I have been trying to get my family to do a Zoom meeting for holidays for years now. Every year prior to this one, I have seen a lot of resistance to holiday gatherings via a webcam. Many arguing that if we weren’t actually together, why should we sit in front of a computer and stare at each other. Fast forward to 2020, and I have regular Zoom happy hours with friends, I met my sister’s new puppy last week via Zoom, and I have helped my in-laws pick out a webcam so they can see their granddaughters more often.
Many of us who have worked remotely had little to get used to with the new virtual meeting culture. Fast adapters are common with any technology, and those adapters will sing the praises, and even write books on the application of these tools before they are heavily used by everyone. Kassy LaBorie is one of the early adopters for virtual tools like Zoom, Teams, etc… as a remote training tool. On this week’s Train Like You Listen podcast, Kassy joins us to share some insights on virtual instructor-led training after a year where many of us were unexpectedly thrust into adopting these tools.
Transcript of the Conversation with Kassy LaBorie
Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to Train Like You Listen, a weekly podcast about all things learning & development in bite-sized chunks. Brought to you by Soapbox, the world’s only rapid-authoring tool for instructor-led training. Give us 5 minutes and we’ll give you a presentation.
We’re here with Kassy LaBorie today, who is a guest that we had here early on when we just started doing these podcasts [Editor’s Note: Check out Designing Webinars with Kassy LaBorie], and she has joined us again. Kassy is the author of 2 books focused on virtual training. One of them is called Interact and Engage, which offers a number of different activities that can help you interact and engage with your learners. And then she has a new book out called Producing Virtual Training, Meetings and Webinars. Kassy, thank you so much for joining us today.
Brian Washburn: We are going to start as we do all the time by having our guests introduce themselves in exactly 6 words, with today’s topic being focused on virtual training and lessons learned over a year of virtual sessions. For me, my biography in 6 words would be “I’ve been preaching virtual for years.” How about you? How do you sum up your life and career in 6 words?
Kassy LaBorie: Oh my goodness. I’ve thought about this, but here we go, “Mama finally knows what I do”.
Brian Washburn: (CHUCKLING) Nice! It’s good. And it’s good to have parents that are really interested and, kind of, curious about what we do.
Kassy LaBorie: (LAUGHING)
Seeking Help With Virtual Training, Meetings and Webinars in 2020
Brian Washburn: Kassy, you have several books out now about virtual meetings and training and so I imagine that people are reaching out to you, or people have been reaching out to you all year long. What have been some of the most common questions that people have reached out to you to ask about this year?
Kassy LaBorie: After the “help me!” the first question is “how do I engage people?” But really we’ve just been in this survival mode. For two decades I’ve been hoping that people would finally notice what they’re missing out on. And then it was forced upon them. It was forced upon them and I have big feelings about that on their behalf, you know? And certainly enjoy helping and working with people so they can figure out how to be more comfortable. But the biggest thing is just “how do I do this and not hate it?!”
Brian Washburn: Yeah. I started with Webex like 15 year ago, and it was interesting that we didn’t have to get on an airplane and deliver training. So we could do it from the comfort of our own desk, but that said, it’s a challenge to be able to engage people. It’s a very different environment than being in the classroom.
Is Virtual Training Really That Different Than In-Person?
Brian Washburn: You know, people have been doing this all year long, or really since March, when the pandemic forced people away from their offices, stopped travel and people had to quarantine. But work and business still had to go. What have been some of the most surprising things that you have seen or learned with all of the virtual training that’s taken place this year?
Kassy LaBorie: I think beyond everyone finally doing it, (CHUCKLING)I think what’s been a bit surprising is just how challenging it is for people to see that it isn’t that different. I mean, like to your point right now, you just said “it’s totally different”. Well, it is but then once you figure out the technology and what it’s doing, which is admittedly quite overwhelming, it’s all of a sudden not the different. You know, how we relate to people and how people learn things and the types of things people need to do remain the same.
