ATD Blog

5 Ways to Open an Interactive Virtual Class

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

When does a virtual training program begin? For participants, it begins the moment they log in to the virtual classroom. Since first impressions often establish what’s to come, it’s important to use this opening time to set expectations and get the program moving in the right direction.

Here are five quick tips to help you set the stage for an interactive virtual class. 

1. Send Advance Messages 

To inform participants about the program expectations, send personalized pre-event messages with key details. These messages should come from the facilitator and be in addition to any automated registration messages. Use these messages to let participants know that this will be an interactive program. You also can use this opportunity to include any other details they need to know, such as “you’ll need a telephone headset to keep your hands free for typing.”

It’s especially helpful to send a day-of-event message to participants. This just-in-time reminder helps participants get into the mindset that they have a training event that day. Have this message waiting in their inbox first thing in the morning. And be sure to include the connection details so they are at the learners’ fingertips when needed.  

2. Warmly Greet Learners Upon Arrival 

Welcome participants with a greeting, both visually and verbally. Just like a traditional training class, the virtual classroom should be welcoming, in preparation for the program that’s about to start. During an in-person classroom, this might mean charts hung on the wall, tables set with materials, appropriate music playing, and a facilitator who greets everyone. In the virtual classroom, this means a rotating set of slides with class information, participant materials available for download, and greetings from the producer or facilitator.

Once they’ve arrived and connected to audio, ask each participant to say hello. This warm greeting adds a personal touch to the program and tests their audio connection at the same time. 


3. Invite Immediate Engagement With an On-Screen Activity 

Interactive virtual classes should begin with immediate engagement. Therefore, have a “start before the start” activity on screen that involves participants right away. This soft opening activity helps participants know that this program will be interactive and their participation is expected. If they join the program early, you don’t want them logging in and going back to their email or other potential distractions; you want them to engage right away.

For example, post a question onscreen and ask participants to respond to it in chat. Or ask them to use the status indicators to agree or disagree with an on-screen statement. Or use a slide to show a short checklist of tasks to complete during this opening time (for example, download the job aid, introduce yourself in chat, and then click on "raise your hand").

The best “start before the start” on-screen activities are simple yet serve three important purposes: Capture participant attention, set the stage for interaction, and—if needed—teach participants how to use the platform tools. 

4. Connect Them to Other Participants 

In most virtual training programs, participants are connected individually from geographically dispersed places. In other words, they are by themselves in their physical location. Unless you’re using webcams for every participant (this is possible but not typical due to bandwidth concerns), learners will not have visible eye contact with anyone in the virtual class. This naturally creates feelings of isolation, which means they are more likely to stay unengaged.


As a result, you should create a social experience as soon as you can at the beginning of a session. Ask everyone to introduce themselves and help participants find things they have in common. Ask them if they already know each other, and if not, have an icebreaker question on screen that gets them talking about mutual interests. You can have them talk about their local weather forecast, or share something about their work history. To add an element of fun, you can ask participants who are already connected to help you greet each person who arrives in the virtual classroom by typing personalized greetings in chat.  

5. Begin Class With an Activity That Engages Everyone 

Equally as important as the “start-before-the-start” activity is the initial opening activity. It should begin at the exact virtual training program start time. If you set the stage for interactivity in advance of the program, you’ll want to deliver on that promise in the first few minutes.

For example, reveal the program agenda in a poll question and ask participants to select which topic items are of most interest. This activity serves both as the agenda review and gets everyone involved at the same time. Another option is to share a whiteboard and have participants type in their questions about the topic. This activity helps a facilitator connect the program content to immediately relevant questions. Whatever the opening activity, choose one that includes everyone and gets them engaged.

Setting the stage for interactivity in a virtual class creates a positive learning environment and ultimately helps you achieve your expected outcomes. Follow these five steps to help you and your participants get involved.

Editor’s note: This post is adapted from Virtual Training Tools and Templates: An Action Guide to Live Online Learning (© ATD Press 2017).

Want to learn more? Join me for Core 4 in Anaheim this March.

About the Author

Cindy is a pioneer in the field of virtual training. She’s been providing virtual training solutions for more than 19 years (since the early 2000s), and is a recognized industry expert in teaching training professionals how to design and deliver interactive online classes.

Cindy is the author of four books on virtual training: Virtual Training Tools and Templates: An Action Guide to Live Online Learning (2017), The Virtual Training Guidebook: How to Design, Deliver, and Implement Live Online Learning (2014), Virtual Training Basics (1st edition 2010 and 2nd edition 2018). She’s coauthored two ASTD Press Infolines, “Simple, Effective Online Learning” and “Designing for the Virtual Classroom”, has contributed to many compilations, including the ASTD Handbook: The Definitive Reference for Training & Development and 101 Ways to Make Learning Active Beyond the Classroom, and written several articles for T+D magazine.

Cindy partners with her clients to help them transition from the face-to-face to the virtual classroom, and works with them to design online and blended learning solutions. Her clients include global organizations of all sizes, including several in the Fortune 100 list.

With over thirty years of overall professional experience, Cindy has worked in various industries including technology, construction, higher education, retail and the public sector. Her management and global experience includes serving as the regional Director of Training and Operations for an international software training company, and the Learning and Development manager for a global mechanical contractor.

Cindy is a sought-after conference speaker, and has presented multiple times at the ATD (formerly ASTD) International Conference and Expo, TechKnowledge, Training, Learning Solutions, DevLearn, as well as the Online Learning Conference, Masie’s Learning, and the Annual SHRM Conference. Her online webcasts have been attended by thousands of people around the globe. And she’s one of only a handful of worldwide trainers who has been chosen to deliver ATD’s Master Trainer and Master Instructional Designer Programs.

Cindy holds a Master’s degree in Public and International Affairs from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Bachelor’s degree from James Madison University. Cindy was also one of the first to earn the prestigious Certified Professional in Talent Development (CPTD), formerly CPLP, designation.

As Chair of ASTD’s National Advisors for Chapters, Cindy served on the global ATD (formerly ASTD) Board of Directors in 2009-2010. She was recognized by the Triangle Business Journal as a “40-Under-40” Award recipient in 2003. She also co-founded a non-profit organization to promote volunteering and community service in her local area. She’s passionate about helping others succeed and brings that dedication and commitment to every project she undertakes.

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