Prepping Your Virtual Facilitator in Ten Minutes or Less

August 23, 2016 10:00 by Dana Peters
If you are a dedicated reader of our blog, you already know how important I feel the preparation process, specifically the dress rehearsal, is to successful virtual learning programs. Ideally, it’s best to organize a meeting with all involved parties a week or so prior to the first session to run through the material and discuss any questions, as well as identify potential trouble spots for mix-ups or errors. But what if this preparation meeting can’t take place? Often the answer is to meet 30 to 45 minutes immediately before the session to address any last minute questions, confirm plans, and clarify responsibilities. While not ideal, and somewhat risky, this can be an alternative when schedules are tight. But what do you do when your virtual facilitator arrives late for this “just in time” prep session? What if you only have 10 minutes?Being prepared for these last minute situations can help you, as the producer, quickly and easily navigate this scenario, AND keep the virtual learning session on track. The important thing to remember is to stay calm, positive, and supportive. Chances are the late facilitator knows when they should have arrived, and may be feeling a little stressed. Be prepared with a list of the most important things they should be aware of before the session gets underway. This should be a short, five to ten point list that can quickly be discussed. You can prepare this ahead of time, but order of importance should also be considered in case you run out of time to review before the session is scheduled to begin. I’ve included a few suggestions in this post, but it’s important to tailor the list to your session, your virtual platform, and the facilitator’s familiarity with the technology and the presentation.Most importantly, give them the quick tutorial on the most critical tools they will need to facilitate the session and communicate effectively with the participants (and you). Secondly, address any complex or potential challenging segments in the session plan that might interrupt the flow of the session. These can include the specific execution of an activity or exercise, sharing of documents, polls, or broadcasting videos. This may also include the format for how you will begin and end the session. Finally, it will be important to communicate roles. Take a moment to quickly describe for them what they should be focused on, and what your role is, as the producer, in support of them and the participants.  Clearly defining these roles will help alleviate any confusion or conversation collisions throughout the session. Again, the important thing to remember is to stay calm in the moment, be reassuring, positive, and be prepared for the unexpected in advance of the session. Has this happened to you?  What worked for you in a last minute emergency?

Eight Must-Have Resources for Every Virtual Learning Professional

July 27, 2016 10:00 by Dana Peters
I read, and I read a lot. The virtual training world is fast moving, and ever changing. For me, one way to ensure I’m staying current with virtual learning trends is to learn from the experiences of others. Each spring, I go through a pretty massive spring-cleaning regimen. Clothes that no longer fit, papers I no longer need, and books I’ve already read, but never seem to pick up again…gone. Books take up a lot of space, and even though I’ve read a lot of great books, I don’t keep the majority of them. The following eight books, however, always remain.  While I’m always on the lookout for more, the books below have served me well as my “go to” resources for tips, best practices, and inspiration for the work I do in the virtual learning space. I hope they will do the same for you. •        Visual Design Solutions by Connie Malamed In the virtual space, visual design is critical. If the design falls short, the quality of the learning experience and end results will too. The easy-to-read comprehensive format allows me to hone in on specific design solutions, concepts, and real life applications. I regularly reach for this book while I’m consulting on projects with clients or creating instructional materials for our own professional development workshops. •       The Book of Road-Tested Activities by Elaine Biech This book is an excellent resource for ideas and techniques associated with engaging training activities. As a virtual learning professional I’m always looking for great tried and tested group activities to implement in our virtual learning environments. While many of the activities in this particular book are created for the in-person ILT environment, they still often spark my creativity as I design for the virtual classroom. Not only does author, Elaine Biech, provide several well-tested games and activities, she also segments the activities by content areas such as communication, listening, sales, teamwork, and leadership skills. •        The Successful Virtual Classroom by Darlene Christopher This book is another good resource for effective engagement. As you can imagine, engagement is paramount for a virtual session to be successful, and author Darlene Christopher provides several proven techniques to engage the online audience. I find myself reaching for this book regularly for example case studies, stories of successes and failures, but also great tools, techniques and example checklists. I am also honored to be quoted in this book. (Thanks, Darlene!) •        Interact and Engage! by Kassy Laborie and Tom Stone Did I mention that engagement is paramount? This is another excellent resource for breaking the monotony of the virtual lecture.  The authors do an excellent job of remedying poor online training experiences and utilize several activities and training techniques to not only improve engagement, but also drive retention of information. The book provides numerous example activities and exercises for taking your virtual session to the next level. Plus it’s written in a light and humorous tone, making it an easy read. •        10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations by Wayne Turmel Author, Wayne Turmel, provides a quick, easy-to-read, resource for nearly every kind of virtual presentation in this book. The book coaches virtual presenters on how to appear calm under pressure, and engage as if they were conducting an in-person session, which is no easy feat for most people. He provides general rules, tools and lists to help guide his reader, and I find myself using this book regularly as a resource for my team, my clients and as a reminder for myself. •        Great Webinars: Create Interactive Learning That Is Captivating, Informative, and Fun by  Cynthia Clay Cynthia Clay is the chief executive officer of Net Speed Learning Solutions. She has worked in the online learning space for a number of years, and shares her wisdom and wealth of experience in this book. She too, put together an easy-to-read resource for creating and managing virtual sessions. I find myself regularly referring to her book when I’m working with clients to really zero in on their eLearning strategy. Her focus is on blended learning. The book outlines best practices, and the importance of meaningful content and an engaging delivery approach to maximize learning. •        Live and Online by Jennifer Hofmann This is another design and interaction resource for me. The book walks you through techniques and suggestions for participant involvement, outlines what works and what doesn’t work in the virtual classroom, and helps you to identify whether or not the tools you’re using are helping or hindering collaboration. Hofmann provides sample exercises using familiar tools.  I use this book regularly as I review instructional design plans for a new or repurposed course. •        The Virtual Presenter’s Handbook by Roger Courville Yet another “bible” for the virtual learning professional, with more tips on how to keep remote attendees engaged. This book provides me with guidance to help train all types of facilitators, and help prepare them for working in the virtual environment. As we all know, it’s different than presenting or facilitating in-person. This book includes several “mistakes” facilitators should avoid when transitioning from an in-person presentation to a virtual presentation. What are your “go to” resource books? Share with me in the comments, I’d love to hear.   

