Two years into the pandemic, most organizations have pivoted to provide virtual training due to imposed work-from-home orders and the resulting general shift to remote work. While these organizations have done a good job within the constraints, many have fallen into a sub-optimal new normal as their emergency pivot has become ingrained and habitual without taking the opportunity to truly optimize this new way of conducting training.
The Common Traps Of Marginalized Virtual Training
We have all experienced virtual training that resulted in one or more of these five common experiences:
- A flat, lackluster experience that results in “virtual fatigue”
- People sent to breakout rooms only to find themselves alone
- Many people off-screen or distracted, breaking the cohesive energy of the group
- Virtual training that lacks intimacy, connection and meaningful transformation
- Training that gets good evaluations, but that doesn’t provide lasting change among group participants
Go Out Of Business Or Go Virtual
Within three weeks of the initial stay-at-home order in March 2020, my business lost over $500,000 in previously signed contracts. Since my business focuses on interactive leadership training and executive team building, I didn’t believe that virtual formats were viable if I wanted to continue to get the kind of transformative results I was used to getting. I had a choice:
I had a team of 10 consultants and operations staff support me in figuring out how to transition our Breakthrough Leadership Team Accountability Program from in-person to virtual. It took us four months of continual revamping, testing, adjusting and retesting until we were able to implement with our clients. Then, another three months to continue tweaking and perfecting the translation of our program to create a virtual experience that matched the measurable results we achieved from our in-person programs.
Five Keys To Creating Transformational Training Programs That Produce Breakthrough Results
We couldn’t have gotten the results we started getting without the help of my colleague, Licia Rester, co-author of The Soul Purpose Method and Virtual Event Mastery Method. She has over 30 years of experience in designing and facilitating transformational virtual training programs. She provided the missing keys for taking our successful leadership training and team building programs to a new level of effectiveness. We learned and applied five new keys to virtual success:
1. Outcome-Driven Training (The North Star For Any Virtual Program)
Outcome-driven training reflects the Arc of Transformation that each participant must actualize to be able to make the transition to a new level of performance after the training. There are three kinds of outcomes for all training programs:
- Learning Outcomes: These reflect what participants will learn that is necessary to perform differently, which includes mindset changes.
- Experience Outcomes: These include the ambiance and overall energy necessary to create psychological safety, intimacy and connection for full participation and vulnerability. Experience outcomes are necessary for sustainable transformation.
- Performance Outcomes: These include what each participant will “do differently,” not only the day after the training program but six to twelve months after the program to embody the learning and maintain the change. These could include a higher level of performance, communication, leadership and teamwork.
Finally, every content piece, activity and experience contained in the program is also outcome-driven to ensure a deliberate process of transformation from beginning to end.
2. When The Experience Really Begins
The training experience begins with the invitation, not on the first day of the virtual program. In-person programs are dynamic and create their energy from the facilitators who are delivering those workshops.
In virtual programs, you must do what you can to engage participants before the workshop to create safety and a sense of community. This is done through engaging participants in a way that builds interaction, such as sharing one’s background, modeling positive and engaged communication and clarifying personal goals in order to create a sense of commonality and connection.
3. The Six-Foot Syndrome Success Factor In A Virtual Environment
One of the major challenges of virtual programs is the multitude of possible distractions. When people are working at home, they are about six feet from the door that leads to the rest of their house, including their pets, children, other adults in the house, deliveries and household chores. But this “disadvantage” can be utilized as a key for increasing intimacy and connection between participants.
At home, participants have access to personal items that represent hobbies, talents, pets and kids that all bring forth the humanness of each person. Sharing these can build a sense of community, team, compassion, interest and inspiration between participants.
4. Chunking And Sequencing The Training Workshop For Optimizing The Virtual Experience
While I could deliver a model or concept in-person for 45 minutes to an hour without losing the attention of participants, the virtual environment doesn’t allow for that level of concentration. It’s important to chunk content into approximately 15-minute increments in order to keep participants interested and stimulated. It’s also important to provide short breaks every 60-90 minutes.
5. Wowing Participants In The First Fifteen Minutes
In a virtual environment, you have less than fifteen minutes to engage participants in a way that prevents them from moving on to emails, other tasks and distractions. It is essential to create an energy that is joyful, inspiring and matches your desired outcomes for participant transformation.
In addition, getting participant attention with a “wow” experience up front that is surprisingly delightful or inspiring helps to reassure your participants that this training won’t be the flat, lackluster experience people have grown used to.
Virtual training is here to stay. We have the responsibility as trainers and developers of people to provide the most optimal virtual experience as possible.
This article was first published as a Forbes Coaches Council Post.