By Ryan Apodac
It’s go time. Training is over. It’s time to put everything I’ve learned into action. Can I do this? Do I have what it takes? These are just a few of the thoughts we’ve all had on our first day after training for a new position. The unspoken question, though, is always “Was my trainer prepared to help me learn what I will need to succeed?” While this is nothing new, the latest trend in training pertains to the environment. As more companies trend to a virtual model, virtual training is becoming more common in the workplace. Virtual training is convenient. However, one can easily overlook important factors that mean the difference between merely conducting a virtual training and conducting a successful one.
Virtual training offers unique opportunities. The obvious flexibility of people attending from multiple locations makes coordinating and scheduling easier than ever. Let’s review the top ten best practices to ensure a successful virtual training.
1) Webinar Service: In lieu of the traditional classroom training projector or large screen monitor required to display training materials and slides, it is almost impossible to conduct a successful virtual training without using some type of webinar service. There are many popular services available; the key is to know which features your trainings will utilize. Some services offer features such as passing your mouse, limiting interruptions by providing chat features, or manually muting that heavy mouth-breather. Typically, the more features you need, the more expensive the service; it’s crucial to balance budget with having the tools you need and will utilize.
2) Conference Call Line: Most webinar services provide audio conferencing. This feature seems to eliminate the need for an independent conference call line, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Technical difficulties on behalf of attendees can eat up enormous amounts of time. From mute malfunctions to pesky pop-up authorization screens, anything you can do to simplify the process of communication for your attendees is paramount, and nothing is simpler than dialing the phone and entering a conference ID. Even if you only use a conference line to get all attendees onto the webinar audio service, it’s a lifesaver to have available if issues arise.
3) Instant Messaging or Chat: Verbal communication is not the sole means of communication in the virtual environment. Instant messaging or chat features are a pivotal piece of virtual training. Understandably, chat messages can be distracting during trainings; some services allow attendees to message the presenter directly. Chats can be used for pop quizzes or a quick check of attendees to ensure everyone is able to comprehend and digest the subject matter. It’s also a safe place for those who don’t feel comfortable asking questions in front of a group or who prefer to ask questions without interrupting the group.
4) Screen Share or Audio Share: The traditional training environment allows new employees to see and hear existing employees conduct activities in real life. In the virtual training environment, this can be a challenge. While one can demonstrate how to use systems and play recordings for new employees, it’s critical for most people to see and hear a situation in real life. As virtual training becomes more common, new technologies are emerging almost daily. Though it may require multiple applications to do so, enabling a new employee to see and hear an existing employee at some point in training is critical.
5) Participation: Any successful trainer will tell you how important it is to “work the room” and focus attention on those attendees who are distracted by directing a question to them or standing close to them to help draw their attention back. This is one of the hardest things to accomplish in virtual training, but here are a few tips. First, ask questions. But ask different attendees each time in an unpredictable fashion to keep them on their toes. You also could ask questions and have each attendee message you privately, thus giving everyone the opportunity to answer. You can also ask each attendee to handwrite and scan notes or type them and then send them at the end of the training session, which helps identify anyone who was not paying close enough attention.
6) Role-Playing: Role-playing is the best way to help someone connect with the training. This will help new employees get past the nerves of beginning their new position and avoiding potential mistakes. Every training will have one person afraid of role-playing in front of a group; it is unavoidable. Give everyone a chance to have his or her turn, but be mindful of this common fear. If absolutely necessary, offer to work with them one-on-one, but it’s vital that they practice. You can’t expect a new employee to succeed without practice in a safe environment where you can coach them.
7) Know the Technology: Knowing the content of the training is essential. In virtual training knowing your technology is also important. From which web browser to use and which button to click to “all I see is a little circle spinning; what do I do?” – as a virtual trainer you become IT by necessity. Research the usage of your applications on different web browsers and know the limitations and system requirements, such as updated Adobe or Java. Know your applications well, and be prepared to prove it. Inevitably every virtual training has at least one technical difficulty; the key is to know how to fix it in a timely fashion and diminish downtime for the rest of the class.
8) Icebreakers: Icebreakers are a fun way for participants to get to know each other in any training environment, but it is even more important for virtual training. In traditional training environments, attendees have breaks to socialize and get to know one another; that’s hard to do in a virtual training environment. And as it is sometimes hard to identify with a coworker by voice alone, getting creative with different icebreakers can help employees identify with each other and feel more comfortable working as a team throughout training. Icebreakers should be scheduled at the beginning of training and after any extended break. For longer trainings, have ideas in mind to use after heavy, detail-oriented segments as a way of not overloading attendees.
9) Hands-On Experience: In the virtual training environment, one of the main keys to success is giving attendees hands-on opportunities early and often – especially when it comes to systems. Most people don’t fully feel comfortable until they are able to navigate through systems themselves. Repetition is fundamental in learning systems, and it will allow attendees to ask for help with things they didn’t know they didn’t know. As the old proverb says, “Those who waste their time in idleness or in a nonproductive manner are easily misled.” This is especially true in virtual training. Even the most devoted attendee might have the urge to sneak away if he or she won’t be missed. Giving attendees something to do throughout the training will help mediate this risk.
10) Beyond the Classroom: Virtual training, like traditional on-site training, should not end in the classroom. As a virtual trainer, it’s easy to pick up and leave when the training is done, but it’s critical for new employees to begin new tasks with good habits. In order to ensure a new employee’s success, identify issues and help solidify best practices early on. Objectivity is key. As a trainer it’s easy to develop a mindset of “I can help anyone succeed,” or “I’ve invested so much time in their training.” This phase is the last chance to identify someone who is just not going to make it and conversely to give someone the extra coaching he or she needs to succeed.
While there are other aspects of training in both traditional and virtual training environments that are important, these ten best practices should not be overlooked. Do your research on technologies you can use to facilitate the needs of your virtual training. Experiment with different ideas and methods, but above all else make it fun and engaging. Just remember: “It’s better to train employees and lose them than to not train them and keep them.”
Ryan Apodac is responsible for training at Quality Contact Solutions, a leading B2B outsourced telemarketing organization. With a background of more than a decade in sales, Ryan is passionate about developing and delivering training that ultimately results in improved performance for client programs.
[From Connection Magazine – March/April 2016]