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17 quick and dirty tips for hosting an online training session (from a true amatuer)

Let me be clear, right off the Wuhan bat: when it comes to ‘virtual’ training, I am no expert.

(Face-to-face training’s another matter. I’ve been doing that for 12 years.)

But just like every other business owner and her cavoodle in 2020, this pandemic has forced me to create a COVID-Safe version of my offering – in an effort to keep my balance sheet in the black.  

And that meant becoming an ‘expert’ virtual trainer. Overnight. 

Although I never assumed it would be easy, I didn’t think it would be quite so unpredictable and different from training in real life (or as the Gen Z’ers say, ‘IRL’). Because when it comes to online delivery, there are a million micro things that could mean the difference between a spectacular screw up and sweet success. 

So if you’re a newbie to the world of online training, here are some quick tips to help you become an overnight expert too. 

1. Find the right software

Sure, you may already be familiar with video-conferencing tools like Zoom and Teams. But if you want to create a truly interactive learning experience, you’ll need a platform with a lot more functionality.

There’s a plethora of feature-rich online training solutions out there, so it’s worth researching and testing a handful before choosing one that’s right for you.

Some of the more popular solutions include GoToTraining, Electa Live and Zoho Showtime. I ended up going with a lesser-known one called Newrow. It has all the features I was after. And it’s affordable. 

2. Keep your virtual classroom size small

When you’re charging per head, you may be tempted to up the numbers in your virtual classroom. But you’ll be doing this at the expense of delivering a more intimate and collaborative session.

By keeping your classes relatively small (I cap mine at 10), you will get to know your participants on a more personal level and give everyone the opportunity to contribute.

3. Use an online ticketing tool

Tools such as Trybooking and Eventbrite make it easier and more efficient to sign people up, accept payments and send broadcast emails to participants before and after your session.

4. Prepare a quality email nurture sequence

You need to send a bunch of emails with instructions and reminders to participants leading up to (and after) the session.

These communications should be planned well ahead of time – and written clearly and succinctly. Also use these emails as an opportunity to get participants excited about your course. Tell them what they’re going to learn and all that they have to look forward to. 

5. Run a (free) pilot session

A dry run will help you iron out all those little rookie errors before you enter the big time. (And let me assure you, non-paying participants are generally a lot more forgiving.)

It will also help you build your confidence with your course content and online training platform. 

6. Instruct participants to log in at least 10 minutes before start time

This will give everyone a chance to say hello and check their microphones and cameras are working.

You’ll then be able to start the session smack bang on time. 

7. Make it a requirement for participants to keep their cameras ON

If you’ve been training face-to-face for a long time, you know how helpful it is to see people’s faces to monitor engagement. That’s why I recommend asking people to keep their cameras on throughout your online session.

But be sure to communicate this expectation to participants in advance (via your pre-event emails).

With so many people working remotely and foregoing the niceties of a professional appearance, asking them to turn on their cameras without warning could be met with panic and dread. 

8. Plan your approach to muting audio

You might think it’s a good idea to have all participants’ mics on for the entire session so they can ask questions and comment freely.

However, this often leads to distracting background noises and people talking over each other.

Many training platforms will allow you to control the muting and unmuting of all participants which can be helpful. But you may also find this to be a juggle when trying to focus on content delivery.

Your other option is to ask everyone to control their own muting. This works best for me.

9. Have a moderator

The last thing you want to be doing while presenting is troubleshooting people’s technical issues or answering individual questions that are not relevant to the group.

That’s why you need a moderator – such as a staff member or trusted colleague – available throughout your session. 

10. Familiarise participants with your virtual classroom and set the ground rules

Use screenshots to show participants where to find certain things such as the chat room, camera, muting and raise hand features.

Then tell participants when and how you would like them to use these features during the session.

11. Ask participants to respect the chat feature

(This is one of those ground rules you will want to set in the tip above.)

You don’t want individuals sending chats to the rest of the group while you are presenting. So ask them to only send a group message at certain times or if specifically requested. And let them know that they are welcome to send a private message to the moderator at any time.

12. Run a quick and fun icebreaker

This will encourage everyone to share a laugh and let their guards down before the formalities begin.

For example, you could ask everyone a random question that’s not overly personal or too hard to answer (such as ‘What was the first concert you went to?’ or ‘What’s your isolation guilty pleasure?’).

13. Make sure your camera position is just right

You might have a nice forehead and perfectly shaped eyebrows, but people want to see more of you than that.

Your goal is for people to feel as though you are looking at them. Directly in the eye. You can achieve this by keeping your gaze on your webcam. 

14. Give more frequent breaks than you would during a face-to-face session

Listening to someone through a screen is more tiring and less engaging than IRL. So aim to give breaks every hour or so.

This allows everyone (including you) the chance to grab a coffee and visit the bathroom. It also helps reduce the urge for people to take calls and check emails during your training.

15. Stop at regular points to ask if people have comments or questions

It’s so much harder for people to interject in an online training session – especially if they are told to keep their microphone muted. So make a point of stopping at regular intervals to check in with participants.

Each time I do this, at least one person speaks up.

16. Don’t neglect your standard training practices

Make your objectives and agenda clear from the outset. Prepare your content scrupulously. Keep track of time throughout. Recap your key outcomes at the end. And ask people for feedback immediately after the session. Just like you would in any training session.

17. Take (lots of) screenshots

Ask your moderator to take plenty of screenshots during the training. They’ll be useful for your future marketing content. See?