Virtual Training: What to Avoid—And How to Succeed in the Online Classroom

Many organizations have been forced to transition from in-person training to virtual training due to COVID. This transition can take some time to figure out. As a training company that has led virtual training for several years, we’ve learned a few things about what NOT to do when training virtually, and what TO do to do as a trainer to make your training engaging, personable and effective. Below are four common mistakes to avoid when transitioning to virtual-led training and four ways that you, as a trainer, can up your game in the virtual classroom.

Four Mistakes to Avoid When Leading Virtual Training

Mistake #1: Eliminating the icebreaker. 

It can be tempting in virtual instructor-led training to skip the icebreaker due to time constraints. However, the icebreaker plays an important role in setting the tone for the training by getting people engaged.

Gathering together with other people creates a shared energy, but, in virtual training, with everyone’s microphones muted, that shared energy can feel lost. While people still see faces on their computer screens, the lack of noise and eye contact can be isolating.

That’s where icebreakers come in. Conducting a very simple, interactive exercise or allowing open discussion at the beginning of training pays off. A few minutes of interaction allows participants to connect on a human-to-human level.

Mistake #2: Thinking the content can be the same. 

Can you use your in-person training content in the virtual space? Not exactly. The biggest change you’ll need to make is figuring out how to engage your audience more frequently on screen. This may mean asking people to comment in chat or including a poll. You will also need to appropriately time the training to maximize the learning. 90-minute chunks of teaching are best, even if you need to divide the training into multiple segments. Just be sure to plan on having a good chunk of time dedicated to interactive activities.

Mistake #3: Allowing more than 25 people to attend. 

In an in-person workshop, having a few more people is typically not a big deal. You can usually tell if someone is distracted and use techniques, like walking around the room, to keep their attention.

When leading virtual training, it can be hard to manage a lot of faces on your screen. A rule of thumb is to cap the workshop at 25. More than 30 and it becomes a webinar. The best way to manage a large group virtually is to mute everyone upon entry to avoid background distractions, then allow them to un-mute to verbally interact.

Mistake #4: It’s only virtual. No need to be formal. 

Just because it’s virtual doesn’t mean you should slack off in any way. Like you typically do in person, dress one step above your audience when facilitating. Always start on time and be very deliberate in explaining exercises, using chat, breakout rooms, etc. and keep track of the time to be sure you’re not rushed or running overtime. Ensure there are no distractions (pets, kids, music, tv) on your side of the camera. You want to appear as poised, professional and prepared as possible, even on camera.


Four Ways to Up Your Game as a Virtual Trainer

#1: Use your non-verbals to make it feel personable. 

What makes you strong in the classroom will make you strong in a virtual setting, too. If you typically stand, then stand in front of the camera. This will help activate your muscle memory and tell you, “I’m training,” which will help you feel more confident. Give yourself space to use your hands if you need to, anything to make it feel more natural. If you are physically positioned as you would be in a traditional classroom, you will start to feel like you are in a classroom and feel more like yourself.

#2: Read the room.

Good trainers have an ability to read the room and then adapt where necessary to make sure participants are engaged.  However, in the virtual space, reading the room is more difficult. It can be hard to read someone by looking at a video square on screen.  In the virtual space, to read the room, the trainer needs to ask people what they are feeling rather than inferring their emotions. A few ways to do this is by calling on people who are not contributing. You can also regularly ask participants to post their reaction to information or an exercise through chat, hand-raising, emojis, or other virtual tools. This will help give you cues about your audience’s receptiveness and engagement.

#3: Lights, Camera…

When setting up your training area, view your environment through your camera and declutter anything in the background. If using a virtual background, use a solid color, the name of the workshop, or perhaps a logo.

Whatever device you are using for your training, the key to looking professional is to make sure the camera is at eye-level. Many people naturally push their screen back. Unfortunately, that angles the computer camera to look right up your nose for the much-too-common “nostril shot.”

There are three tools to help you “look” professional virtually: lighting, a professional microphone, and a webcam. Like your camera, you want the lighting to be at eye level and directly in front of you. Having the right lighting allows you to connect more personally with your participants because your participants are more likely to see your expressions. You should also look into having an external microphone, as it will improve the sound quality.

#4: Action! 

Before going live, rehearse and record yourself, to see how you come across to others. Running several tests of the training’s timing and equipment will give you a sense of the flow of the training. And when you practice talking into the camera, it will make you more comfortable when you go live. As they say, and this applies to virtual too, practice makes perfect (or close to it!).

TRACOM can help you deliver Social Intelligence training.

All of TRACOM’s programs have been delivered in virtual settings. We can help you shape a curriculum that suits your business objectives and matches up with your audience. Let us know how we can help.