The title of this should probably read along the lines of “Effective Virtual Training: From 0 to 100” due to a year of rapid creation, trial & error, and revision in our virtual training strategy. All joking aside, the Effortless Experience™ product team took the shift to exclusive virtual training seriously and approached it with thought, but the speed it occurred at left us room to perfect over time.  It’s something we are still doing to this day based on evolving best-practice approaches and feedback from partners. And, despite the slow beginnings of a return to office for some, it’s clear that virtual training isn’t going away anytime soon. We are motivated to stay at the top of the facilitation game.

In October, I wrote the first blog in this two-part series after several conversations with a few of the advisors who we partner with in the facilitation of our programs. This first post focused on the length of virtual sessions and how to optimize facilitation before a session begins.

To continue the conversation, we’re pivoting to focus on how we facilitate to engage an audience. While I’d love to share that there is a prescriptive approach that results in perfect attention, attendance, excitement, and discussion in a virtual audience, the reality is different based on the scenario.  But it IS possible if you know those scenarios and take advantage of advance preparation.

We’ve learned across the past year through dozens (potentially hundreds) of virtual sessions and hours (potentially weeks) of prep conversations – not to mention a multitude of virtual material revisions – that capturing engagement starts long before you dial into a session with the consideration of a few factors and how they relate to your content:

  1. Look at your content, and then make it accessible. The virtual presentation of yesterday featured a slide deck full of words, a presenter reading the slides, and a group of participants copying word-for-word notes from the slides (if they were paying attention at all). We all know that people learn in different ways, which means training in this way only reaches a small subset of people.

Enter Challenger’s product team: across the past year, we’ve distilled our in-person training deliverables into concise, interactive virtual participant and facilitator guidebooks and companion decks that feature the key points for each topic discussed. Our advisors are easily able to share these materials without having to spend valuable time guiding participants through them thanks to obvious clues on pages that let participants know that it’s time to discuss, time to participate in an activity, time to capture a key note, or time to take a picture of instructions for breakout rooms.

Lauren Graves, Senior Director of Learning and Development at the Effortless Experience™ often describes our approach this way: we’ve designed content to engage and to do so in different ways throughout sessions – including leaving space for participants to draw conclusions and have “lightbulb” moments by intentionally leaving some discussion topics off of the pages. The focus in our process is an end goal of participants internalizing the skills we teach in a way that sets them up for successful real-world application.

2. Know your participants ahead of time. Whether that is by title, tenure, relation to and awareness of the content, or if there are observers in the room, get to know your audience as well as you can. Not only does this set you up to more easily engage with participants, but it allows you to more easily navigate the virtual “room” once you’re live. Casey Banta, one of our expert advisors, shares, “Online, I’ve noticed that people tend to defer to the ‘experts’ in the room. It is important for observers to truly remain ‘observers’ – to resist participating. And certainly to resist providing ‘answers’.” 

Advisor tip: Encourage participants to utilize the renaming function or background functionality if your conferencing platform allows it.  For example:

  • Welcome participants onto a call by saying: “If you’d rather I call you by a nickname, you can use this feature…”
  • Several Effortless Experience ™ certified trainers have created content-related virtual backgrounds participants can utilize during sessions.

3. Mimic a live classroom as much as possible. This means encouraging all cameras to be on from the get-go (if your learners have hardware to allow this). We also advocate for allowing and encouraging conversation to flow in the chat or in the moments after breakout rooms close or a break is ending. Another of our advisors, Steph Auping, shared her thoughts on this with us: “I strongly encourage them to chat, even with each other. When we are in a live classroom those sidebar conversations are invaluable for connecting and thinking through the application of the content; chatting with each during the session allows for even more of this in a virtual environment.”

Steadily improving VILT (virtual instructor-led training) evaluation feedback scores from organizations we’ve partnered with across the last year indicate that we have begun to create a secret sauce, but we’re not keeping it a secret, especially as we enable those organizations to champion and continue the Effortless Experience™ programs via certified trainer candidates in both our Low-Effort Skills and Integrated Coaching programs.

You too can win the virtual training game by making sure you aren’t skipping vital preparation in advance.

A second thank you to several of our Effortless Experience™ advisors, Steph Auping, Casey Banta, Jon Tholen, and Doug Ferreira, who chatted about their experiences and how they’ve established winning VILT ground rules across the past year.

Emily Campbell

Emily Campbell is an Associate Manager with Challenger’s Effortless Experience™ team. In her role, Emily helps client organizations implement Effortless Experience programs designed to help companies grow in their journeys to becoming low-effort customer service organizations.