top of page
  • Writer's pictureRuss Powell

Live-virtual Training – How to Create and Maintain Engagement (Part 2)

Updated: Dec 21, 2022

Welcome to Part Two of our two-part series on facilitating great live-virtual training. It's loaded with tips for becoming an engaging facilitator of virtual instructor-led training (a.k.a. vILT, instructional webinars, Zoom sessions). Take a look at Part One for more tips!

Handling Disengaged Participants


Sometimes you will discover that you have a disengaged participant. Common ways this may come to your attention are:

  • Poll numbers don’t add up. (You have 28 participants, but only 25 voted in your poll.)

  • Participants disappear from chat. (You’re asking chat questions that everyone should be able to answer, but not all are responding in chat.)

  • A participant has not responded to a status change request. (You asked participants to vote Agree or Disagree via status change, and someone has not responded.)

It’s important to be aware that students have disengaged, but it’s NOT always important to call attention to it. Sometimes participants are away for good reasons and calling attention to their disengagement embarrasses them and wastes time. What IS important is to monitor participants’ presence and/or degree of attention, and use common sense and your own good judgment if you sense someone’s disengagement is a problem. Be diplomatic and lean on your producer as needed to help draw participants back into the conversation.


When you sense one or more participants have drifted, consider bringing them back in one of the following ways:

  • Ask a simple, relatively easy question of the ‘missing person’ directly. (Closed questions often work well here.) “Vasudha, we haven’t heard anything from you in a while. Which one of these do YOU think is most applicable?” (If Vasudha does not reply, note that out loud (it’s what everyone is thinking)—“Hmmm. Seems like Vasudha’s away. We’ll check with her again later.”—and re-address the group as a whole. “Let me put that to the group, ‘What are your thoughts on which one is most applicable? Please type your ideas into chat.’”)

  • If you sense the attention of the group is lagging as a whole (this happens a lot late in the day, and especially toward the end of the week), encourage a 60-second stretch break. Tell participants they have 60 seconds to stand up, stretch their arms and legs, neck and shoulders, take a few deep breaths and re-join the group. A simple exercise like that can quickly energize a tired group.

Find/Be a Good Producer

A skillful producer (a technical assistant who’s in charge of solving tech issues, warming up the group, and monitoring chat) is a valuable weapon in your arsenal of engagement tools. Skillful producers help participants start the program engaged and stay engaged throughout. They do this in several ways:

  • Warming-up class at start time with easy, fun, and/or relevant questions. (Where are you calling in from? What’s the weather like? What’s the name of your business? What do you sell? If you’re near a window, what can you see out of it? What’s your favorite sports team? Who do you favor for Best Actress in the Oscars?)

  • Monitoring chat for themes and questions. And calling the facilitator’s attention to those that seem most important, most relevant.

  • Preparing and implementing polls that are complete and accurate (e.g., free from spelling and grammar errors) and delivered at the right time (e.g., on cue, without delay, as needed).

  • Re-stating facilitator’s questions and requests for engagement into chat. A well-rehearsed F/P team has their webinar scripted such that the facilitator asks a question and explains how to respond, and the producer instantly drops that question (copied and pasted) into chat.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Well-run webinars, assuming the topic is relevant to the audience, are by their very nature engaging. And the only way to have a well-run webinar is to practice. In order to improve, you must rehearse with others and get feedback.

After-Action Reports

Debrief your sessions with your partner, always. Celebrate what went well, note what could be done better.

  • Consider using the Keep, Stop, Start format – What should we KEEP or continue doing (i.e., what are we doing well?); what should we STOP doing (i.e., what is not working well, or may be trivial, or not useful toward our purpose?), What should we START doing differently (i.e., did we or our audience gain/offer any insight into things we could improve?) Write this stuff down so you can remember it and have it at your fingertips when considering enhancements to the program.

  • Use your after-action reports to prepare for future sessions.

Top-10 Industry Best Practices

A few more industry best-practices from vILT (virtual instructor-led training) thought-leaders:

1 – Investigate Technical Limitations

Make sure learners have the required computing and network infrastructure to view the training. Understand bandwidth issues and test your training with the slowest connection speeds.

2 – Plan the “Choreography”

An online event must be choreographed like a dance or managed like a TV broadcast. Several authors recommend you script the session using a multi-column document with headings such as:

Topic | Objective | Learning Content | Graphics | Talk Track | Technology Required | Interactions

3 – Team Up to Fill All Roles

Good live online training requires two presenter roles:

  • An instructor/facilitator who does most of the talking.

  • A moderator/producer who handles the technology. This person can also do introductions, respond to chat questions, and troubleshoot technical issues.

If at all possible, have two people online to fill these separate roles. If that’s not possible, the instructor should practice ahead of time and have a second device connected to show what the audience is seeing. It can also work well to have two instructors who swap off the moderator role.

4 – Test Early and Often

If you have not delivered training this way before, test the course several times to work out the kinks.

5 – Keep it Short

Authorities agree that 60 to 90 minutes is the optimum time for a single online session, with two hours at the maximum limit.

For longer courses, consider breaking the class into multiple sessions with assignments and self-paced learning activities in between.

If you find that you're in a situation in which longer sessions are your best option (e.g., in our flagship workshop Leadership and the Middle Path, when held online, we go 4.5 hours per day over four days) be sure to take plenty of stretch breaks, and encourage participants to stand and stretch on their own as needed.

6 – Confirm the Audience Can Use the Application

If learners are unfamiliar with the platform, start the session by introducing the interface components. Let them test the interactive tools.

7 – Engage Learners from the Start

Use interactive openers. For example, ask participants to type their names and job titles/organizations into the chat area, and then welcome them verbally. Another introductory activity: show a map and have everyone use an annotation tool to indicate their location.

8 – Engage Learners with Frequent Interactions

Interactivity is one of the most important techniques for keeping learners attentive. Ask questions often and provide other interactions regularly.

9 – Minimize Text on Slide Decks

Keep your slides as clean and concise as possible. Do not expect participants to read the words the instructor is speaking. Research suggests this actually detracts from learning.

10 – Record for Playback and Evaluation

Most platforms make it easy to record and save online sessions. Recordings can be valuable to reach more learners, but also to evaluate your performance and improve subsequent sessions.

Top-10 best practices derived from the following sources:

  • 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 –

Many thanks to Deborah Klein and Catherine Wood for their contributions to this post.


Come join us for our next Leadership and the Middle Path workshop.


Sometimes leaders need extra help along the way—some dedicated, professional attention to assist us in crossing a threshold, working through a transition, changing a habit, or developing a new skill. Contact Russ today to discuss your coaching needs. He offers developmental-, performance- and transition-coaching (PDF). See also About the Middle Path.


Follow Russ on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.



bottom of page