Virtual Facilitator Training Part 2: Know the Interface Inside and Out

While piloting the first live virtual class I’d ever designed, I suddenly saw a yellow stripe appear on the screen. It shocked me and I had no idea how it happened. After the session I asked the facilitator about it. That was the day I learned about the Highlight feature in Microsoft Live Meeting. That was also the day I realized I couldn’t possibly design for this platform without knowing it inside and out.

It’s also a great idea for facilitators to understand the functionality of the program. Think about what great facilitators do. They don’t just read the script in the facilitator guide. They add their own special take to what they teach, adjusting approaches for different audiences or based on their own understanding and expertise. They sometimes even introduce new, up-to-date content. Facilitators need a clear understanding of the platform to successfully teach from the guide and augment the content.

Following are some of the basic features many platforms include and some ways to use them in the virtual classroom:

  • Live Chat–This is a great way to capture questions and comments from the participants. They can also use this medium to connect with one another, share resources and links, and answer questions posed by the facilitator.
  • Annotation Tools–Often including a text tool, drawing tools, and set icons like check marks, Xs, and arrows. These can be used for answering open-ended questions, demonstrating differences in processes, or a quick yes/no or agree/disagree response using checks and Xs. Facilitators can ask participants to use the text tool to label a diagram as a way to check for understanding.
  • Status Boxes–Colors can be used to indicate status. You don’t have to stick to the default, you can create your own responses. For example, if participants are watching a video as part of the class, the facilitator can ask them to display as red while they are watching, then switch back to green when they are done and ready to continue. This can also be used for virtual scavenger hunts.
  • Polls–Polls are easy to set up and provide a great way for the facilitator and participants to learn about each other. Facilitators can use them to get demographic information such as experience level, industry, interest, etc. They can also be used to discover how the content will be used and  in what environment. Remember pop quizzes? Facilitators can use them to check for understanding too. They are usually easy enough to build that they can be spontaneously created when needed.
  • Handouts–Provide resources via handouts that can be downloaded and printed. I really like condensing the relevant models and information to a 1-2 page Participant Placemat.

What are your favorite tools in the platform you use? How do you make them work for you as a facilitator?


The Webinar Manifesto

Live blogging from Learning 2012

I had the opportunity to hear from Matthew Murdoch and Treion Muller,  the authors of The Webinar Manifesto. We definitely play for the same team when it comes to doing interactive live virtual training. You can join their revolution by signing the Manifesto.

Matthew and Treion covered 3 of the topics in the book during the session. Here are my notes with additional resources that I think support their points.

Don’t Default
Don’t simply use the default settings in your platform. Learn about all of tools available to make the session come alive. Think about how you could use them to to allow for maximum participation.

  1. Read the manual
  2. Apply the Manual
  3. Write your own manual

Shut Down the Ugly
Channel your inner marketer. Learn some basic graphic design rules and apply them to your communications and visuals.

  1. Email Invitations: Your invitations should look as good as your visuals for the presentation. Include a value proposition so learners know what they will get out of it. “The words you use should be just as beautiful as the graphics you use.” 9 Must-Have Components of Compelling Email Copy.
  2. Social Media: This is just as important as email. Again, don’t default. Make sure that you use a relevant branding image for the account and include links to make it easy for participants to register. Don’t post more than 3-4 times per week or it becomes noise. Try different benefit messages for wider appeal.
  3. Ban Ugly Slides: Limit the amount of text to a powerful phrase or two. Use relevant, teachable graphics. Here is an example of a PowerPoint makeover by Garr Reynolds of Presentation Zen.

Captivate or Alienate
Your visuals and the flow of your session must be dynamic. You are competing with email, texts, and Sudoku. These distractions will always be there, but you can create anticipation by using powerful images and well planned activities. I write about this in Is “Webinar a Dirty Word?

  1. Create Virtually Accountability:  Set the expectation for participating verbally, visually, and kinesthetically. Begin the session with a highly interactive inclusion activity and let participants know they will use chat or annotation tools to participate.
  2. Don’t Mute: Don’t silence participants. Invite verbal participation throughout the session.
  3. Set the stage: Let participants know that this is not your usual webinar. Participants may be called upon by name.
  4. Hang 10… count to ten after asking a question. Say out loud, “I’ll give you some time to think about it.”
  5. Visual: Open their eyes. Map it… where we are, where we are going… use graphics.
  6. Kinesthetic–Push: use the mouse, move around, Pull: Download. Play: Scavenger hunt. Come back and contribute. Never break for more than 5 minutes for an activity.

Is ‘Webinar’ a Dirty Word?

I love the potential of webinars to bring thought leaders to the masses and connect learners with common goals, but most webinars don’t live up to their potential. How much should we expect from a free webinar?

Attending a webinar for me is a bit like a chef eating at someone else’s restaurant. I have to remind myself to focus on the experience and try not to critique the design… too much. I get really frustrated when a webinar I’m attending turns out to be a lecture–or worse, a sales pitch. I’ve come to expect a certain amount of promotion at free sessions, but I don’t want to spend the whole hour hearing about a product unless I signed up for a demo.

So here it is: My list of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Webinars.


The Good – Webinars at Their Best

  • Promotions are limited to the beginning or end of the session and clearly differentiate between the pitch and the content that attracts the learners.
  • The presenter has mechanisms in place to get feedback from the audience in order to understand their interests, experience level, and what they want to get out of the session. The best presenters are flexible enough to go into deeper detail about the things participants are most interested in learning or comfortable with skipping content that isn’t relevant to the audience. They realize that every audience is different.
  • The design allows for the most possible contribution from the learners. Not just a stray poll or Q&A at the end… real opportunities to contribute to the session and learn from each other as well as from the presenter. For example, invite participants to use the annotation tools and chat function at any time during the session. Collect questions as you go and pause periodically to address them. Ask for feedback to see if the session is meeting the need.
  • Opportunities exist to connect with other participants such as the chat channel or a space to discuss the session in another forum. For example, encourage participants to Tweet about the session with a designated hashtag. This will help participants find each other after the session if they want to connect.
  • Recorded sessions turn me on. Sometimes a critical meeting comes up and I can’t attend a session I’m really excited about. I love it when the recording is sent out the next day. I can revisit something I learned, see what I missed, or share it with a colleague.


The Bad – Missed Opportunities

  • The presenter lectures, asks for all questions to be held until the end of the session or a designated Q&A pit stop. The audience is to be seen, but not heard.
  • The presenter turns off chat functionality and/or does not utilize annotation tools. No passing notes in class.
  • The presenter uses polls, but doesn’t really respond to or address the results. Polls should be used to pulse the audience, better understand needs, or generate conversation. They should be a meaningful activity, not just a periodic change of pace.


The Ugly – A Waste of Time

  • The entire presentation is a demo of the platform not-so-cleverly disguised with content. Honestly, I don’t mind demos. I like to see what the platforms out there can do. Just tell me that’s what it is. If I’ve already seen a demo of your platform I don’t want to be tricked into sitting through another one.

Is “webinar” a dirty word? What makes a webinar good, bad, or ugly to you?