When we set about changing our classroom training courses into on-line versions, we assumed it would be relatively straightforward – that it would be simply a matter of re-packaging the material to be presented on-line.
However, our experience over recent months suggests that it is much more of a transformation, but one which does draw upon very similar design and delivery principles.
A recent experience
We (working with Amanda MacAuley of Influence and Persuade) recently ran some on-line (Zoom based) training on the subject of “Presentations” for a group of MA students from a London university. They were “young”, bright, and diverse. The participants were from 9 different countries and 8 different mother tongues.
Our approach is to avoid limiting our training to “how to present well”. The art of good presentation, oratory, speeches, lies in meticulous design. It is about understanding how to design and structure what you are going to say to have the impact that you intend.
Surprisingly, the theory of communication and the tools available do not change. The three styles of rhetoric drawn from the Classics have just as much relevance today – you need to choose the style (or combination) that is appropriate to what you are trying to achieve: detailed understanding, emotional response, or persuasion to future action.
And, given how important the creation of long-term memory is to affect future behaviour, we spent some time on understanding how the brain works in the creation of memory. It does not matter what culture or language we are talking about, the process of the creation of memory to induce action is always the same. – and there are many points of failure. That is why we teach the Kipper® method for the design of presentations, meetings, and workshops. And we use the Kipper® to design virtual training sessions.
So, where are the differences? You will be aware that virtual environments like Zoom and Microsoft Teams do not provide the same experience as a real meeting or classroom. One of the aspects that I find particularly difficult is the inability to read gestures and expressions. You can scan a real audience very quickly and accurately – and because participants can see when you are looking at them, they immediately react with facial and body language signals. This is not possible in a virtual environment with many participants. As well as interactions being much harder, so also is the setting up of exercises and practical sessions. Individual follow-on tutorials are one of the best ways to ensure consolidation of learning.
Let us return to similarities. We have found that all the things you would choose to build into a traditional classroom training course need to be adopted in virtual sessions – it is just that the means of achievement changes. A few examples:
- To be effective and “click” with your participants, you need to know as much as possible about them so that your examples are relevant to them and your participants can make memory connections.
- You need to build in frequent breaks – because concentrating on a Zoom session is hard and draining. 3-5 minutes break at the half hour point is a good aim. You should keep the maximum length of a session to 1 hour.
- Give participants the right to disable video for periods to give them a rest from continuous gaze.
- Encourage participants to use the chat facility if anything is unclear or an unfamiliar term used.
- Build in interactive sessions – we find that Mentimeter is a very good tool for enabling interactions and for testing understanding through mini-quizzes and surveys. There are other more sophisticated services which can embrace tools like Mentimeter. CoCreate is an example.
- Where English is not the first language of participants, you might wish to increase the word content of slides used – but always segue to the new slide by giving the idea beforehand and telling them what they are going to see.
- Ensure you provide a clear Introduction to the session. Those familiar with the Kipper® tool for designing presentations will recognise this as the “Head” of the Kipper®.
- Ensure participants understand the objectives and structure of the session – so that at any point, they know where they are and where they are going.
You need to put a lot of time and effort into preparing and designing a virtual session and then in technical and “dress” rehearsals. We have reckoned that for every hour of virtual training some 25-30 hours will be required in prep and design even if the core material was already available from previous classroom-based courses. It really is not as simple as taking PowerPoint supported training sessions and running them through Zoom. And please do not ditch things you would naturally do in a real environment just because they are hard – find ways to replicate or substitute for them.