audiences pick up quickly on your enthusiasm and your sense of urgency about the topic. If you don’t sound enthused—even at least mildly enthusiastic—it makes participants think you don’t care or you’re not that interested and they begin to disengage. Because they cannot see you in a webinar, you may need to emphasize your enthusiasm for the topic more than you usually do.
Work with your producer to confirm your volume is appropriate, not too loud and not too soft.
Keep your use of jargon to a minimum. This includes acronyms and industry-specific terms and phrases your audience may not know. When you introduce jargon, always explain it right away.
Use Questions Skillfully
Skillful use of questions is an excellent way to keep participants engaged. Here are a few favorites:
OPEN VS. CLOSED
Use open questions (i.e. questions that invite a complex, multi-word responses) to encourage ideas, explore, brainstorm, and expand contributions to the classroom conversation. Open questions can be useful for “opening up” conversations and helping participants think-along-with-you and stay engaged. Examples: What do YOU think about that? Why do you think this is important? What other reasons can you think of? Tell me more about that. What questions do you have? (Note: This phrasing assumes they have questions, and multiple ones at that.) What problems do you foresee?
Use closed questions (i.e., questions that require a short or one-word response) to narrow down ideas generated from open questions. Use these too when time is running short and you want to keep conversations brief. Examples: Do you have any questions? (Note: Requires a yes or no answer; compare to What questions do you have?) Which step is most important? In what town were you born? Which strategy is likely to pay off the most? How much does it cost? How many are there?
Tie down is a term borrowed from the world of sales conversations. A tie down is a simple, brief question used at the end of a series of statements to help keep a conversation moving along. These questions may be open or closed. Their purpose is merely to encourage a response from the listener. Examples: What do you think? How does that sound? Do you agree? Does that seem fair? Does that make sense?
HOW TO RESPOND
Remember in a webinar that it’s not only important to ask good questions, but you also must tell participants how to respond to your questions. Do you want them to type their answers in chat? Or respond to a poll? Or use a status change (e.g., Agree/Disagree, Raise Hand)?
Choose and Use Your Platform Tools Wisely
Chat is the most common tool for dialogue in the virtual classroom. Encourage participants to use it right away, from the moment they “walk” into the room. Lean on your producer for help with this by having him or her ask warm-up questions in chat: Where are you from? What do you hope to get out of the session today?
RAISE HANDS AND AGREE/DISAGREE
Use raise hands for simple binary questions—i.e., "How many of you can hear my voice? Please ‘raise your hand’ by clicking the raise hand option in the status panel." One drawback to raise hands: if a person has disengaged, you may not know why they have not 'raised their hand.' Consider as an alternative using Agree/Disagree. Note that with Agree/Disagree there are three options—Agree, Disagree, and no-response. No response is good evidence that you’ve lost a participant.
See Part Two for recommendations on how to bring back disengaged participants, how to be a great producer, and our top-10 industry best practices.
Sources for these recommendations include our own experience creating and running live-virtual training programs and the following:
Kassy Laborie – Interact and Engage! (Association for Talent Development, 2015)
Ruth Colvin Clark and Ann Kwinn – The New Virtual Classroom: Evidence-based Guidelines for Synchronous e-Learning (Pfeiffer, 2007).
Jennifer Hoffman – The Synchronous Trainer’s Survival Guide: Facilitating Successful Live and Online Courses, Meetings, and Events (John Wiley & Sons, 2004)
The E-Learning Guild’s 144 Tips on Synchronous e-Learning, Strategy + Research – http://www.elearningguild.com.
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