Lessons Learned in Quickly Shifting to Virtual Training

Things have changed for many of us very quickly. Many of us are at home, but we haven’t stopped working. As we get used to a new way to interact with one another, the dynamics of our interactions need to change. As many people have probably experienced, an online meeting or training is a different experience than in-person and it takes a lot of creativity to engage participants.

In this week’s podcast, we sit down with Todd Hudson of the Maverick Institute to hear about a recent experience he had quickly converting a training he had planned as an in-person session to a virtual program. He shares with us how he keeps participants engaged, some cool webinar tools, and some rules of thumb he sticks to when virtually meeting with people.

Listen using the player below. Please leave us your thoughts in the comment section or on twitter @train_champion.

Transcript of the Conversation with Todd Hudson

Brian Washburn: Welcome to the Train Like You Listen podcast, a weekly podcast about learning and development topics in bite-sized chunks. We are rejoined here today with one of our early guests, Todd Hudson. 

6-Word Introduction

Brian Washburn: Todd, as you know the drill, we try to keep these short. So we’ll try to just kind of introduce ourselves in six words. For me, the way I’d introduce myself is “I prefer in-person. I’m learning virtual”. How about you? How would you introduce yourself in exactly six words?

Todd Hudson: My six words are, “today, we need to have extra patience”.

Brian Washburn:  [LAUGHS] That is very true. I’m just coming off of a webinar that I was doing today. And for the last 20 minutes, my system had crashed. And so I was kind of flying blind. And I was really thankful for the patience that my participants had, so that’s perfect.

I’d love to know what kind of virtual projects have you had a chance to work on recently?

Pivoting from In-Person to Virtual

Todd Hudson: Most recently, I was involved in a– I was part of a larger project, and I was scheduled to do an in-person, two-day workshop offsite at a city for a large corporation. And three weeks before the event, they shut down their campus when two of their employees tested positive for the coronavirus. They’re considered an essential business, and they’ve been able to work from home. And they still needed to complete the project. And the workshop was a key element, so they asked if I could convert it to virtual and do it in three weeks. [LAUGHS] So that was my huge challenge.

Brian Washburn:  You had to completely overhaul something that you were intending to do in person, and it’s multi-day. It’s not just like an hour-long workshop.

Todd Hudson:  No.

Brian Washburn:  This is multi-day thing. And they wanted you to do it virtually, and they gave you three weeks to do it.

Todd Hudson:  That’s right. Yeah, it was. And I’ve done this workshop for over 10 years. So I know the material well, but I have never done it in a virtual environment like this. So the client was– they’re doing a great job. I mean they needed the workshop. And so we said “OK”.

So we got together with their L & D department, who has more experience in virtual than I do. And they kind of helped us through. They used Zoom, and so we got to learn about how to use the breakout rooms and all of the Zoom classroom features. But yeah, it was quite the steep learning curve, and it was–

Lessons Learned From Doing Virtual Training

Brian Washburn:  Yeah, let’s talk about that learning curve for a minute because when it comes to– and a lot of people right now are really trying to put what they’ve been doing in-person into a virtual space. And it’s not always a one-to-one conversion, right? You can’t just have somebody to turn to the person next to them and share something. What are a few of the biggest lessons that you learned as you went full bore into virtual?

Todd Hudson:  So physical presence and body language are powerful levers for instructors to drive workshop dynamics, and you can tactfully alter the flow when things aren’t going well. And you don’t have any of that. There is no ability to walk up to people or turn your back on people. You don’t have that presence. You’re just another voice and video feed on a screen, so you don’t have that advantage. So you’ve got to find ways of controlling the flow of the workshop and the dynamics other than physical presence.

It’s planning, planning, more planning. I mean, you need a minute by minute agenda. You need to sit down and say, like, in five-minute blocks what’s going to happen. And you need a good producer who can basically sit with you and if you’re ahead and you’re behind, somebody you can noodle with all that kind of stuff.

The Role of the Producer in a Virtual Training 

Brian Washburn:  Can you talk about that producer role just briefly because a lot of people talk about that, and maybe not everybody knows exactly what that role is. It is such an important role. I’d love to hear your perspective in terms of what that person does for you.

Todd Hudson:  Sure, yeah. So the woman who was the producer, she was my partner on this project with the client. So she knew the client really well, and she was also pretty fluent in these digital technologies but had never done a virtual course before. So we had two of us in, sort of, the main role. I was facilitating the workshop, so my job was to deliver the content, keep the thing flowing, answer questions, run the activities, and then coach people and sort of manage participation.

