The need to convey your message still exists and yet the platforms to express that message have increased, no longer just email, phone call, text message or the face-to-face team meeting. Leaders and team members are spending more time in video conference rooms or leaning into their screens to learn, connect and share. All while adapting to how they operate and work.
With people having so much exposure to virtual platforms, surely that’s a good thing?
Research has shown that focus and engagement can be lost within the first thirty seconds of a session commencing. If attention and engagement cannot be captured, these interruptions can create negative impacts on the cognitive tasks that people are asked to complete as part of their professional development.
Over time experiences of virtual training sessions littered with interruptions and distractions accumulate and build an impression of virtual sessions as a whole. While this perception of virtual learning may not have come from your virtual sessions, they can create a challenge. So, how do you cut through? Let’s explore a few different ways you can prepare for and engineer virtual training sessions to effectively engage your audience.
How to plan for an engaging virtual learning session:
#1: Keep it simple
Clear, simple, concise content is critical. Consider your format, design and the volume of information you provide in your meeting and on any visual or slide. Asking for a second opinion doesn’t hurt either. Suppose you are one that goes off-topic – get back on topic with a plan and timings.
#2: Get visual with instructions
Instructions that are visual and clearly explained help keep the session on track and people on task. Have these up while people assimilate what you have requested them to action.
#3: Test drive and practise
Take your session for a test run both on and off the virtual platform. Get savage and cut the content if you sound rushed or scattered. Yes, the material may be brilliant, but death by PowerPoint still happens virtually. So, cut down the content and keep your team awake. Invite people to contact you if they want to know more.
#4: Master your set-up
If you don’t know how to use the virtual training platform that you’re using for program delivery, make time to learn, practice and get support. Learn where to look, what to click and what does what. Take the time to review what is visible in the frame of the camera; consider the lighting, test the sound and strategically design the background to minimise distractions.
There has to be more to than session content, visuals and mastering a virtual platform to have an engaging session, right? Correct. Let’s dig into some of the science behind engaging learners in virtual training sessions.
The importance of neurochemicals in virtual learning engagement.
Our brains are the engine room that navigates us through thousands of decisions, ideas and emotions in every second of every day. We also crave connection thanks to the neurochemicals like Serotonin and Oxytocin.
These neurochemicals flood our bodies and enable us to connect with people. If these chemical levels are high, we gain a sense of belonging, we will contribute and will increase more robust levels of trust. Aren’t you surprised by how much you or others will share with a stranger at a training session? It’s because of those chemicals.
What do you do in a virtual session if these chemicals aren’t firing off as much as they do in a traditional setting? How do we adapt when those moments of connection that we crave don’t happen as easily?
Try the following engagement strategies in your next virtual training session:
#1: Connect the dots
Frame-up what you will talk about, cover the content and then recap the key points you have covered. The summation will embed what you have covered. Rounding out content makes it easier for people to digest, also known as chunking.
#2: Get people doing something straight away
If your session is off to a slow start, motivation will drop quickly. Get people engaged quickly with a task or action. This will get the neurochemicals of Adrenalin (intensity and speed) and Cortisol (focus) going for a short burst of time to kickstart the session. After the activity, give participants time to reflect and share how this relates to the session topic. Don’t let the activity run for too long though, Adrenalin and Cortisol are useful in short bursts of time. Too much of either is not a good thing and if you have a long session, you don’t want people checking out at the first break. Get planned and include activities that people can get into the zone and focus for a bit.
#3: Go visual
Talking to visual aids that support the content and helps people to understand what you are talking about. Giving people clear outlines of what they will be doing, what you are covering and what you have covered creates, sequence and flow.
#4: Harness connection
Serotonin and Oxytocin are so essential to connect individuals and to build into your program how will people connect. Consider what is allowed with what you are doing and the platform you are using. Sharing phone numbers may be frowned upon, breakout rooms may not be an option, fear of the camera could be real, and no one wants their cameras on. How will you navigate through that? What can you do to engage?
#6: Inject humour and fun
Humans aren’t always serious, we want joy and fun, even in the midst of virtual training. Inject humour into your presentation that is inclusive and brings fun and lightness to the sessions – it’s a great way to re-engage people before heading into a new topic of discussion.
#7: Call out distractions
What may show up that could distract people during your session? What do you know about yourself or the group that you could get caught up thinking about?
Call it out by saying:
- ‘At some point, you may notice…’
- ‘Yes, you may have seen…’
- ‘Before we start, let’s dive into…’
Your posture not only changes what people interpret, but it also affects your voice and your breathing. Keeping your feet planted and standing still, to then pacing (even when you’re not visible) will change the tempo of your voice and affect your breathing and your delivery style.
If you do move, find your spot, take a breath, then speak. Consider places and spaces to move to, share and talk. If seated, think about how you sit and what you lean on, these things do and will alter your voice. If nerves take your breath away, try box breathing. It helps when Adrenaline and Cortisol are taking over and brings the neurochemicals and the nerves down.