Peeved: Top Ten Mistakes Virtual Presenters Make That Annoy Learners.

May 24, 2016 10:00 by Dana Peters
Participants are brutally honest. Or at least they can be when it comes to providing constructive feedback for your virtual instructor-led training (vILT) programs. If you’ve never collected feedback from your participants after a session, you should. It’s a major way to really understand what portions of the program need a makeover. Over the years we have had the opportunity to hear from a lot of participants about what they like about learning in the virtual space and what drives them up the wall. Like members of your own family, they will tell you the honest truth if you ask, and will tell you in a roundabout way if you don’t. Below, we’ve outlined what I’ve identified as the top ten participant pet peeves, and suggestions on how to avoid them. My hope is that throughout the development of your virtual instructor-led training programs, you can use this as a list of what to be mindful of.  Top Ten Participant Pet Peeves #10: “What is the point of me doing two hours of pre-work? It was never incorporated into our class activities or even referenced!” Time is a valuable commodity. Your participants are busy and often times have "to do" lists that stretch for days. At the same time, pre-work is a necessary element to most vILT classes. Generally, participants don’t mind doing pre-work, as long as it’s relevant. They want to know the time and energy they invest in pre-work will add value to their learning experience. Honor this by making sure your pre-work is impactful. #9: “How am I supposed to complete two hours worth of pre-work if you send it to me the day before our session?” Again, your participants are busy. If you want to ensure they actually complete the pre-work, give them their assignments and outline the expectations well in advance of the session. Showing respect for their time, will ensure a mutual respect for the value-add the pre-work brings to the course. #8: “I signed up for this course, but I have no idea how to get there. If this were in-person I’d have a date, a time, and a location where I need to be. Why didn’t anybody tell me how to get to the classroom?” Communication is key in a virtual learning environment. This starts even before the session does. Make sure you’re participants have the correct log-in credentials and the correct hyperlink that goes directly to your virtual learning classroom. In some cases, this communication is your learners’ first experience with you. Not communicating effectively or accurately is sure to make an impression, just not a good one. Make sure you provide all this information concisely and accurately and you’re participants will be on board with the session from the beginning. #7: “I thought this class was scheduled to be done by now? Why is the facilitator still talking?” It’s no surprise that a lot of these pet peeves center around time. Time is valuable, as we’ve said. While participants value the training and development that emerges from most virtual sessions, they still expect sessions to start and end on time, and you should too. Participants are often blocking off specific times during their day to complete these training sessions. If there is a delay in the start of the class, communicate clearly the reasons and do your best to still end on time. #6: “Oh no, not another awkward ice breaker… I don’t care where my fellow participant went on their last vacation, and I can certainly tell you what emotion I’m feeling right now. You won’t want to hear it.” Ice Breakers only belong in the classroom if they are relevant to the topic at hand. If it’s a smaller class size, having participants introduce themselves, their department, or where they are geographically located is a nice way for everyone to get familiar with who is in the room. Asking them to come up with a word or phrase to describe some relevant portion of the training they are about to take is great too. Keep in mind though that nobody wants to listen to 25 or more people introduce themselves and a laundry list of extra items. They aren’t going to remember everything about everyone, and they certainly don’t want to hear about what 25 different people are going to bring when they are trapped on a deserted island. You get the idea. Be creative, but don’t be kitschy, and take advantage of tools in your virtual environment that might allow people to introduce themselves in different ways. #5: “What does that say?” The virtual learning environment provides several opportunities to be visual. Just like the in-person classroom setting though, there’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to see something because it’s too small, too cramped, or clouded by distracting animations and designs. In a virtual space, you have no control over what size screen your participants will access the session from. To keep your learners from having to bury their noses in their laptops, do your best to keep long paragraphs of text to a minimum, don’t make the text too small, and make sure any graphics or animations are useful and not distracting. Work with a design team to select appropriate color combinations that make your content easy to read and understand. When in doubt use a "less is more" approach. #4. “Oh, you’re still talking? Great, let me just … zzzzzz…” Participants have a hard time tolerating virtual sessions that are boring, scripted, and lecture based. In an in-person classroom setting it’s easier for the facilitator to make eye contact and engage with their learners in a non-verbal way. In a virtual session, it’s important to be more deliberate. Design the course so it’s not just one person talking the entire time. Involve participants in the discussion, ask them questions, and get their input or they will just zone out. #3: “Hello? Hey, look at me… I have an answer! Hello?!” Participants want to engage. They want to be heard, and when they know the answer or can add something valuable to the discussion they want to be able to share. That can be difficult in a virtual session if they aren’t given the opportunity to do so, or if you aren’t watching for their cues. It’s important to pay attention to the tools the participants have at their disposal. A virtual raised hand, or a chat message is the only way they can communicate with you without interrupting. Make notes to yourself that remind you to look for chat activity or raised hands, and give your participants ample opportunity to contribute. If necessary, work with a host or a second facilitator who can help watch for that type of communication. #2: “Wait, what did she say? I wasn’t listening … I was distracted… those directions weren’t very clear.” Clear, concise, and accurate instructions are imperative for a virtual learning environment to run successfully. Particularly when it comes time for learners to do an exercise or break into teams to complete an activity. Make sure the activities are easy to understand, and practice the delivery of your instructions. Take extra effort to speak slower, and repeat important pieces of information more than once. Even though you expect your learners to give the virtual learning environment 100 percent of their attention, we all know that doesn’t always happen. They might be distracted by noise in their location, activity in the hall, or even chats and discussions happening inside your virtual space. #1: “What’s the point of this session? Am I supposed to benefit from this information somehow?” Any virtual learning session has to serve a purpose, and more importantly, that purpose needs to be clear to those attending the course. This starts with the instructional design process. A solid design targets a set of objectives and sets the stage for participants before they even log in to the virtual environment. Good presenters will outline the expectations for the course work, and make sure learners are aware of the benefits to them. This step is critical if you want participants to do more than just sign in. Outlining the development opportunities and the potential takeaways learners can receive will ensure they not only sign in, but that they listen and engage as well. Do you have other pet peeves that you’ve heard from your participants? We’d love to hear them- leave your comments below.

