If you’ve ever taken an online training, chances are you’ve been either bored or distracted (unless it was a GovLoop training). Staying focused becomes an increasingly difficult task when you throw other work or answering emails in the mix.
So how do we overcome this? How can we make trainings and presentations more engaging, especially when they’re online?
In 2015 alone, GovLoop has produced 36 online trainings for 37,600 attendees. How do we do it? We sat down with Amy DeWolf (who produces them all), to get the 411 on developing engaging online trainings.
1. It’s all about the planning. Understanding your topic is the first piece of the puzzle. What is the point of your training and how will your speakers convey it? What are the learning objectives? This sounds simple but without doing this upfront, your training can get off track quickly.
Next, you need to actually choose speakers. Good speakers are smart, engaging, dynamic and able to present complicated material to a broad audience. They share personal experiences and stories that make material more relatable and cater material to the allotted time instead of trying to present all they know at once. Remember that just because someone is a subject matter expert, does not mean that they will be a good speaker.
Finally, you have to market the training. With all the time spent planning, it would be terrible if no one registered and attended! Developing a communications strategy is vital to setting expectations (which we’ll discuss later) and generating awareness.
2. Speaker prep. You can’t just invite a speaker to your training and expect them to show up and be amazing. Having great speakers for a training requires preparation and practice.
First off, they should know exactly how much time they have. This will help them plan their content. Then review your speaker’s talking points in a content walk through. Speakers should be familiar with topics but should not come across as overly rehearsed (we want to avoid a monotone drone!). Finally, do a practice run using the system so if any technical issues arise, they’re prepared.
Caution your speakers against being in a busy environment during the training They should plan to be in a silent setting for optimal audio.. And they need to make sure their location has access to high Internet bandwidth. On the day of the online training, run your speaker through the logistics again so they are completely familiar. Being overprepped is never a bad thing.
Bonus tip: A good moderator goes a long way. Prep your moderator on the topic and speakers. Your moderator sets the tone for the presentation so they should be fun. Think Oprah on steroids – you get a car, and YOU get a car. Just joking, but you get the picture.
3. Provide good instructions. In your reminder emails, be clear about what attendees should expect to ease their uncertainty and make them feel comfortable. Sending calendar invites can also increase show up rates.
At the beginning of the training, go through ‘housekeeping items,’ which include:
- How to use the system
- If / when they will get slides
- How to ask questions
- If there is a hashtag they should follow to connect with other attendees
You never want to assume anything is obvious when it comes to accessing the training and using the system.
4. Establish the “Why”: Learners want to know “why?” Why are they listening to this hour-long training? What should be the main takeaways from the presentation? This is a key piece of how to get people to attend the training and should be reiterated at the beginning of the session. We remember 70 percent of what we learn at the beginning of presentations. Define your objectives early and stick to them.
5. Get them engaged: To encourage engagement you need to start slowly. Nobody wants to be put on the spot, or asked difficult questions two minutes into a training. Instead, start with the easy, low transparency questions and build your way up to the more thought-provoking ones. This will encourage active participation in a non-threating way and get people to collaborate.
Here are some simple ways to build engagement:
- Ask questions. Try polls – sites like polleverywhere.com are simple and easy to use.
- Use images and short video clips.
- Allow time for questions – if you can’t answer all of them, have speakers answer them after the fact and send them out.
- Give shout outs – highlighting agencies, cities, and states builds morale.
6. Follow up: After the webinar is all said and done, extend the learning and help with knowledge retention. Here is a list of follow-up tactics that not only help attendees remember the content but go the extra mile to show you care.
- Send slides and answers to follow up questions.
- Provide recap posts of what was discussed. This especially helps with content recollection.
- Have an on-demand version that attendees can watch again and share with others.
- Send a feedback survey: this will help you help you make future trainings better.
- Have a call to action: provide follow up material to provide even more detail about a complex topic. Encourage them to keep exploring and learning!
By following these steps, you can make the most of your online training. Planning, speaker preparation, providing comprehensive instructions, establishing the purpose, getting participants engaged and follow up are all essential components of a successful webinar.
Bonus Tip: the number one problem of virtual trainings is tech failures (they’re the most embarrassing problem, too). They are what people remember the most, yet they are easy to avoid. Have a producer running logistics in the background, including sound, advancing slides and monitoring questions. This can be the difference between a good and great learning experience.
On the flip side, as a participant, here are a few tips to follow to make the most of your online training experience.
- Test your computer: Make sure your system matches the system requirements of the host.
- Log on early: You never know what last minute issues may arise. This way you have time to address any problems.
- Get social: Follow the training hashtag on social media (if there is one) and join in on the discussion. This may prove to be a great networking opportunity.
- Don’t ignore emails: Actually read reminder emails to know what to expect. A lot of valuable information is located in these emails so don’t delete them.
- Read later: Instead of reading resources during the training, download them and read the information later.
- Ask questions: Asking questions not only helps the trainer tailor the content to what you need but will help you retain information.
- Connect with speakers: Most speakers provide their contact info at the end of a presentation. Connect with them afterwards to help you through issues and ask any further questions.
- Share what you learned: Sharing is caring. If you thought the content was great, share it with others in your department. It will help them get on the same page as you to influence change and show that you’re dedicated to learning and growing your career.
- Take action: Make it a goal to implement at least one lesson learned at your agency.