Co-Authored by Carolyn Fearing
Like most businesses, Vanguard has had to find a way to adapt its work and services to fit a new reality due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this month our staff was tasked with the challenge to turn a 50+ participant, three-day training for NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Fisheries into a completely virtual training. It included one “workday” with individual consultations on draft strategic communications plans and two days for webinar-like sessions with all the trainees. With a lot of planning and reassessing tactics, our team was able to provide the client with the services it had requested. A few key takeaways related to logistics and delivery follow.
Create a workplan to work backward from the day(s) of the training.
There will be a lot of moving pieces, so keeping track of tasks is important. Map out the process in detail, including things like putting together supporting documents for the training and sending out invitations to the appropriate people. Keep your workplan updated.
Repurpose as many materials as possible.
Chances are your agency has already done this type of work. Look for existing PowerPoints, workbooks and templates that you can adapt for your training so you do not waste time reinventing the wheel.
Explore and test your technology.
Get to know the platform you will be using for your online event (e.g., Zoom, Teams, GoToMeeting) as much as possible so you are prepared to troubleshoot if needed. Also, make sure you test it out with colleagues or friends — online tutorials are not the same as trying it out yourself.
Have a designated person to coordinate materials.
Whether your training materials need to go to your client or your editorial team for review, it’s best if there is one designated person to keep track of where they are in the process of getting finalized. If too many people are involved, you may end up with more versions of materials than needed, and that can slow down your process. The same person should update the workplan.
Maintain constant communication with your client.
Clear and frequent communication with your client is important to ensure that you are meeting their expectations and are aware of any last-minute changes. In addition, if you miss a deadline, keeping in touch allows you to be transparent about why it happened and work with them to solve the problem.
Be prepared to adjust your strategy on the fly.
Technology is not always on our side. Be prepared to modify your plan if needed and accept that if you have to, it’s OK. Being familiar with your platform and knowing where to find supporting materials for your event will allow you to do this in a confident and strategic way.
The same theories of being audience-centered apply to trainings just as they do to strategic communications planning.
Acknowledge the elephant in the virtual room.
Don’t pretend this is a regular training. Let your participants know you understand they are overwhelmed with video calls. Being an empathetic trainer makes people feel that they are heard — and it makes them more likely to listen to you!
Keep it interactive!
We always make sure our trainings are interactive, but we amped things up for this three-day training. We made sure to pause to give people the opportunity to ask questions, as well as used poll questions, the chat feature and even GIFs in the chat box to make sure participants were remaining engaged.
Check for understanding.
Without visual cues, it’s hard to know if people are following along. Use multiple choice questions to check for understanding at the end of key sections, or ask participants to respond in the chat feature with their feedback or questions.
Make it entertaining.
Use visuals — memes, videos, photos — to break up written content. Pop culture references, jokes and cartoons that are relevant to your content (and appropriate for your audience) give you and trainees a short break, and visuals can help reinforce the point you are trying to make.
Use and ask for examples.
We like to bring communication theory to life with real examples of key steps such as pretesting or evaluation. Make sure participants know how to put what they are learning into practice by including short case studies. Since you may have people with different levels of experience in your training, you also can ask more experienced participants to share how they have approached different communications challenges such as audience research on a limited budget.
Because you are remote — and probably sitting down — you need to convey your enthusiasm differently than you would in a regular training session. Try to change your tone of voice, use more facial expressions and monitor the chat closely so you can have a conversation with your audience.
It requires a lot of energy to deliver a virtual training and it is also challenging to be a participant. Make sure you add breaks to your agenda. This could include quick stretching breaks, or 10- to 15-minute snack and bathroom breaks.
Have multiple instructors.
Having more that one instructor not only allows you to maintain all the energy you need, but it also offers trainees a variety of voices, perspectives and faces. Make sure that you are ready to help out your colleagues if they seem to need a hand, just as you would if you were face-to-face.