Keeping Everyone Engaged: Tips for Virtual Training



Over the past few months, we’ve all had to learn new ways of doing the same tasks we’ve been doing for years. A once familiar road suddenly became uncharted territory. In my case, as a training specialist, this path of new discovery was presenting and training virtually. I was accustomed to helping others learn in person, not through a screen. In the short time I’ve had to adjust, I’ve compiled a few tips for virtual training that could also help you, whether you’re educating clients, improving the skills of your team, or making an important presentation.

The Biggest Challenge

When the world changed with the COVID-19 pandemic, so did trainings. In-person sessions were suddenly rescheduled as Zoom or Microsoft Teams meetings. Preparing for a virtual class is full of challenges, and at the top of the list is keeping the class engaged and energy levels high. Always a hurdle to effective training, engagement becomes an even higher bar to clear in a virtual environment.

In live sessions, I often started classes by asking everyone to stay off their phones and not check email or Teams messages. I also make this request at the start of my virtual classes.

It’s trickier, though, to notice if someone is multitasking when you’re not in the same room. So, I pay attention to the faces in front of me—if I see a flickering light from a computer screen or someone seems to be typing, I have a clue that they may be focused elsewhere. That’s when I usually pose a question to the group to see if I’ll get a reaction from those I suspect were reading email. A simple yes or no question can get us back on track. No response makes me think they’re not getting anything out of the class.

Give Energy, Get Energy

If people aren’t paying attention to you, it’s hard to keep your own energy levels high—and keep the class engaged. In an in-person class, you could walk around the room to make connections and get people’s attention. But with everyone on mute, it’s difficult to reclaim energy, feed off it, and put it back into the presentation. You need to give energy to get it back. The class will follow. Here’s how to keep the energy going from start to finish from your computer.

Break the ice. As folks filter in, I engage in light, sometimes funny banter that gets people used to speaking and feeling more comfortable. This starts the class in a welcoming way and helps build a connection.

View your voice as a powerful tool. Your voice conveys your excitement—or lack thereof. My virtual presentation voice has more varied highs and lows. It’s much more demonstrative. When one of my questions gets answered, I give very enthusiastic responses, such as “Boom! That’s right!” or “Fantastic answer!”

Give an incentive for responding. Five seconds of silence in a virtual setting is an eternity. I let trainees know I’m cool with letting the uncomfortable silence go on as long as it needs to. This almost always prompts responses because most people hate silence. If that doesn’t do it, I simplify my questions and suggest answers to keep the responses coming.

Keep moving. Although body language is diminished during a virtual presentation, it can still be an effective tool. When I’m soliciting answers, I’ll point to the person who has an answer and use their name. I understand I’m really just pointing at my computer screen, but it’s a motion people are familiar with from live classes. So I do it. If you get multiple people answering, know that (1) you have their attention and (2) you get to pick the order of answers while knowing the discussion is working. This validates what you’ve done so far.

Lean in. I lean toward my screen when someone is speaking. Especially someone who does not speak often. As with having face-to-face conversations in the physical world, leaning in helps the other person know you care about what’s being said. But be careful about leaning in too much—you don’t want to be a virtual close talker.

Practice. Teaching virtually can sometimes feel like you’re having a conversation with your computer. It’s a bit unusual, to say the least. But the more you practice, the more natural it will feel. Plus, the more comfortable and at ease you are, the higher your energy will be.

Check your lighting. You don’t want lighting coming from behind you. It’ll create a shadowed appearance that will make you look less like a presenter and more like someone trying to keep their identity a secret. And never use side lighting—you’ll come off looking like Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein monster. Instead, always light from the back of your computer or camera.

Have fun with it! You are driving this meeting, and everyone is following you. If all you’re giving them is bullet points and talking at them, their minds will drift right out of class. Balance fun with information. Lead by example and enjoy yourself. That feeling will be infectious.

I hope my experiences with virtual training will help you in the future. Take just one tip you read here and apply it to your presentations. Once you get it down, try another. Before you know it, you’ll be teaching others how to do great presentations virtually.

Please consult your member firm’s policies and obtain prior approval for any
applications or software you would like to use with clients.