Brian Washburn: That’s true. The fundamentals are the same, right? For a learning experience it starts with the learning objectives. Although you do have some things that are fundamentally different. For me, as a presenter, I feed a lot off of the energy of an in-person crowd. And it’s a little bit more difficult with the virtual platform to figure out “are people paying attention? Are they multitasking?” things like that. That said, everything that you’re saying in terms of “the fundamentals are very much similar”, I think is spot-on.
The Virtual Environment is All About the Participant, Not the Presenter
Kassy LaBorie: Just I think that the virtual environment requires us to not be focused on ourselves…
Brian Washburn: Hmmm.
Kassy LaBorie: If we want engagement, if we want to be able to “work a room” –”work a virtual room”– we have to get over ourselves and learn how to make it about the participants and what they need to do and how they’re going to respond. Because us standing up there and performing and feeding off of that “energy” — the energy is them being part of it, not us performing for them.
Brian Washburn: That’s a great point, you know, because I think that a lot of people feel like they can get away with just, kind of, talking at people or telling stories in-person. You can finesse it or take advantage of the power of personality to do that. With virtual it’s very, very different, and so —
Kassy LaBorie: Yeah, so you need that. It’s like you have to start with that, because otherwise they’re not going to listen at all. But you can’t — it doesn’t carry it the whole time.
Brian Washburn: Yeah.
Kassy LaBorie: And in a virtual, live environment if you’re wanting to “be able to read the room” you have to let them be read. We don’t do that. We just perform, and then wonder “why aren’t they responding?” And they’re sitting there going “should I respond? And if I should, how? And in what way will they even see me if I do? What should I do?”
Fundamental Ways Trainers Can Ensure Participants Are The Focus
Brian Washburn: Yeah. So there’s been a ton, a gazillion articles out there, since March, about how to be effective in the virtual environment. But how do you, through all that noise, what are some of those fundamental things that you would suggest in order for anybody who’s listening to really be able to put learners front and center? What are some of the things that people can do to make sure that learners are front and center and that’s where the energy can be found?
Kassy LaBorie: So not to diminish that you have to have an excellent internet connection.
Brian Washburn: (CHUCKLING)
Kassy LaBorie: I just moved into a new space and you know I’ve spent extra time getting hard-wired, which it sounds very old-school but WIFI — I can’t cut out while I’m trying to connect with people. Having an excellent connection, having excellent audio – whatever way you go about doing that – great lighting and a non-distracting background, that matches your audience’s expectations. You know you start with all of that so that you can be seen and heard in a way that’s professional and — you know, professional within the definition of who you’re presenting to and what you do, ok, and your brand. And also comfortable for people. So you have to start there, with this — for lack of a better word, “perfect connection”, ok?
Brian Washburn: Yep, yep.
Using The Tools of Virtual Training
Kassy LaBorie: Then, from there, it’s no longer about me, it’s about you. So I have to do things like making sure I really know how to use the tools of the platform that I am in. That I can comfortably share over to whatever presentation materials that I have, that I know how to make those look great. That I know where people can chat, that they can poll, how they can give feedback beyond just smiling on a camera. I need to know how to use all of those features in a way that is as natural as possible. Because I’m going to use all of those features to replace that nonverbal communication that I’m oh-so-used-to in person.
Once you learn to use feedback, chat, annotation, polling — once you learn to use those things and see them as valid ways of communicating and in natural, spontaneous ways, it is better than trying to discern or believe or understand what people are giving me nonverbally.
Brian Washburn: So much better, yeah.
Kassy LaBorie: I officially no longer believe you nonverbally. I’m like “chat that and then I’ll know what you’re really thinking”. You know? (LAUGHING)
Using Webcams During Virtual Training
Brian Washburn: (LAUGHING) And what’s your philosophy around webcams? Some people say “oh, I require people to have them on.” Other people say “ah, I let people choose”. What’s your philosophy?
