Learning & Development

Engaging Your Teams Through Virtual Training

In the last two years, work training has become almost entirely virtual. This shift offers several advantages, like lower travel costs and reaching a broader audience. There is no reason for virtual training to be dull or uninspiring. 

Do you have a team, like sales, that would benefit from a virtual or online training program? Chances are you do. Many managers are married to the notion that face-to-face interactions and charismatic delivery are exclusive to live sales training, making a traditional approach more effective. However, when it's done right, virtual training can be just as effective as its in-person alternative.

In many ways, this shift makes sense since virtual training is easily scalable. But this shift paved the way for other challenges. In particular, how do you create virtual training sessions that keep teams engaged while making them feel like they're receiving the same level of training that they would in person?  

How To Make Virtual Training Engaging

Here are ten things that separate good virtual trainings from great ones:     

1. Making training interactive

Tools like polling tools, polls, or a virtual voting app can help keep learners engaged during your session. These apps allow you to pose questions that influence the flow of the conversation, which encourages group involvement and collaboration among participants and provides valuable insights.

2. Having a clear purpose

Every virtual training should have a purpose, and all learners must know upfront why they are being trained. It can be as simple as "so you can do your job better" or "today we're going to cover X, Y, and Z." 

This allows learners to get acquainted with the subject matter at hand. Once they understand its importance, their perception of how engaging the session will improve dramatically.  

3. Real-world examples of how to use the skill

Your virtual training won't be practical if attendees don't see how the new skill or information will make them more productive on the job or help them grow in their careers. Make sure your attendees can see how this new skill will directly contribute to the bottom line or promote professional growth by providing examples during your session and when answering questions—even hypothetical ones.

In a way, you want to give them the illusion of being in an in-person setting where they have a real-life conversation with their instructor.

4. Tools that take the learning further

Tools allow learners to practice what they learned during training on their schedule—which shows that your organization cares about helping them retain this new information for long-term use. This also helps convert live stream training into practical on-demand activities since many employees find it challenging to integrate new skills and knowledge into their work without any practice. 

5. Letting trainees ask questions as they go 

When learners ask questions during a live-streamed training, it gives them the impression that they are in an active conversation with another human being—and not just a robot pretending to be one. 

To get your attendees used to asking questions during the session, make sure you tell them ahead of time that you will be available to answer questions throughout the course. It's also helpful to show them how to type their query into the chat box at different times—especially if something comes up that they want to ask but can't wait for due to its importance.  

TIP: Make sure your technology affords easy back and forth dialog during the live session. Some tools like GoToMeeting make this easy by showing a "call back" button in the chat box, which allows you to call upon whichever user is asking questions while you remain engaged with all of your other learners in real-time.     

6. Including gamified elements

Granted, they're not fun for everyone--but intermittent quizzes and trivia questions on your subject matter can be very engaging and help boost participant retention rates. They also show what teams have learned so far because there is usually some collaboration involved when someone wants to answer a trivia question correctly. In addition, quizzes can help warm attendees up to ask further questions after the session has ended—especially if they were the ones to answer the trivia question correctly.

7. Encouraging questions and dialogue between learners

Encouraging group involvement in virtual training can help make it more engaging, open-ended, and nonlinear. Group involvement is especially effective if you have asked an audience to collaborate or pool their resources during a session. In addition, audience members who participate tend to remember content better because they feel more involved in the learning process: They apply their knowledge and experience by thinking through challenges and answering questions as a team with other participants.

8. Live demonstrations on how to apply the material you're covering 

Encouraging live demonstrations of how to master specific skills will allow learners to follow along and make the material more meaningful. Live demonstrations can also help show your audience how other experts in the industry apply these skills daily—and this is very engaging for people who want to learn new skills to do their jobs better.

Remember, you're not just showing them how something works--you are giving them an inside look at exactly what's necessary to produce results when trying to master that skill.

9. Humor or personal anecdotes

Personal stories or humor that illustrates a point during training will go a long way towards making your session stand out as engaging content. It gives attendees real-life examples of what not to do and why certain things happen the way they do. Humor and personal stories are especially good at connecting the dots between a concept or process and how it plays out in the real world--while keeping things entertaining for people who might otherwise tune out after hours of training.

10. Assessing what people have learned so far

During interactive sessions, giving learners something to work towards can be very motivating and engaging content that they will remember long after your session has ended. It's also helpful to sneak in some fun questions here and there because quizzes tend to be more memorable than straightforward lecture material—and they help reinforce subjects the audience just learned.  

What to Do if You Don't Have a Large Audience

If you are having a hard time getting engagement in your live virtual training sessions, one of the best things to do is try and repeat what you've already done. Look at the topics that got the most attention or used the most questions from participants. Then try and replicate those points during future sessions--or sprinkle them throughout if they're excellent points to make with your audience.

