Like everyone else, I am sick of Zoom. While meeting virtually felt novel early in the pandemic, it is now tiresome. I keep track of how many days I have been in my New York City apartment, and the count is at 250. That is 250 mundane days of working, eating, exercising, and sleeping in the same place. How can I make virtual training interesting when every day feels like Groundhog Day? Here are 10 things I have tried with varying degrees of success.
Turn up the tunes. How many virtual meetings have you joined in painfully awkward silence? Try using those first few minutes to share music via any streaming service. I used a Spotify playlist to kickoff writing training over the summer, and folks loved it. Upbeat music felt welcoming and set the tone for the rest of the training.
Break the ice. Ice breakers can be cringeworthy, but they are more important than ever. Most of us have been away from our colleagues for at least eight months and are desperate to connect. Even a simple question to kick off a session gets people engaged. Early on I started with questions like, “What is your favorite quarantine snack?” or “How are you incorporating wellness into your daily routine?” During performance management training, I used a photo array of Dwight Schrute (a character from the American version of “The Office) displaying various emotions and asked, “According to this Dwight Schrute scale, how does getting a performance review make you feel?” It only took a few minutes, but everyone quickly chimed in, got a good laugh, and focused on the topic at hand.
Embrace the video grid. Resist the urge to hide behind PowerPoint. (I am still working on this!) People want to connect, and it is harder to do that when slides commandeer 90 percent of the screen. As much as I love PowerPoint, I know it can be a crutch. And it gets boring. For an upcoming training on project management, I asked a few colleagues to prepare brief examples to share with the group. Instead of death by PowerPoint, we plan to use our time together sharing stories, key concepts, and only a few visuals. There is a time and place for slides, but it certainly does not need to be every single training.
Play a game. Games are a fun way to add levity to content and get learners engaged. There are a ton of free and low-cost options for interactive games you can incorporate into in-person, blended, or virtual training. I frequently use Menti, which offers multiple questions formats, polling, and quizzing. You can also upload and integrate PowerPoint slides for a seamless presentation (not that we are using slide slides for every presentation). For a course on managing up, I put together a movie quiz called “Name That Boss!” Each question featured a picture of a character from a well-known work-related movie (Office Space, The Devil Wears Prada, 9 to 5, Boiler Room, and the like). The game only took a few minutes and was a hit. It was also the most frequently mentioned positive comment in the survey results.
Make it interactive. Beyond ice breakers and games, there are so many creative tools that allow for interaction in a virtual setting. Interested in allowing participants to ask anonymous questions? Check out Slido. Want to incorporate an activity where everyone accesses the same document and can type in their comments? Try Google Docs. Need a quick way to ask a question and display responses? Set up a Zoom poll. For writing training, I shared a Word document with sample email language in the chat and put people into small groups to edit. When we came back together, group leaders shared their screens to show what they came up with. I aim to include something interactive at least every 10 minutes.
Engage in the chat. Most virtual meeting platforms have a chat feed. I use chat in Zoom to share hyperlinks, react to what people are saying, and gather questions from participants. For folks who are not eager to speak up, the chat is a perfect place to add a comment or respond to a question. The chat feed is also a good place to drop housekeeping items. I like using chat to share quick reminders (example below).
⏰ We meet today 9 - 10 CT / 10 - 11 AM ET
📵 Stay present with us
☕️ Bring your morning beverage!
🔇 Mute and unmute skillfully
📹 Keep your camera on if you can
💬 Use the chat for questions
Use breakout groups. After eight months of virtual training, I can confidently say that breakout groups are the most positively reviewed aspect of every training I have delivered. This goes back to people wanting to connect. Not everyone is confident enough to speak up in a large group setting, but smaller breakouts provide an opportunity for each participant to contribute. I aim to keep these groups to a maximum of four people. I also manually assign the groups to ensure a good mix. (This is where having co-facilitators comes in handy.)
Incorporate other voices. Are you sick of hearing yourself talk? Same here. Try to incorporate as many voices as possible in your training. Formally, this could mean asking subject matter experts to help facilitate content. Informally, this could mean allowing more time for questions or input from attendees. Try asking a few people to read a quote or hypothetical scenario for discussion. Sometimes I cherry pick a few employees ahead of time and let them know that I plan to ask them a specific question. That way they have a heads-up, can give thought to their response, and we avoid the awkward “deer in headlights” moment. It can also be a nice touch to have a senior leader add a few words to introduce or wrap up training. I frequently ask my CEO to help kick off sessions, which reinforces the importance of the training and our time spent together.
Experiment. Now is the time to experiment. While we continue to work from home, I am encouraged to try new things, get creative, and make mistakes. Some things will work; some will not. Either way, people appreciate the effort to mix things up. Where can you find new ideas?
Observe. Attending other programs, such as ATD webinars, is an excellent way to observe virtual facilitation in action. I love watching other people conduct training and lead meetings. Another team in my organization hosts quarterly meetings and they always bring their A game. We have a friendly competition to see who can incorporate the most engaging content. At a recent meeting, they streamed a five-minute video using iPhone animal filters to introduce everyone on the team. It was incredible! Everyone in the meeting was smiling and totally taken by the creativity. I was inspired to up my game.
What you are experimenting with to elevate your virtual training? Share in the comments below.