Kassy LaBorie: Oooh, thanks for asking. And you need to know I’m an actor and a performer. (LAUGHING)
Brian Washburn: (LAUGHING)
Kassy LaBorie: But here’s a funny thing. In my first book, in “Interact and Engage”, I was like “only be on camera when you need to and it serves the learning objectives”. You know, now fast forward, and it’s been 5 years since that book was published, I’m on the camera all the time. And I’m having fun on the camera. I love being natural. I do not stare into it and perform monologues for people. I don’t think I have to do that. I look at chat, polling, whiteboards. I look at all the things going on and sometimes I come close, and move far away, and I make faces. And I try to act as normal – if that’s normal – as possible. I want them to see me for who I really am and I really like the camera now.
Brian Washburn: And do you require your participants to have their cameras on or is it just yours?
Kassy LaBorie: I don’t require anything of participants other than “hey, what do you need?” and “tell me”. I require you tell me what you need. Otherwise I cannot meet whatever you need me to help you do. So if participants want to be on camera I highly encourage it because it’s great and wonderful. And I will highly encourage it very persuasively for at least introductions. But then I think what’s most important is for people to be comfortable – what works best for them. And I certainly do not expect them to be staring into the camera and looking at me the whole time because i’m not doing that. And I don’t think that someone staring into a camera is any kind of indication as to whether or not they’re learning what we’re doing.
Using a Producer During Virtual Training
Brian Washburn: And, so, do you use a Producer when you’re doing your sessions?
Kassy LaBorie: I always use a Producer when I’m doing my sessions, And, in fact, that’s what my 2nd book is on – the topic of producing virtual training and the recognition that all the technical and logistical aspects of running a virtual training are just as important as all of the content and all of the meaning that we’re helping to make when we share it. And if we’re expecting one person to do both of those things, something’s gotta give.
Brian Washburn: Yeah. That’s a great point. And people ask me all the time, “you know, what happens if I don’t have a Producer?”. And you can do something without a Producer but it may not be what you want it to be or it may not be the experience that you want your participants to have.
Kassy LaBorie: Well, and, honestly too sometimes I am on my own. But what I’ll do is I have people around me. I have people around me via instant message or text and if I was in a situation, even if I was on my own because somebody wasn’t available to produce with me, I could still reach out. And I have, probably, a good dozen people that would jump into my session in that moment and help me.
Brian Washburn: Mmmhmm. Nice. It’s good to have people, especially in this day and age.
Keeping Participants Active and “Alive” During Virtual Training
Brian Washburn: Now for people who have never attended one of your sessions, your sessions are often characterized by these little zombies. Can you tell me more about your zombies?
Kassy LaBorie: (LAUGHING) Yeah, these little zombies. It’s funny i’ve been using them slightly less since the pandemic, you know, just because of the connection. I didn’t want people to feel nervous.
Brian Washburn: Sure.
Kassy LaBorie: But I still love them so much. They’re these little — they’re cute. They’re not real. They’re not real. I don’t really believe in them. (LAUGHING)
Brian Washburn: (LAUGHING)
Kassy LaBorie: But they’re just these little guys, little toys, and they just serve as a reminder. People can win them. And they serve as a reminder of, hey, if you’re keeping people active and “alive” during the sessions, through activities and through making the session about them, they won’t be members of the “walking dead” as it may feel when you are presenting online.
Brian Washburn: That’s such a great — I love that as the metaphor.
Get to Know Kassy LaBorie
Brian Washburn: We’re wrapping up here and so let me just ask a few speed round questions so that people can get to know you a little bit more. Now you live in Rochester, New York, which is also my childhood home.
Kassy LaBorie: Yay!
Brian Washburn: Do you prefer the snowy winters or the hot, humid summers?
Kassy LaBorie: (CHUCKLING) I prefer the fall, so I guess you could say i’m right in the middle.
