• Franziska Blickle

Virtual Training FAQ - for facilitators

Aktualisiert: 11. Nov 2021

I was absolutely over the moon, when Antje Lehmann-Benz told me how helpful my FAQ collection was for her. She forwarded the link to some colleagues and wanted to know, if I was planning to do an English version any time soon.

Unfortunately I didn't have the time to do so, but Antje took matters into her own hands and generously provided me with a translated version herself! I hope this helps even more facilitators navigate in the virtual training world. Any further answers, tips, tricks are highly appreciated!

If you are looking for something specific, press Ctrl + F and enter a search term in the text search field. That way, you can get help for your specific situation more quickly.

Kaffetasse mit Aufschrift Begin.
Let's start!

Basic parameters for virtual training

First things first:

Where can I learn about being a virtual facilitator ?

Train-The-Trainer formats:

Bild 1: Frau vor PC die in die Kamera lächelt; Bild 2: Frau mit Flipchart die vor einem Stuhlkreis steht
Get fit!

It's definitively worth doing a Train-The-Trainer program for virtual formats.

My personal recommendation is the Virtual Training TTT Wilma Hartenfelsis doing with Anne Koch.

I found an awful lot of the answers below in the very professional and interactive learning journey they are offering, and which considers all the different perspectives of the topic.

Wilma is an expert for blended and digital learning, supports companies and facilitators with her knowledge and answered a lot of question I had in this interview in: Inspired Learning In A Digital World

Stand alone sessions:

There are a lot of nice sessions about facilitation & trouble shooting, about how to make virtual formats easy and fun and about how to involve participants and keed their attention up.

I took part in session of Ten Directions and got to know the "Thiagis Live-Online-Lernaktivitäten (LOLAs) für TrainerInnen" in an interesting session by Schiller & Mertens. All these sessions where less about the tools and the technical setting but about methods, exercises and the mindset to bring emotion and flow into your workshops.

Sparring sessions with other facilitators:

I took part in a lot of sparring sessions and organized several of them myself e.g. with all the colleagues of the facebook group Trainerinnen & Speakerinnen. We brainstormed about questions, we gathered tipps & tricks, we showed our favorite tools to each other and tried things out in these little laps. Many of the suggestions and hints below were born in these brainstormings and discussions.

Free E-Learning:

Haufe is currently offering "Digitales Lernen für alle" for free (German only).

I saw the following courses:

  • Virtuelle Moderation

  • Virtuelle Meetings & Online Lernen

  • Formen des Online Lernens

➽ How can I make sure that a topic is suitable for virtual training in the first place?

To find out whether your training offer or customer inquiry is suitable for a virtual format, you should take a closer look at four things:

  • The topic: the more strategically relevant, complex, or emotional a topic is, the more likely it is that face-to-face training is better suitable.

  • The target group: Depending on how geographically distributed the group is, it could be suitable to have a virtual session. The same goes for a target group which is open in terms of technology and tools.

  • The learning objectives: Cognitive learning objectives, i.e. the transfer of knowledge, are well-suited for virtual formats. When it comes to learning goals with the intention of creating a certain effect, i.e. the elicitation of an emotion or certain behaviors, it is very much depending on the topic.

Examples of learning objectives that work well in virtual sessions: inciting curiosity about a specific topic, applying a specific feedback structure...

Examples of learning objectives that could become difficult to transport through virtual sessions: strengthening someone’s self-confidence for a presentation on stage, machine maintenance / repair...

  • The framework: What has to be clarified in advance with the customer includes the budget, the technical equipment and infrastructure, the duration of the meetings and the program, and any requirements to reproducibility of the training.

For which target group is virtual training suitable?

Virtual trainings are suitable for almost every target group. Major differences only arise in the didactic and technical preparation. Here you have to go into detail about which systems, tools and features the participants are familiar with and how intensive the explanation of the technology must be.

Basically, the following applies:

  1. Less is more! - Even if there are now the greatest gadgets you should not overwhelm the participants (and yourself).

  2. Step by step! - It is best to always show and explain only the feature that is needed next.

Which general rules of the game make sense?

