An online format for connecting with your staff is now the new norm. Agencies have spent the past year adapting traditional professional development and in-person meetings to online training and meetings when plans can still be uncertain.
True, face-to-face trainings can make it feel easier to communicate and read the reactions of others in the room. But by following some best practices, you can keep your team connected and up-to-date on their education while avoiding disruptions and increasing engagement.
Remote training and meeting sessions aren’t identical to in-person education and events, but the good news is that distance learning systems and educational technology (EdTech) platforms are better than ever before. Here are some ways to make online meetings, workshops, and programs effective and productive. So, lower your anxiety levels and read on for 10 tips that will help you get more value out of your virtual training.
10 Tips for Making Your Online Training, Meetings, and Programs Successful
- Choose the Right Tool for the Training
- Optimize the Content
- Make a Plan
- Consider Time Zones and Schedules
- Send a Welcome Message
- Navigate Spam Filters
- Practice, Practice, Practice
- Keep Participants Engaged
- Provide Contact with Mentors or Coaches
- Follow up
1. Choose the Right Tool for the Session
The most important decision when you move training online is what tool you’ll use to offer it. Different situations and materials call for different solutions (you can learn more about what elearning platform works best for your needs with a training needs assessment).
If you’re doing a one-off training that takes no more than 1.5 hours, a webinar is a good choice, and you can use a tool like GoToMeeting, Join.me, Uber Conference, or Zoom. Learn more about a few popular video conferencing services.
If you need to repeat the training, need to offer certificates, or need more in-depth training, then self-guided online education is the solution you need. The fastest and easiest way to train your staff without being in the same room is through a learning and training subscription. Learning subscriptions are helpful so you’re not reinventing the wheel every time you train every worker.
A learning subscription lets you begin training within a few days. It’s a digital learning solution that provides 24/7 access to a complete catalog of interactive training courses and videos for anyone on your team who needs to build skills or meet training requirements. Learning subscriptions are helpful for existing and new hires because they make it easy to stay current as health recommendations are constantly changed and revised.
2. Optimize the Content
When the world started meeting and learning online, organizations had to find a way to present that information immediately. This meant that much of that information was poorly suited for online delivery. When you know what kind of platform you have, examine your content and make sure it fits the delivery platform.
3. Make a Plan
Unless you’re a pro at holding online trainings and meetings, having a careful plan is the key to a smooth event. A project plan helps you assign tasks, collaborate with others, increase engagement, and remove stress for everyone. Even if you’re the only one holding your online event, you should plot out the sequence of events and when they should happen.
At a minimum, include these main categories in an elearning project plan, including task, milestone, and person responsible. Here are some example categories for an online training event:
- Text or content writing
- Graphic design
- Platform set up
4. Consider Time Zones and Schedules
Nearly everyone has mixed up meeting times with someone in a different time zone. Consider where your online learners are in the US when you set your event, and think about when people are free.
You might even survey your participants to find out when it’s most convenient for them to meet. There are a lot of good scheduling tools out there, but Doodle is a good one that’s easy to use:
5. Send a Welcome Message
Welcome messages help you set expectations and highlight anything important when people are most attentive. If you’re hosting a meeting, then send a reminder and an agenda instead. This can help participants feel more comfortable with the online training or meeting format.
Use your welcome message to give participants a quick preview of the virtual event, give them contact information, prerequisites, and give them major deadlines they can copy into their calendars.
6. Navigate Spam Filters
Spam filters are notorious for blocking messages from anyone, especially if your team works at a healthcare facility, which seem to have even more strict blocking measures. Double-down on your notifications and messaging by sending in multiple formats: email, automatic notification, Slack, text.
You might even reach out to your participants via their personal email addresses if possible, since so many people are home and might not have access to their work email accounts.
7. Practice, Practice, Practice
Before you step into that virtual meeting space, know what you’re doing by practicing, multiple times if needed. This will give you a chance to try out new technology tools, new material, and be ready for unplanned events.
“Find a group of people who will support your learning curve and practice with the technology. Ideally you gather a group large enough to practice different features of the platform you’ve selected, such as organizing breakout rooms” advises Laura Wells, a trainer who regularly delivers leadership training around San Francisco in person.
She has started delivering distance training sessions for clients, and is currently planning to deliver an exceptional virtual format of the Search Inside Yourself program (details at firstname.lastname@example.org) for which she is a certified teacher. She needed to quickly get up-to-speed in April when one training was rapidly converted to an online format.
“Practicing saved the day,” she says.
“It’s tricky to switch smoothly between screen sharing of content to organizing breakout rooms without losing focus (yours and the participants). Going through that a few times in practice made it much less awkward during the live training,” Wells says. “I was so happy to get through the awkwardness with friends first! And that first April session received excellent evaluation marks from the participants.”
Some tools, such as GoToWebinar, let you start events in practice mode without leading a live session. Even if you fake your own practice mode, run through the event with other presenters, moderators, hosts, and organizers to perfect it before your participants show up.
“I also think a benefit of the practice session with friends is stress management. You don’t feel so alone in it. Sitting in your living room facilitating a training can feel a bit surreal,” Wells says. “It’s great to have the practice people already there in the room with you.”
8. Keep Participants Engaged
For some people, the idea of not being able to sit in the same room with an presenter is a big turn-off. “Remote” learning doesn’t have to feel far away if you focus on building community with your online group.
Encourage the presenter to introduce themselves to your staff and ask them to share information with one another. This will help build a personal rapport. It can also be helpful to build periodic conference calls into a course, or create virtual office hours, so participants can interact with the presenter. A mentoring structure can help too, if you can pair participants with experienced workers.
Some other best practices for increasing engagement:
- Ask early and often what participants think.
- Offer rewards, such as certificates or CEUs.
- Ask everyone to turn on their video cameras to help everyone connect with each other.
- Remind participants to be in a quiet place, mute themselves when not speaking, and use a headset.
9. Provide Contact with Mentors or Coaches
If an employee works in an office or clinic, they have regular contact with managers or coaches and can use new skills with their supervisors right away. Some remote workers don’t have regular access to supervisors or mentors, so what they pick up in class could sit stagnant. This is one of several hidden challenges of training remote learners.
If mentors aren’t in the participants’ communities, put them there, at least virtually. This could mean setting up phone calls with a coach to discussion implementation of the skills or requiring regular online check-ins through the forums or email. A little extra attention, and accountability, can make a big difference in a team member implementing what they learned faster and better.
10. Follow Up
When you’re finished, follow up with participants right away. Ask them for feedback so you can improve your next session. If you’ve taught them new skills, find out how and where they’re applying them and what they might still need to know.