Remember: people who pay attention tend to ask lots of questions because they believe the information will help them do their jobs better or be more effective within their department or organization. So encourage engagement by making sure your content keeps this in mind.  

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How Do You Know if You're Having a Successful Virtual Training Session?

One of the best ways to determine whether your virtual training is engaging content or not begins by asking yourself this question: were participants able to apply what they learned after going through your session?  

People often learn as they listen but don't go back and implement those new skills, which means that some of the knowledge gained doesn't stay with them for very long. If you want your virtual training sessions to be memorable and encourage attendees to do more than passively listen, you need to promote application during and after sessions. 

Another good way to see if your audience got something special from a live stream event is by asking what they learned from your training. If people can't even answer this question, then you may need to go back and find out why it's not working for them.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Creating Virtual Training Content for Your Audience

Asking yourself reflection questions before you create your next session is a great way to make sure you're making the most engaging content possible.  These questions will help you stay on track when things start to get off-course during a live stream. They are also helpful in keeping your audience engaged, so be sure to ask them at some point before and after the training is over.

  1. What do you want your audience to get out of this training?
  2. How much time do you need for questions at the end of the presentation?
  3. How would you rate your audience's engagement on a scale of 1-10?
  4. What's one thing you wish you did last time?
  5. What was the most valuable thing you've learned from a training this year and how can you incorporate similar elements into your next session?

What if Attendees Don't Engage With Your Live Virtual Content?

If your audience is engaging with your live stream training, it's likely because they are learning something new and getting much value from what they hear. If this is the case, great job! Now that we have covered engagement for virtual training material in-depth, nothing is holding you back from making next time even more engaging than ever before. If your audience is not engaging with your content, try and find out why. Ask yourself these questions to help you determine the problem:

Did I start strong?

Depending on the type of training you're giving, you can sometimes use an ice breaker to engage people. Here's an example from one activity that began with an ice breaker. Participants were asked to discuss where they are from, their favorite childhood book, etc. 

The trainer then went around the room and shared information about each participant so everyone could get to know them better--and encouraged attendees in the live stream training chatbox online to participate by asking them to share something about themselves. This call to action helped people engage with one another, and it got them thinking about working together, so when he began presenting, they were already in a group mindset.

Am I asking questions or looking for feedback?

Another way to engage your audience is by getting them involved with the session. You can ask questions throughout the presentation for live virtual training events. First, ask attendees what they've learned in the module thus far or if they have any questions for the speaker before diving into the next topic if you're doing a more formal presentation. If you're hosting an online discussion type of format where there are different topics like polls, discussions, etc., that's great because it helps you gauge the feedback from your audience. If there are areas that they're struggling with, perhaps you can address them in a future module or set up an online discussion forum for people to share their struggles and ask questions so everyone can help each other out.

Do I need to create rules of engagement?

One of the best ways to get your audience engaged is setting up rules for interactions during virtual training. For example, some courses have a rule that says if someone asks a question. They must lurk (i.e., read but not reply) until others have made all responses so the presenter can share everyone's thoughts without one person dominating the conversation.    

Another example is if someone asks a question, the speaker will always answer it, but they must wait to ask another question until everyone else has had a chance to interact first. These rules remove any barriers that might prevent people from engaging with each other. Because often, when there is no rule like this in place, one person can dominate the conversation while others are afraid to speak up.

Training is not the time for a brain dump!

If you're training people, you may be tempted to tell your audience everything you know about the subject matter, especially if it's complex and requires prior knowledge or a variety of different skills. However, you don't want attendees feeling overwhelmed with information overload, so instead, try to break your information down into bite-size pieces that are easily digestible for your audience.  

For example, if you're introducing new terminology to your audiences, like machine learning concepts or data science terms, then give a brief overview of them in an easy-to-understand manner. After that, have some examples ready of how they can be applied to real-life scenarios so people can see how the concepts works in practice, too. 

Is my presentation succinct and effective?

One of the biggest mistakes that presenters make is talking too much! People tend to do this when they're nervous or are inexperienced, so be sure NOT to fall into this same trap. Instead, always remember to pause after you ask a question, and don't just jump right back in with your answer unless it's an open-ended one where everyone is free to respond. Another thing is a lot is people rushing through presentations as if they're answering questions from their audience — and then there's silence, dead air, etc.  

These pauses are not only awkward but also can be disruptive because other attendees might start asking themselves questions like "are we supposed to be interacting with this part of the presentation?" or "is there something wrong with us? Why is she not saying anything?" For more on how to give great presentations, please see my previous post on virtual training presentation tips.

Virtual training is a great way to connect with your audience no matter where they might be. Although it's not exactly the same as being in person, virtual training can still help build a stronger connection between you and your audience. Engaged audiences are more likely to take away learning points that will stick. If your audience feels engaged, they're less likely to zone out when things get tricky. Set up rules for interactions early on for different discussions, so people know how best to interact while keeping conversations moving along.  

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