11 tips and tricks to make your virtual meetings & workshops great
Virtual learning brings many new challenges for trainers, such as less visual feedback from participants, interaction being more difficult to build up, and motivation being harder to spark. (read more about the challenges of virtual learning in a blog post about Tips&Tricks for more engaging virtual workshops).
To adapt to that and create meaningful learning experiences, trainers need to rely on new tools and techniques – but most of all, we need to rethink our approach to designing learning experiences in this new space.
The crucial aspect of making virtual work for you is to not fall in the trap of “transferring” our “physical” learning design directly into similar virtual tools. Instead, we need to step back, refocus on the learning goal, and start training design by choosing the best approaches and methods to achieve these learning goals in virtual space.
Sometimes, that will mean very similar methods and tools as in physical space. In other cases, it will be a totally new and different approach.
No amount of tips & tricks can replace in-depth understanding of learning process and how to make it work, so I would strongly encourage you to start building your skills from firm foundation (if you are missing ways of doing that, do join us for “Keys to successful and engaging virtual training” or “Train the trainer” courses at Trainers Toolbox – we will be more than happy to help you build these foundations) – but I hope these tips & tricks will give you some new ideas and ways to strengthen learning in your workshop.
Here are some tips and tricks and “quick wins” to implement in your next virtual workshop
If you prefer, you can also hear more about these 11 tips in this free webinar recording:
1 Balance personal connection with efficiency of working with goals of the meeting/learning
Often trainers or focus or under-focus on building personal connections in the training room. This especially comes into play in virtual workshops, as connections in virtual are harder to build.
But how do I know how much of a sense of personal connections do I need to build within the group? As with almost anything in training, the answer is to go back to the learning goal!
How much connection is needed for the learning goal to be achieved? What would be the balance in time, energy and effort invested between building those connections, or covering new content optimal for achieving your learning goals?
The answer to this will depend on a lot of things, including the group size and background, and most of all it will depend on the topic of your training.
What is important is to make that call intentionally and purposefully – and to invest enough of time in building the group connections in topics and workshops where safety and interaction are important yet difficult, and to also not overspend the time invested in circumstances in which more connection won’t contribute to the learning goal.
2 “Check in” with participants & keep the check-in aligned with goal
In virtual space, participants feel less sense of presence and they feel less part of the group. They are also often not sure if in a workshop they are expected to talk, or to silently listen.
Check-in is a very powerful tool to give them a sense of the group and belonging, but also a sense that “all voices are present and they can all speak”.
They are also an amazing way for a trainer to “gauge” the group energy, motivation, spirit, and to adapt to that with the rest of the workshop.
Check in can be done in many ways, and should always be designed purposefully, depending on the group size, time available, energy of the group, the workshop topic and learning goals.
They can be quick and energetic, with short questions and rapid pace, or slow, deep and with a sense of sharing and that we have “all the time to hear them out”.
What matters is to DO some form of check in, to have EVERYONE involved in that check in, and to choose the check-in question aligned with the topic of the training or the emotion and energy that we wish to create.
3 Provide clarity of the process: Explain the platform and tools you will be using
When participants are clear on how the process of communication works, what are desired behaviours, and what are things to avoid for sake of communication efficiency, they will feel much safer and not in danger of doing something wrong or embarrassing themselves. That will make it easier for them to actually speak up and get active in the workshop.
Start from clarity, and you will maximise safety, which in turn will lead to more interaction and positive emotions.
Don’t fall into the trap of trying to create interaction before you set the foundations of clarity and safety.
4 Share goals of the meeting at the beginning to keep the motivation and focus high
Adult learners are motivated by practical learning for which they have the use in their “real life”. That is why sharing “WHY” (goal and why this matters) at the beginning of the workshop and at the beginning of every learning block is absolutely essential for motivated and engaged learning.
This especially comes into play in virtual space, as we have less visual feedback and less impact on participants in terms of directness of communication, so the learning process is even more dependent on their personal motivation.
If you do everything else right, but the learner is not motivated, learning will not happen.
If you do nothing right, but learners are motivated, they will still manage to learn.
Never underestimate the power of motivation – and look for any ways that you can strengthen it, such as sharing the goal with them, and giving them choices (whenever possible) how they go about that goal!
5 Leverage video if personal connection matters for the goals
Video gives a lot of more personal touch in virtual workshops, but it can also be tiring. It is important to ask participants to join for video only if it is beneficial for them and the workshops goals. Having that said, whenever you wish to have more of a personal connection between participants, video will be beneficial.
If you will be using video, let them know in advance that they are expected to join with video, so there are no surprises that would disrupt the sense of safety in the group.
6 Facilitate with goals in mind: consciously balance efficiency with connection
One of the most difficult aspects of facilitation is to balance openness (bringing in new ideas from participants, allowing and supporting everyone to participate) with efficiency (managing time, narrowing down and guiding discussion more “strictly” at times, to actually reach conclusion or learning goal). This can come even more into play in virtual space, because getting participants active in a discussion can be more difficult in virtual – and so can be the attempt to shorten and focus their inputs!
Luckily, as trainers, we have an amazing compass to help us with the decision when to go more open and when to narrow down – and that is our learning goal! Whenever unsure in which direction to facilitate, simply ask yourself “Which options would be better, for this next step, to make this learning goal happen within this workshop?”
