How many people does it take to put on a successful webinar? A facilitator is obviously necessary to present the content and facilitate activities. If you want to present information while using polls, having participants white board on the screen and getting people into small groups using the breakout rooms feature all while responding to private messages in chat – both about your content and about technical difficulties – then you’re going to want a “producer”.
Unlike in-person sessions, this role isn’t the same as “co-facilitator”. An effective producer can make the difference between top-notch virtual training and a well-intentioned virtual train wreck.
In this week’s podcast, we talk to Lauren Wescott of Endurance Learning and Soapbox content developer extraordinaire to talk about the very important role of the producer in webinars. We discuss how this role differs from co-facilitator, what it takes to be a producer, and tips to make your next webinar more successful with the support of a producer.
If you’d like to learn more about how someone in your organization can be an effective producer, Lauren will be leading a free webinar this week that will go into more detail about the responsibilities of a producer and will take you through several exercises to simulate the duties of an effective producer. You can register here for this session. Click on a date to get started.
Listen to this episode using the player below. Please leave us your thoughts in the comment section or on twitter @train_champion.
Transcript of the Conversation with Lauren Wescott
Brian Washburn: Welcome to the Train Like You Listen podcast, a weekly podcast about learning and development stuff in bite sized chunks. Today we’re joined by our very own Lauren Westcott from Endurance Learning. How are you doing, Lauren?
Lauren Wescott: I’m doing well, thanks.
Brian Washburn: Well, thank you for joining us. Today we’re going to be talking about the role of a producer in virtual training. And I know that you’ve had a lot of experience doing this, as we’ve started to do some webinars with Endurance Learning.
Brian Washburn: But before we jump into any of that, obviously, the way that we start out by introducing our guests is through a six word biography. So mine for today is “I greatly respect the unseen trainer”. How about you? How would you introduce yourself in exactly six words?
Lauren Wescott: I think, for today, I’m going to say “engagement is key. Look for opportunities.”
Brian Washburn: I love that because this role of producer is one of those hidden unsung heroes, almost like an offensive lineman in football, where the only time that you notice that something may have gone wrong, if the person isn’t up to snuff with their responsibility. So we’re going to get into that in just a bit.
Get to Know Lauren Wescott
Brian Washburn: But first of all, let’s warm up a little bit here, with a little bit of a speed round. And I’m curious, when you’re involved with virtual training, is there a drink or a snack that you tend to have at your desk when you’re going into a virtual session?
Lauren Wescott: I tend to not eat because people would pick up on that. But I do always have a water and if I have a scratchy throat or something, I’ll do hot water with some lemon in it, and that seems to help, too.
Brian Washburn: Hot water with lemon. That actually might be something that I’m going to have to think about, especially after I’ve done these past several, and without fail, I get into a conversation or start talking about something, and I start coughing or something happens where I need to start to get some water down my throat. What is your favorite virtual training feature?
Lauren Wescott: You know, I really like that ease of polls. Most platforms have polls and it’s just nice that you can set it up ahead of time and then during your session, you can just launch it with a click of a button and it’s really easy. And it’s a great way to engage people.
Brian Washburn: Definitely. Do you have any pre virtual training rituals that you go through before you get online?
Lauren Wescott: Yeah. I double-check everything. I make sure that all the tools that I’m going to be using are enabled. And I, oftentimes, will log on through different devices and just check to make sure what the participants are seeing is what I’m seeing, and that it all seems to be ready to go.
Brian Washburn: I like that. Sometimes when people talk about pre-event rituals, they talk about some sort of superstition. But you’re very practical with a quality check. It’s almost like a pilot, walking around an airplane before they take off. Now let’s get into some of the meatier questions, when it comes to the role of a producer in virtual training.
The Role of a Producer in Virtual Training
Brian Washburn: When people talk about this producer role, they can mean some different things. So when you think of the role of a producer in a virtual session, what does that role entail for you?
Lauren Wescott: For me, it’s both administrative and technical. If you’re a producer, you’re freeing up the facilitator to only have to worry about their slides and the delivery of their content. So that would include everything from admitting people to this session, monitoring and responding to chats, both the group chat and any private messages that you might get from someone saying, “this isn’t working, can you please help me?” All the kind of technical problems that you’re going to get from your audience.
That also would include launching polls and setting up, launching, and monitoring breakout rooms. There’s some silly things along the way, too. Like if you’re using the annotation tool and you let your participants annotate on the screen, or draw on the screen, sometimes people are going to accidentally put hearts all over the screen in the middle of the presentation.
And so, as a producer, you have to be clearing that so that it’s not taking away from things.
Brian Washburn: You know, this is a really interesting role. And this, I think, is one of the biggest differences between in-person training and virtual training. Because a lot of times, with virtual sessions, people have the facilitator and they have the producer and it’s not like you’re co-facilitators, but it sounds like this is a very distinctive role and a very distinctive set of skills that you need to be a producer, as opposed to a facilitator.
So it’s really not a co-facilitator. What makes for a good producer, in your opinion?
