By: Tim Lenczowski, Sara Swiatlowski, Selena Fowler and Heather Todd
This is the second part of our series about what we learned from conducting training for over 400 people in a completely virtual environment. If you missed the first part you can read that here. In that post, we talked about the positive aspects of conducting virtual training. In this post, we’ll cover some of the areas we found a little more difficult and how we worked to overcome these challenges.
Audience participation was more challenging during virtual training - this was undoubtedly the number 1 challenge we faced. Since we were not in a room together, it was easier for the class to avoid the plea of the trainer for a volunteer!
We utilized the "raise your hand" function in Microsoft Teams so people could let us know if they were willing to review a question. This is also a feature we used so participants could let us know when they were back from a scheduled break or when they had completed an exercise.
When possible we’d have students put answers into chat and then we could use those responses as a review. This was especially useful when we were teaching "how to add a constituent" to the database, seeing who others were adding was a way to break the ice. When else will you have the opportunity to add Wonder Woman as a constituent!
Having small class sizes fostered a more collaborative environment where the participants were comfortable and more likely to participate in the training—sharing of screens to walk through exercises, asking questions, and sharing tips with other team members on specific business processes.
Prior to the training, it’s helpful to review the participant list and learn as many names as possible. Call people by their names, don’t use the word “folks” or "guys". It is generic and doesn’t make the participants think that the training is personalized or professional.
Different levels of technical savvy
Having a student share their screen was often difficult. Throughout the training we wanted students to participate by having them review an exercise for the class but sharing their screen was often an obstacle. If there was difficulty or reluctance to share a screen, we would have the student verbally walk the trainer through the exercise, telling us where to click and what we were seeing.
To help with tech issues, create a training session cheat sheet for the video conference system being used and send it to participants before training.
We included a moderator in the sessions to help monitor the chat, which we couldn’t easily see while screen sharing. The moderators were also available to help someone troubleshoot an issue via direct message instead of taking up valuable class time and having everyone wait.
If end-users were struggling with the technology, offer them a 1:1 session to help ease their worry and ensure they are getting the info that they need.
Online training is exhausting!
Sure, all training is exhausting for the trainers but online training feels a bit more stressful. More factors play into what could go wrong: your dogs are barking, your internet could go down, your video-conferencing app could go down in the middle of a session (and it did!), there are just more distractions.
With the pandemic, everyone is in the same boat having to suddenly work from home. The training team had a consistent message that we were all in this together. By acknowledging that this wasn’t the ideal scenario for such a large training program we were able to assure people that it was ok if they had to take a minute away to deal with a screaming child. We would be here to help after training if they needed a one on one session for something that was missed or something they needed to go into more in-depth.
And as we mentioned in our last post, meeting as a training team at the end of each day to debrief and decompress was a huge help in mitigating the stress. We took the time to laugh as a team and commiserate if things didn’t go exactly as planned or a dog interrupted the session.
We hope our series of posts on the topic of virtual training inspires you to embrace this period of remote communication. Listening to others, learning, and adapting all play a vital part in making a positive impact.