7 Manage attention and focus with Motivation (give why), Re-engagement (variety) and Stimulation (interaction)
While learning happens when learners actively process an idea in their own mind, and create their own conclusions and insights, for that to happen it is essential that they first pay attention to the content, questions and ideas shared.
This is often the “breaking place” in the learning process, as attention is one of the most difficult aspects to sustain. Even in “real life”, adults can sustain focused attention for between 14 and 19 minutes. In virtual space, it gets even more difficult, as the learners often get tired sooner, plus the environment is less engaging and interesting in itself.
Working with attention in a training is not about keeping the attention always super high and continuously engaged – with the human brain in mind, that is not realistic.
Instead, the goal is to keep re-engaging it, and also to keep reconnecting bits of content, so learners could catch up and “plug back in” if they lost the attention for a bit.
How can you re-engage attention?
By making your learning motivated through compelling “why this matters” that you share at the beginning of the training and every learning block, and also by making them feel connected with fellow learners and trainers, and curious about content.
By keeping re-engaging them through often changes, variety, novelty, questions, puzzles… it is ideal to change something every 15 min or so – yet to also ensure that the changes are fluid and provide connections between the content, and not that they are “breaking” the learning process.
Last but not least, by small moments of stimulation – asking them a question often, launching new silly slides, creating interaction often, perhaps using some tools such as polls. What is important is that these moments of stimulation are also aligned with the learning goal, and not distracting from it.
8 Build connection gradually, and conscious how deep connection is necessary
When building connections, don’t try to push them deeper then they feel comfortable. Build connections in a group gradually, and in a fair way, where everyone is going at the similar pace.
If, in the service of your learning goals, you wish to build deeper connections, then make a plan how you will achieve that, one step at a time. While it is important to do it gradually (eg each next question to be a little bit deeper than the previous one), it is also important to keep on advancing to deeper and more sharing, and not getting stuck always on the same level.
Fairness and equal levels of openness is very important in this, but so is making sure not to “push” someone to share more than they are comfortable.
For that, consciously choose for which questions will you ask for volunteers only, which will be voluntarily ordered but everyone expected to answer it eventually, and in which ones will you have more structured order of who speaks when.
Good way of ensuring safety while also respecting fairness is to ask everyone to share something, but making it very clear that they can choose which kind of information and depth they wish to share.
9 Leverage the slides to support learning and to keep participants’ focus
Not using visuals, or using poor visuals, is one of the biggest miss-outs in virtual workshops.
Why? Because effective visuals are easy to prepare (easier than to manage emotions, energy and trust in the group :D), and they can have a big positive impact on learning, understanding, attention and memory.
Apart from using visuals, it is also crucial to always ask the question “Are these slides supporting the learning process, or are they distracting from it?”. To support the learning process, visuals need to be clear, simple, memorable, consistent, sometimes emotional and should always have a clear goal for what you are trying to achieve through that visual.
In this Trainers Toolbox blog article (Tips & Tricks for more engaging virtual workshops) you can find more tips & tricks on how to make visuals effective in virtual learning.
Having that said, for sake of variety (check tip #7), you might want to refrain from using visuals ALL the time, and occasionally remove them to put participants’ videos in focus, especially for discussion and sharing based parts of the workshop.
10 Collaboration needed? Share documents to work on it together
When facilitating collaboration, sometimes trainers fall into the trap of looking for complex solutions where simple solutions would work great.
Example: while Miro and Mural are great for complex facilitation processes, in cases such as making a quick list of tips & tricks simple shared document (word or ppt) can be much “cleaner” and faster way of capturing ideas.
You can share that doc with everyone as a googledoc, or, even simpler, share it on the screen and type on it input that participants brainstorm.
11 Do “Check-out”at the end, to focus the learning they are leaving with
For learning transfer to happen and for trainer to maximise participants’ chances of applying the new knowledge back in their “real life”, it is optimal to finish the learning process with building a proper action plan, in which we also involve new habits to build, predicting obstacles etc.
If we do not have a chance of building it so comprehensively at the end of the workshop, anything that supports participants to actively choose their focus and to think how they will use their new knowledge in the future is beneficial!
Examples of how to create that moment for reflection what were 2-3 most important learning points, and how are they planning to use them in their “real-life”. Finishing the virtual workshop with a round of “check-out” where everyone gets to share what they are leaving with will give a positive sense of closure, and can also serve to strengthen that sense of action, focus and commitment.
Bonus tip: Choose tools and methods intentionally, with goal in mind.
Choose tools and methods intentionally, with goal in mind.
Most important bit in any successful learning design is to choose tools/methods/approaches/content with the focus on learning goal – starting from what you wish the participants to learn (and to which depth of learning), and then asking “what is the best tools to support that learning?“
Don’t get seduced by shiny tools and models, if they are not the best servant of your learning goal 😉
🥇Do you want to excel as a trainer online and master the ways to engage, motivate and guide learners? Sign up for Trainers Toolbox virtual learning course and discover all the different ways you can do that!
Looking to learn more about how to make virtual learning engaging and impactful?
Join us for Keys to successful and engaging virtual training online course
Wish to be the first one to read out future posts?
📩 Make sure to sign up for our Newsletter here.
💡 We promise no spam, and don’t write more often than monthly. Aaaand, we take your wishes on topics for our next articles!