Brian Washburn: (LAUGHING)
Kassy LaBorie: But I will tell you this, when I was a little girl dreaming of the wedding, blah blah blah, it was always an ice castle with everything white and glistening and glittery.
Brian Washburn: And you can get that for, like, months at a time, which is awesome. (LAUGHING)
Kassy LaBorie: (LAUGHING)
Brian Washburn: So should anyone visiting Rochester actually try a garbage plate?
Kassy LaBorie: I cannot speak to that because though I have lived here for 8 years I’ve actually never tasted one —
Brian Washburn: Oh noooo!
Kassy LaBorie: — because I cannot bring myself to do it. I know, it’s horrible, hence the pause.
Brian Washburn: (CHUCKLING)
Kassy LaBorie: However, I think that you should try — there’s a lot of versions now. There’s even veggie versions, there’s healthy versions. I know it’s a travesty. I haven’t tried it but I just can’t bring myself to do it!
Brian Washburn: And for those who are curious what a garbage plate is go ahead and Google it. It is a Rochester delicacy that lives up to its name.
Kassy LaBorie: (LAUGHING)
Brian Washburn: How about anything you’ve read or listened to recently, you know, could be podcasts or whatever, that other folks in the field should be paying attention to.
Kassy LaBorie: Oh my goodness, well I have to be honest, I have been listening to you and also Betty Dannewitz, who always makes me very excited. And then I love what Brent Schlenker and the team at the Learning Train are doing as well. I tend to be wanting to connect with people live and so I’m following people that are doing those types of things, and really reading and paying attention to what people are posting on LinkedIn that are very “in the moment”.
Brian Washburn: Yeah, and so for those who are listening, if you’re curious about Betty, her podcast I believe is called “If You Ask Betty”. And Brent Shlenker has a webcast series that you can check out if you Google “Instructional Designers in Offices Drinking Coffee” or IDIODC for short. I think that you were just on an episode of IDIODC not too long ago. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?
Kassy LaBorie: Yeah, sure. I’m excited that I had a chance to be there. It’s always an engaging group and we are always supporting each other too. I can’t tell you how many times I might start the day off just feeling not motivated or sort of wishing I was around more people and I’ll get an email from that group that’s going live. And all of a sudden I go in there. Like, I had writer’s block the other day and Carl Copp was speaking and I went in, wasted some more time not writing I thought. But then I went in and got exactly what I needed and busted out that whole article that afternoon.
Brian Washburn: And Kassy, before we go, any shameless plugs that you have for us?
Kassy LaBorie: Yes, thank you. I know that you mentioned my books in the beginning of our time together today and that 2nd book on Producing Virtual Training, Meetings and Webinars is coming out at the end of December. So it’ll be “hot off the presses” right around the new year. And then one other thing that I’m working on, I have been posting tips about the virtual training hero — she’s my superhero —
Brian Washburn: Yep, yep.
Kassy LaBorie: –which I believe all of us trainers are superheroes, as you know, and I am currently in early stages of figuring out how to turn all of those into a downloadable — into an e-book, that I’ll publish myself.
Brian Washburn: And they’re really neat. They’re — so if you follow Kassy on LinkedIn she posts very regularly with these hero tips.
Kassy LaBorie: I love it. I can’t wait to share it and just get it all in one place because I keep sharing a tip or two a week and then it’s just turned into — I’m getting close to 50 of them and I think they all need to be in one place, so I can go back and enjoy them. I’m just figuring that out. So stay tuned for more, from the virtual training hero.
Brian Washburn: Kassy, thank you so much for joining us, and thank you all for listening to another episode of Train Like You Listen. If you would like to subscribe you can do so on iTunes, on iHeartRadio, on Spotify, anywhere where you get your podcasts. And if you like what you hear, go ahead and give us a rating because that’s how people find out about us. Until next time, happy training everyone.
This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox. Sign up today for a free demo.