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Learning | Training | Virtual Instructor-Led Training | Virtual Learning

Work the Virtual Room

July 3, 2014 08:13 by Greg Owen-Boger
This article was originally published on The Orderly Conversation blog To guard against sounding tired or uninspiring when leading a virtual session, I always recommend standing whenever possible. Being on your feet allows you to move around the room, keep your energy up and your voice bright. As you can see in this photo, taken during a session I led for Training Magazine Network called Virtual Presentations that Work: Breakthrough to Engage Clients and Staff, I have the room set-up to help me stay on my toes during the session. In the photo, you can see I’m wearing a phone headset and there are three computer screens. I’m logged in as a presenter on the laptop to my left. The big screen TV on the wall, which I look at most of the time, is projecting the same thing. The computer on the right is logged in as a participant, which gives me a sense of how much lag I’m dealing with. The flipchart directly behind the laptop on the left is for my notes—used mostly to help me remember key information: The name of the session (yes, that’s something I might forget). The names of my hosts. A couple key phrases and leading questions, should I need them. The time I need to be done. You can also see that I have a hard copy of my presentation on the conference room table behind me. It’s there just in case something goes wrong with the technology and I have to wing it. You may not have the luxury of a private room when presenting virtually, but I hope you’ll be able to borrow some ideas from this approach. What ideas do you have for staying energetic and working the Virtual Room?

Dealing with Presentation Nervousness

July 15, 2013 10:02 by Dana Peters
Nervousness, even for experience presenters, is often part of the territory. It affects people in different ways for different reasons. One of our learning partners, Turpin Communication, specializes in presentation and facilitation skills training. Their VP, Greg Owen-Boger, and I have had several in-depth conversations about dealing with presentation nerves and have contributed the following thoughts in several LinkedIn discussions over the past few years. I thought you might find this information helpful as well. [More]

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Presentation Skills | The Orderly Conversation | Turpin Communication

Presentation Baggage Causes Barriers to Learning

February 28, 2013 11:43 by Greg Owen-Boger
Recently I had a lively phone call with a potential client. It was clear that he had done his homework and had some pretty tough questions for me and the other presentation skills training vendors he was looking at. [More]

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Presentation Skills | Turpin Communication