To make the workshop or training a good experience for everyone, I establish the following rules at the beginning of my virtual formats:

Sammlung an kleinen Grafiken; Damit's heute gut wird:
With this overview, I can cover the basic principles in a dedicated way at the beginning of the online training.
  • Pop it when it's hot! - Any kind of irritation or disturbance is immediately made transparent - be it that background noise disturbs or that it is not exactly understood what the purpose of the current exercise is.

  • Use hand signals! - In order to get a little more clarity and fewer interruptions in the exchange, we help ourselves with visible hand signals. This is not only useful for speaking, but also as a quick check whether, for example, everyone can see the presentation, has understood the exercise, etc.

  • Use the chat! - We also use the chat window as an additional communication option.

  • Camera on! - We all use the camera to make the session more personal. Exception, of course, if the internet connection is too unstable. In this case it is useful to have a nice profile photo as a placeholder.

  • Mute and unmute yourself! - To avoid disruptions through background noises, feedback effects etc., the participants turn on their microphones and mute themselves again after they finished talking.

  • Be here and now! - In order to make the best use of our time together, we switch off all sources of interference, especially cell phones and desktop notifications!

  • Sharing is caring! - Be generous with your experiences, questions and tips, and you will take a lot from the training with you as well.

Any general tips regarding the number of participants?

Since each format is different, general recommendations are very difficult to give. During my research and in exchange with other trainers, I have come across the following advice again and again:

  • Webinars / virtual lectures without audience interaction: no problem with 100+ participants

  • Large group workshops with multiple hosts and group work: up to approx. 35 participants

  • Training or workshop: 6-10 participants

  • Virtual group coaching: 4-6 participants

In general, the following applies: The more interaction, the fewer participants!

Can I have multiple hosts or facilitators in a virtual training?

Yes, that's a pretty good idea, if this is possible.

Splitting up the hosting responsibilities between a host who is responsible for the process input and moderation, and another person who takes care of technology, such as the release of surveys, answering questions in the chat, sharing presentations and other media makes things a lot easier and the overall process smoother.

What roles could there be with more than two hosts?

Some ideas:

  • Timekeeper - keeps an eye on the timing and helps everyone else to keep to the schedule. Ideas for this: Hold the cell phone timer clearly visible in the camera, work with different colored backgrounds, ...

  • Energy guard - observes the participants and interrupts the session when they show signs of exhaustion for short energizer exercises (e.g. getting up and tapping and shaking yourself from top to bottom)

  • Chat officer - monitors the chat, answers questions or ensures that they are answered

  • Documentation - collects audience replies, copies relevant information from the chat, saves relevant information from the whiteboards, then creates the documentation

  • Co-moderator - moderation of a specific section

  • Technical support - supports participants with technical questions

What is the best duration for a virtual training?

I came across varying information related to this question in my research and in exchange with others again. Looking at my own experience so far, I would say:

  • Sessions with up to 90 mins are feasible without or with only a very short break (5 mins)

  • Sessions with up to 3 hours require a break (15-20 mins) to be scheduled in-between

  • Plan a very generous break (45-90 mins) for sessions with a duration of 3 hours or longer

Technology & Tools

Which platform or which providers are suitable for virtual training and workshops?

There are a variety of video conferencing and collaboration tools that are suitable for different virtual formats.

I mostly use Zoom, but I am collecting some other software tools here as well:

Bild von PC mit geöffneter Videokonferenz
Hello! That's me!

Some general tips about tools used for virtual training:

  • Always align with your customer in advance about which tools may be used and / or may already be there

  • Be sure to inform yourself about data protection regulations

  • Test and dry-run for yourself – even if some programs are more intuitive to use and therefore supposedly better, most settings and features can also be found in other tools.

Which software allows for group exercises and breakouts?

Not all video conferencing tools have the ability to send participants to different virtual rooms, so-called "breakout rooms". If you want to do group exercises, you should look out for such a feature.

Small group exercises is of course great for sessions, because it enables you to use completely different formats that you could without. Even in face-to-face training, you rarely find yourself working continuously with everyone in your audience at once.

I have already done some breakouts with Zoom and can say that it is much easier than I thought.

How can I do group exercises without breakout rooms?

If you work with a video conference tool that does not offer a dedicated function for breakout rooms, you need a little more creativity and time for preparation, but it is still possible.

The participants may simply be in a phone call with the others in their group. Conference phone calls are not a problem with most telephones / smartphones, but even if that is not the case, at least pairing up for very small group work is always possible this way.

