7 Tips for Success for the Virtual Trainer


There are a plethora of articles out there focused on helping the classroom trainer to engage with their audiences. However, there seems to be a real dearth of content to support the virtual trainer. Given the explosion of webinars as a virtual facilitation tool in recent years we owe it to these participants to identify ways to strengthen their learning experience. Rather than trying to take our classroom resources and make them fit the online space, we need to underpin the journey with sound andragogy. For some reason, facilitators often forget that adult learning principles should be the backbone of their sessions when they take it online. Just because the learners are at a distance doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be involved in the learning or with each other. I recently sat in on a 60 minute webinar, where participants were not asked a question until the last two minutes of the presentation. And that question was “are there any questions on anything we have covered?” This is bad practice in any learning environment, but when experienced online, it simply amplifies the disconnection.

During the past few months I have been working on the development of webinar programs to support VET practitioner capability. In preparation for this development, I signed up to as many webinars as was practicable with as many different organisations as possible in order to get an essence of what worked from what didn’t. I discovered that there was quite a lot of  room for growth and as an industry we are in danger of damaging the webinar brand unless we become more effective and engaging.

This article identifies seven things that the virtual trainer can do to improve their success when presenting webinars.

1. Preparation.

This is important for any trainer, regardless of the mode of delivery. However, it is particularly critical for those leading online learning. Less really is more when it comes to slide development and a great visual metaphor will trump a page of text in the engagement department.

Consider how the participants will have access to resources during the webinar. You don’t really want them flicking between windows during the presentation so a snapshot of information will be preferred to a detailed resource, which could be emailed after the session.

Where bandwidth is an issue, the trainer should look for alternatives to the use of webcams and long video clips. Text chat, collaborative white boarding and fun memes are good options. Reducing the resolution of images will also help in decreasing “lag time” problems.

2. Consider pre-session activities for the learners.

For learners who tune into the webinar early, there could be exercises, polls and word puzzles programmed on a loop. This will help to get them mentally ready for the content that follows and sets the scene for later involvement and interaction. It also helps them to stay with the webinar until it commences, instead of straying away to check email and facebook. Additionally, the facilitator could lead some technical checks like sound volume and clarity in order to reduce problems during the presentation.

For new users, links to short you tube videos on how to use the webinar platform (e.g. Webex’s “Goto Meeting” or Blackboard’s “Collaborate”) could  be sent out in advance.

Finally, those pre-session moments can also be a useful time for the trainer to connect with their group by sharing some information about themselves and their team.

3. Avoid distactions.

Turn off email, phones and limit other distractions. As trainers we have to honour our participants and ensure that we are fully focused on them. It is too easy to sneak a peek at messages and lose focus. Similarly, we should have the same expectation of our participants.

4. Log in early.

If you log in 15-20 minutes before the webinar commences it will give you time to test your audio and reacquaint yourself with the meeting platform. If you are presenting with more than one person, check that there isn’t unnecessary feedback coming from the microphones. (This includes those that may be on a panel and remotely connecting.)

5. Use a hands-free headset.

Whilst this adds cost to the webinar presentation, it will help the trainer to give a more authentic delivery and allow them to control other webinar features more easily. Further to this, it will improve the audio quality of the presentation which will be of benefit for those attending live as well as those watching the recording post-training.

6. Involve the participants.

Involve the participants early and often! When the training is not face-to-face, the trainer is competing for attention with everything else going on around the participants and on their screen. As a ballpark rule, try to involve the participants every 4 minutes. This could achieved by using features like:

  • “show of hands”
  • text chat
  • online break out rooms
  • shared whiteboard
  • polls
  • quizzes
  • photo share
  • stretch breaks.

7. Set them up for success post-training.

Even though the webinar has painted the broad stokes for the participants, the trainer still needs to promote reinforcement and support transfer. As a tip, send out a transcript of the questions and answers post training, together with copies of any extension reading or resources discussed.  Providing a link to the recording, will also enable the participants to revisit their learning and help them to bed-down the key concepts.

Marc Ratcliffe