But behind the scenes with these technologies, you need somebody full-time sitting there who is watching the chat, watching the participant icons. They’re managing the time. They’re setting up the breakout rooms. They are doing– they’re renaming people. So people log in, for example, and they use their phone, so it’s just their phone number. You want to have it renamed so you can call on people and things. But it’s a full-time job to have somebody sitting behind the scenes, managing the participants and all this technology stuff, so–

Brian Washburn:  Yeah, and as a presenter, you can’t do that, right?

Todd Hudson:  You cannot do that.

Brian Washburn:  You can’t handle the admin side and the technology and also effectively deliver the content. That is such a key piece. [Editor’s Note: Check out Becoming a Virtual Training Producer by Lauren Wescott from the Endurance Learning team.]

Engaging With Participants In a Virtual Space

Brian Washburn: How about any other lessons learned, any other big lessons that you are taking away from this experience?

Todd Hudson:  So you really have to force engagement with people. I think you have to require people’s video cameras to be on. It’s too easy when you’re a virtual to sort of drift off into a little bit of other work, or something happens and things. You should let people know that you’re going to call on them by name, and you should start doing that right away. And I think there’s a polite way to do that. But you can say, “so I’m interested in what people thought about this activity, and how did their team come to a decision? Bob Johnson, would you please tell us how your team came to that decision?”

Differences Between a Physical Classroom and a Virtual Classroom

Todd Hudson: When you’re in a physical classroom, you can ask a question. And when you throw it out to the general group and nobody answers, there is this 30 seconds of uncomfortableness. And eventually, somebody cracks and says something, right? And virtually, that doesn’t happen because people can just look at their phones or they look at the computer. And they can disengage from that, so you don’t have that anxiety to sort of answer a question that happens online.

Brian Washburn:  It really is. It’s easy for participants to disappear in a virtual setting. So I love some of those tips that you’re offering. One is it’s really important for people to have the webcam going. Two, sometimes you just need to call on people in order for them to engage. 

Breakout Rooms – Benefits and Cautions

Brian Washburn: Anything else, any other key lessons that you wanted to share in terms of what you’ve been learning going from an in-person to virtual?

Todd Hudson:  I think the other thing is we use the breakout rooms, which I think are fantastic. And the participants really liked it. The ability to sort of break up into pairs or small groups of threes and fours and work together on activities, people really liked that a lot. It’s really good.

Brian Washburn:  It’s magical. It’s almost like you get sucked out of the room. And, then you’re–

Todd Hudson:  Yes! You’re, like, transported to this other place. And it’s sort of a break from the big group, and you get to focus on something very specific with your colleagues or your manager and things. It can be very, very effective. Those activities have to be really, really well thought out. When people sort of get transported to this room, they’re not really listening to the instructions when you’re giving them. And so when they get there, they go “what are we supposed to do?” So people just need a lot of very clear instruction.

Brian Washburn:  Yeah, especially because the breakout rooms, they can’t see the main screen any longer.

Todd Hudson:  You cannot. You actually can’t– you actually can’t communicate back out to the hosts. At least in Zoom, you have to call the hosts and then they have to send somebody in, which is another reason to have the producer role.

Brian Washburn:  Yeah. Well, you know we’ve talked a lot about the differences between virtual and in-person. And sometimes, people get very anxious about virtual delivery because they feel it’s so different than in-person. 

Similarities Between In-Person and Virtual

Brian Washburn: What are some of the similarities between those two environments, in-person and virtual?

Todd Hudson:  I think two things carry over very, very clearly between the two worlds, and one is enthusiasm for the material. I mean, you still have to have that infectious enthusiasm for the topic. That carries over in a classroom, or it carries over virtually. I think the more that you can bring your excitement, personal stories, your testimonials to a virtual environment, that still is going to carry over into the group.

And I think the second thing is that activities are absolutely essential to learning and internalizing and mastering concepts and tools. I think it’s even more important because otherwise, you’re just this disembodied voice, in some case, just sort of talking to them.

Brian Washburn:  Yeah, there’s a great book out there by Kassy LaBorie called “Interact and Engage”, which gives all sorts of different ideas if people are looking for ideas in terms of bringing in activities for a virtual delivery. So there’s lots of resources out there if you start to dig. 

