Flawless Virtual Facilitation

For many organizations, virtual training and virtual facilitation have become the de facto answer to most performance challenges. But just because something is done frequently does not mean it is done well. We’ve all clicked to another browser tab during a virtual meeting… and virtual online training is usually not met with excitement and enthusiasm from employees. Since we know there are many ways to do this stuff wrong, what are the right ways to deliver it?

what is virtual training?

Virtual training is a broad term and includes any learning experience performed out of a face-to-face setting. Most eLearning courses are a form of virtual training. Synchronous virtual training is led in real time by a facilitator. And while virtual facilitation may not look so tricky on the surface (sitting at the computer with a headset versus standing in front of a group of people), it has different challenges to manage.

Virtual facilitation Challenges

Meetings and training sessions can be great, or terrible, no matter what form they are in. I’ve sat through plenty of traditional classes and presentations that were painful… and I’ve also sat through webinars that made me want to hit the ‘mute’ button. It’s not that either format has to be bad. Lots of facilitators just don’t have the right approach. In many ways, the challenges facing the facilitator are the same regardless of the medium:

  • Holding participants’ attention: making the session interactive, relevant, and engaging.
  • Helping participants remember the material: 90% of what we learn is forgotten within 3-6 days without proper reinforcement. What are you going to do about it?
  • Time and physical constraints: How long is the session… and how much do you need to cover? What about “bio breaks” for your participants? You have to remember the constraints of your audience.
While these challenges may be the same regardless of where and how you are facilitating, virtual facilitators must meet these challenges with a different set of tools:
  • Don’t be afraid to use all the features your web conferencing program has available: polls, drawing on the screen, screen sharing, video conferencing, letting participants “raise their hands,” and chatting are all common features you will find in web conferencing tools. Don’t just show slide after slide… get people involved and use a mix of different features.
  • Make a realistic strategy for how you will reinforce your material after the session. Will you send out your slides? What about a recording of the session? These are some of the basic ways you can help people remember, but they really just scratch the surface.
  • I’ve sat through all day training in a classroom, and that was tough. But it’s even tougher for participants to stay attentive for a 6 hour webinar! That doesn’t mean you can’t make your session a success, but you better have a plan that includes ample breaks and chances to disengage. One strategy is to encourage participants to get up and move around while they listen.

Other tips:

  • Be prepared for technical difficulties. In a recent webinar we delivered, it would take three seconds for participants to see their screen change after I clicked a button. You will want to practice thoroughly beforehand so you’re ready.
  • Use two or three presenters and switch it up during the session. It’s refreshing to hear a different person’s voice in the middle of a lengthy session.
  • Set up an internal social network (a basic Yammer setup is free) and encourage participants to log in and discuss during your webinar. Let them talk back and forth and share ideas. Don’t worry aobut “losing control:” As a virtual facilitator, you already have little control over what participants are actually doing during the session. It’s best to give them as many useful tools as possible and give yourself every opportunity to make the session stick.
  • Use a wired connection when facilitating instead of WiFi. WiFi connections are more likely to drop out, which can disrupt your session. Keeping yourself wired will make sure you stay connected and also possibly improve your connection speed.
  • Plan to set up a second computer as a presenter, if possible. Keep this computer in view so you can see what your participants are seeing. Practicing with a second computer will help you see how much delay there is between your screen and theirs. You’ll find it much easier to lead the session with this approach.

What about Global Virtual teams?

Be ready for some jarring time differences. We’ve had team members in our offices at 4 am delivering webinars to clients in India before! Most importantly, you’ll want to understand the cultural norms, colloquialisms and customs of the culture you are speaking to. What’s “up” for you might be “down” for them, and so forth. You’ll want to be as direct and straightforward as possible in a global setting… even more than you would be at a business meeting in your home office.


TiER1 Performance Indy

4022 Arbor Lane
New Palestine, IN 46163

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phone: (317) 861-7281


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