Ideal Outcomes

Tips for Delivering Engaging Online Training

By Jeanne Kerr, Laura Nortz, and Barbara Gold, Ideal Outcomes Team Members

COVID-19 may have created an unusual working environment, but it has not decreased the need for employee training. In fact, one might argue that training is needed more than ever. Here are some guidelines for creating and delivering training virtually that is both engaging and impactful.

1. Pick the right platform

Boring lectures and death by PowerPoint will simply not cut it. Chat rooms, whiteboards, and breakout capabilities are essential to make the experience memorable. Some platforms you might want to consider include WebEx, Adobe Connect, and Zoom, but there are other options on the market as well. Make sure whatever platform you choose offers a variety of interactive tools including breakout rooms, whiteboards, chats, and polls. Platforms that only allow for chat are not interactive enough to keep learners engaged.

2. Orient trainees to the platform

Make sure anyone participating in the class has the bandwidth and computer capabilities needed to participate from home. Any platform you choose should be able to advise as to the minimum operating systems and internet speed needed. Then, provide an orientation to the features that people will use in class. Plan on about ten minutes to get everyone comfortable. 

3. Adapt your delivery to online needs

Delivering online is NOT the same as face-to-face facilitation. If available, be on video at the beginning of class, and have participants come on video one by one. Then have everyone turn cameras off. This creates a visual connection. Also plan for ways to get people engaged quickly. One option is posting a thought-provoking question relevant to your topic online so that people can respond as they log in. Or use that time to welcome people individually and ask them a bit about themselves: where they live, what brought them to the class, and so on. If this class is one of a series, be prepared with notes from the previous class and follow up with them on a challenge they are working on. Finally, plan for a quick breakout discussion soon after everyone has joined. People can use this time to introduce themselves in smaller groups and discuss their responses to your thought-provoking question. Just as with face-to-face training, the sooner you get their voices in the room, the better.

Keep in mind, you will not have constant eye contact or facial expressions to cue you in on participant response. Without such contact, participants are more likely to multitask and get distracted. You will need to call on participants to keep them engaged and to avoid the “one person who is always willing to answer” challenge. 

You do want to let participants know upfront that you will call on them . 

  • Give people time to think before you call on them using the THINK-WRITE-VERBALIZE technique. For example: “What is the most important thing a new manager can do when meeting their team for the first time? Take a moment to think about that, and then write down your thoughts.”  Allow a couple minutes, then ask, “Jay, what did you write down?”
  •  Silence is your friend. Try counting to 15 in your head to allow people time to think and formulate their responses. 
  • Give specific instructions on how to respond: “Please put your answer in the chat box; raise your hand if you agree. Give us a green check if that is a challenge for you” are examples. 
  • Control and vary your pacing. If you tend to speak quickly, make an effort to slow down. 
  • se simple, declarative sentences when giving instructions. Duplicate instructions visually on a PowerPoint slide or another visual. 
  • Give people a heads up by letting them know an activity is about to start. You can say, “In a moment” or “Shortly, we will”
  • Ask one  question at a time. Watch out for the tendency to explain and rephrase your questions.
  •  Have participants make a written commitment to action and ask them to share these. 

Use breakouts often

We have found breakout groups to be an essential tool even if a program is only an hour. The breakout experience is always rated very highly by participants and truly gives the “this is not a boring webinar” feel.

Breakout sessions allow participants to interact with each other in smaller groups and more fully engage. We try to use them at least once an hour in longer programs. We find we can deliver full day or even multiple day programs very successfully by including breakout sessions. 

Hold breaks more frequently

Spending the day online is exhausting. A break every hour or 75 minutes is important. Vary the length of your break and make them odd lengths: 7 minutes or 11 minutes, for example. Use a fun break clock; there are so many free ones online. Our new favorite is swimming fish.

If you are in a longer program and doing a meal break, assign someone in the class to come back from break with a relevant quote or meme to share. 

All training requires careful planning and preparation; online training is fun and rewarding, but you will need to plan for it intentionally.