Getting Started in Virtual – First Steps

Brian Washburn: For anyone who’s listening who’s really trying to get started converting programs from in-person to virtual, what do you think are some of the most basic first steps they should be taking?

Todd Hudson:  So you should start making a minute-by-minute schedule and see how long you’re talking versus your attendees are participating. And you’re going to see in a lot of cases you’re talking way too much, and they’re not talking nearly enough. You should really be striking for, like, 50-50, I think.

And then, you really have to dial in your activities. I mean, activities that I had run in this workshop for years and years very successfully, I wouldn’t say they flopped, but they did not have that punch that they had in the workshop. Virtually, it’s hard to– you’ve got to give, like I said, incredibly clear instructions, incredibly clear directions. The point of activity has to be so obvious at the end that it can’t be misinterpreted because you don’t have the ability in a virtual environment to get people on the same track as you could in the classroom.

Then, I’d say run them virtually. Practice with some friends. Practice the activities.

Brian Washburn:  And practice with that technology too, right?

Todd Hudson: Oh, absolutely. 

Brian Washburn:  So even simple things, like setting up a poll, it’s really helpful to have that set up in advance and to make sure that when you get it set up, you want somebody else to say, oh, I see it on my screen. Because if they don’t, practice is the time to fix that, not when you’re in front of your group.

Todd Hudson:  I think that the other thing which is going to be really difficult for people is that when you’re running this webinar, the problem you have is you’re going to have 20 people and they’re on PCs. They’re on Macs. They’re on tablets. Some people were on their phone. And they’re like, where’s the button for this? And I was like, “I don’t know. I don’t know what it looks like on an Android phone. I don’t have any idea.”

So like I said, you need to have patience and you need to practice this with a bunch of people on different devices. And get screenshots of what their device looks like so you can go, “oh, on a tablet, it’s in the lower left, whereas on a PC, it’s in the upper right-hand corner.”

Brian Washburn:  Absolutely. Well, Todd, thank you so much for giving us some insights into the experiences you’ve been having. 

Get to Know Todd Hudson

Brian Washburn: Let’s finish up with another lightning round. This time, we have a different set of questions so people can get you a bit better.

Todd Hudson:  Great.

Brian Washburn:  And this time, we’re focused on the virtual side of things. When it comes to your favorite feature of virtual platforms, what is it?

Todd Hudson:  Breakout rooms, by far– they’re, I think, the greatest tool for engaging people and creating energy and excitement.

Brian Washburn:  Yeah, whoever it was, the engineer that was like, “hey, let’s do breakout rooms. Let’s have small group conversations”– genius. [CHUCKLES] That was a genius feature to integrate into these services.

Do you do anything special with the way that you dress or look when you know you’re going to be on webcam?

Todd Hudson:  I do. I actually try and dress to complement the theme of my virtual background picture. So for example, I’m wearing a lumberjack shirt and I have a picture of, for instance, a big old-growth forest. Or when I had a Hawaiian shirt on, I had the tropical scene behind me as well. And people really like that, so those types of things are a lot of fun to do.

Brian Washburn:  Yeah, and they’re simple things that you can do to get people engaged and break the ice a little bit and the anxiety of doing something virtually. Last question for you, Todd. Are you promoting anything right now?

Todd Hudson:  I am. I am promoting the Maverick Sure-Fire Knowledge Transfer Workshop. It’s a bunch of essential tools for knowledge transfer– especially for organizations that are dealing with the general public right now, where protocols are changing and reducing accidental cross-contamination is critical.

Brian Washburn:  Excellent. For us here at Endurance Learning it’s Soapbox, a rapid authoring tool for people who are doing instructor-led training. Mostly in-person, although some people who have used it said that they can get some use out of it for virtual training as well. But just a tool where you spend a few minutes putting a few different inputs in there, and it will generate a sequence and flow– a lesson plan, basically– of activities so you don’t have to always come up with your own original ideas in terms of how to engage people.

Todd, thank you so much for joining us once again. I appreciate your insights, as always. And for everybody who’s listening, thank you so much for listening to the Train Like You Listen podcast. It is a weekly podcast in bite-sized chunks, and you can go ahead and subscribe on Spotify, on iTunes, on iHeart Radio, or anywhere where you sign up for podcasts. Until next week, please do stay healthy, take care of yourself, and happy training!

This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox.  Sign up today for a free demo.

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