What Makes for a Good Producer in Virtual Training?
Lauren Wescott: Primarily, being willing to spend time experimenting with the platform and learning it so that you can assist people when they have problems. But also, so that you know how to run things yourself. If you’re going to produce, it’s not a job that you can just– five minutes before the session, say “sure, I’ll do that for you. I don’t know what I’m doing. But it can’t be that hard.” Because we really do need to learn it and figure out what’s going on.
I think you’ll also need to be able to multitask really well. You’re going to have different questions flying at you. You’re going to need to be able to launch different aspects. But you also need to be paying attention to what the facilitator is saying, so that you know where you are along the lesson. I think another really important thing is knowing the lesson objectives, being able to assist the facilitator if they forget something, if they leave it out.
Or in a really bad scenario, the facilitator might lose internet connection and you might need to be able to jump in and take over the session.
Brian Washburn: And you have actually done that when you and I have been working on virtual sessions in the past, where my internet has dropped, you’ve had to actually fill in. So I love the whole range of thoughts. As you’re talking, it almost sounds to me like pretty much anyone can actually facilitate a virtual session, not anyone can be a good producer. Is there anything that a facilitator can do or say to make your job easier in that producer role?
How the Producer and Facilitator Should Work Together
Lauren Wescott: Absolutely. I think the most important thing is to rehearse with your facilitator beforehand. You need to know the lesson plan so that when to launch things. You need to know, OK, next is coming up a poll, and then after that, we’re going to do breakout rooms. You need to know where things land and make sure that everything is set and prepared.
I would also say that you need to have the lesson plan and the slide deck pulled up on your computer, ready to go, in case that happens, in case your facilitator drops off and you need to jump right in. And then another thing that I would say is really helpful, is when the facilitator checks in with the producer and says, “hey, I’ve seen a lot of action in the chat. Is everything running smoothly?”
It gives you an opportunity, if maybe something isn’t working for everyone, and you need to say, “it appears breakout rooms aren’t working today. Let’s jump over to plan B”
Brian Washburn: And it’s good to have plan B, which goes back to the idea of practicing in advance. And that’s something that the facilitator needs to do, is to carve out some time to work with the producer. Is there anything on the opposite side of this question? Is there anything that a facilitator can say or do that drives you absolutely nuts?
Mistakes Facilitators Make
Lauren Wescott: Yes. I think, especially for a virtual session, you need to have engagement, or people are just going to be on their phones or checking emails. So I think that there needs to be a lot of engagement and audience interaction. If a facilitator is just talking and sharing their slides, it’s really pretty annoying.
But another thing that drives me, kind of, bananas is if a facilitator isn’t keeping an eye on time. You know you’re halfway through, and you realize that you’re out of time, and so you’re just going to scrap the second half of the session. From a production standpoint, you’re kind of going– “Ah! What’s happening? Where are we going?” That can be a little challenging.
Brian Washburn: Not that we’ve ever experienced that ever.
Lauren Wescott: No, never.
Brian Washburn: So if people are listening right now and they are going to be in that role of a producer, is there anything that they should be doing or keeping in mind for that role of a producer? Or if somebody is listening and they’re looking to bring someone in to fill that producer role, what should they be looking for? What should they be keeping in mind?
Considerations When Choosing an Effective Producer
Lauren Wescott: There’s no downside to having a producer. They only help you in terms of helping your presentation to run smoothly. So it’s a really good thing to have, if at all possible. That being said, you can’t just throw somebody into the role without them having practiced, without them having learned the tool. It’s really important that you’re aligned with your producer on the lesson plan, but also just on how whatever platform you choose works, so that they are able to assist people with questions.
Because people are going to have questions. So they need to know how to help. And then, I think we’ve said it a bunch, practicing is so important. You really need to run through your session with your facilitator and practice.
Brian Washburn: Well, Lauren Westcott, you are one of the best producers I think I’ve ever worked with, which I really appreciate. Beyond virtual training sessions and producing them, is there anything else that you’re working on these days?
Lauren Wescott: I have been working, actually a lot, on virtual sessions and virtual capabilities as we are looking to expand Soapbox, which is our presentation tool, into the virtual realm. So we’re going to be building Soapbox out to help you with these virtual lessons, that I know a lot of people are doing in the current climate.
Brian Washburn: So I’ve been spending a lot of time on these platforms and really getting to know them and using them so that we can have the best tool available. If people are curious about Soapbox, where would they find more information at that?
Brian Washburn: Excellent. Thank you for that shameless plug there, Lauren. And thank you so much for giving me some time here, today. Thank you for all the work that you’ve done as a producer and really making the webinars that we’ve done really, really high quality, I think.
And thank you to everybody who’s listening to the Train Like You Listen podcast, which is a podcast that we’ll do every week. And if you’d like to subscribe, you can do that on Spotify. You can do that on iTunes or iHeart Radio, or any place that you listen to your podcasts. Thank you so much for listening, and until next week, happy training.
This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox. Sign up today for a free demo at soapboxify.com.
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