When technology attacks (Virtual Training Edition)

What happens if there’s some sort of technological glitch (or worse, a catastrophic freezing up of your computer) when you’re delivering a virtual session?

This week, my colleague Lauren Wescott offered a series of virtual sessions focused on the role of a producer (there’s one more session tomorrow in case you’re interested in signing up!). A producer exists to ensure your presenter can focus wholeheartedly on presenting information and engaging the participants.

One important way a producer can do this is by helping troubleshoot issues with the technology while the facilitator focuses on delivering a high quality session. Below is a guide that may help you identify some potential issues your participants are having specifically with Zoom (we’re working on a similar job aid for other platforms).

One of the most important things to realize when delivery virtual sessions is that not all devices were created equal. Some devices play more nicely with Zoom (and other platforms) than other devices. If you’re wondering why someone can’t join a breakout room, you may want to check to see if they’re using a Chromebook. If someone can’t find the annotation tools, you may want to see if they’re on a tablet.

Beyond the variety of devices you’ll need to keep in mind, there are also some common things that can go wrong for which you’ll want to be prepared. In her webinar, Lauren outlined the following situations:

Your screen says that you have launched your poll but participants aren’t seeing it pop up.

This happens. It happened to us during several practice runs (and boy were we glad we had practiced and prepared for this). There are several ways you can work around this challenge.

First, you may just ask people to chat their “vote” in the chat space.

Second, if it’s a simple poll (such as “yes” or “no”), you may simply ask participants to use the Feedback Indicators, which are typically found in your attendee/participant list.

Third, you could quickly read the choices and ask participants to use the annotation/on-screen text function to type out their vote.

You’ve launched your breakout rooms but you notice that 6 participants got left behind… and can’t seem to get into the breakout rooms to which they’ve been assigned.

Most people we’ve spoken with have agreed that in this situation, you simply use the main room as the new breakout room.

Your facilitator is in the middle of an activity using the annotation tool. Mary private chats you that she can’t find the annotation tool.

Going back to the chart above, not all systems support the annotation function, and when you’re using a tablet, the icon to access the annotation tool looks different.

If someone isn’t able to locate or access the annotation function, this could be a time when you simply ask them to chat their thoughts to you, and you can write their thoughts on the screen. If there are several people who cannot access the annotation function, they can still chat their thoughts to you, though you may not have time to transcribe their thoughts on the screen using annotation, and may just have to announce their thoughts when there is a break in the action.

You emailed out the worksheets for the session ahead of time. When your facilitator starts referencing the worksheets, a number of people say in the chat that they don’t have the worksheets.

In this situation, you can upload a file or copy/paste a link to the handouts in the chat function. You may also choose to share the worksheet on your screen using your Share Screen function.

You may also be able to try to email participants once again (and be sure they check their spam folders).

You notice that the participants are using chat a lot, and there are a number of “side conversations” breaking out in the chat space (almost like people whispering to one another in the back of the room during your presentation).

I’ve seen a variety of approaches to this situation. As a producer, you can chime in to re-direct the attention of the “chatters” back to the topic at hand.

On the other hand, sometimes these informal chats – whether in person or online – can lead to some of the most valuable take-aways for attendees. While the chat may be off topic, those engaged in the chat may be stumbling upon a line of conversation and learning they may not have otherwise had an opportunity to engage in. This seems to be a situation in which you’ll need to use your own discretion.

What are some of the technology failures that give you the most anxiety – either things that have happened or things you fear might happen? Share you anxieties in the comment section, and maybe we can come up with some ideas in how to address them!


Looking for some ideas on which activities/features of your virtual training platform will align with your learning objectives. Here is a post featuring a handy chart that maps learning objectives to a variety of features (polls, on-screen drawing, breakout rooms, chat, etc).

2 thoughts on “When technology attacks (Virtual Training Edition)

  1. These charts are very helpful! I’ve had some of these glitches happen already. Worries about technology breakdowns give me the most stress. Late arrivers to the meeting cause me headaches — they don’t hear my directions, don’t get information, sometimes get stuck in the waiting room (I don’t have a producer.)

    • Thanks Emily. Yes, not only are worries about technology breakdowns warranted (and stressful), you almost have to plan for them to happen because they probably will in some way, shape or form. Knowing how to use other tools as “back up” (chat if the poll doesn’t appear, chat if the annotation tool doesn’t work, unmute and listen to people if you can’t keep track of chats) is the least bad option for when technology attacks.

      Of course, the late arrivers on the other hand. Grrrrrr. But it’s a bit like late arrivers to an in-person session. It’s nice to bring them up to speed, but if you don’t have the time or if you’re already in the middle of something, it’s kind of on them.

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