The participants could set up breakout rooms themselves. Many video conferencing systems that are operated in large companies offer employees the opportunity to open up a room.

You should pay attention to the following:

  • Your instructions for the exercise, the timing and the type of documentation should be very precise.

  • The participants should be able to reach out to you with questions.

  • Make sure the method and format of the exercise match your intended outcome, or if there may be a more suitable alternative.

Can I use a virtual flipchart?

Yes, in almost all software tools you can write on a virtual flipchart paper or whiteboard that you can share with everyone. Sometimes, there is even the possibility to allow the participants to also write, draw, mark or place a stamp in that area.

Can I connect my iPad and use it as a flipchart?

It gives your session an especially nice touch if you connect your tablet and then write and sketch through that – at least with Zoom, that works well.

What features are available?

Most tools have the following options:

  • Chat feature – Here, you can communicate with everyone else, or privately with another person via chat message. Usually, the host can allow and restrict chat functionalities at will. Allowing people to chat with each other creates the benefit that participants can help each other out and answer questions. The disadvantage is that parallel dialogues can develop unnoticed.

  • “Raising your hand” feature - In addition to the possibility of actually raising your hand visibly in front of the camera, there is often an option of simply sending a hand signal to the host with a click of the mouse.

  • Screen sharing - To make presentations, photos, websites or other programs visible to everyone at the same time, use screen sharing.

  • Virtual whiteboard – most often accessible via the screen sharing feature, to make which ad hoc notes and sketches.

  • Breakout sessions - send the participants into different virtual rooms. The number and size of groups can be selected depending on the method and objectives.

  • Polls - In order to quickly get a picture of the audience’s mood, or to organize a small quiz, surveys are a great tool. They can be published and then filled out by everyone independently. The result is visible to the host and / or the participants.

Options for training design and interaction

How can I keep the participants’ attention up?

Most of them are distracted more easily than in a physical training room, for two reasons:

  • Everyone is distracted when in a different location: knocking on the door, children coming in, fire fighter trucks driving down the street ...

  • Everyone is sitting in front of one big source of distraction: what starts with a foreign word / a person googling quickly leads to mails, headlines, funny memes and so on. And you cannot tell what exactly the participants who are staring at their screen are seeing…

In general, we can say that it is even more important in a virtual training to pay attention to activating and involving the participants again and again. Ideally, this is done every few minutes.

How does it work?

It's about using everything we know from classroom trainings - AND lots of creativity:

  • Ask questions

  • Ask specific participants for feedback

  • Request that they react using a hand signal

  • Request their response in the chat

  • Doing a feedback round with everyone

  • Let them reflect on a question

  • Switch to a group exercise

  • Let them try out something for themselves

How do we get interaction and experience in an online workshop?

Just as we do not design good classroom training by standing in front and lecturing the audience most of the time, virtual training is not intended for the audience to watch us click through a presentation while speaking about it.

Try out: group exercises, work in pairs, individual reflection, brainstorming, brainwriting, small (thought) experiments with appropriate debriefing, energizers, videos, let them do some research....

How can we give a training session some variety and make it exciting?

My recommendation would be to look at what you normally do in a classroom training in order to achieve that. In a next step, consider how you can benefit from the same effects in virtual training.

Simple example:

Are you embedding your training day in an exciting story that you continue to tell and ultimately resolve? Great, you can easily do something like that in a digital context.

A little more difficult:

Do you use different areas in the room for the individual sections of the training?

Maybe you can work with different backgrounds on your screen instead or ask the participants to change something about their own backgrounds to symbolize it.

Now it gets really tricky:

You usually make use of games which involve movement.

  • Does your exercise involve individual physical movement, for example as an energizer? That should still work wonderfully. Seeing the others do physical movement can be pretty funny.

  • Is it usually more about an interaction with others in the classroom? Perhaps you will find a way to display movement patterns on the whiteboard. Of course, your practical experience with your formats is very important here, but you can almost always find a way.

How should my slides for technical or topic-related input be designed?

The design of presentation slides is an art in itself. However, I find these things particularly important in presentation slides for virtual training:

  • Pictures say more than text! - The slides should serve to illustrate and support what you said and explained. They should not simply contain what you are saying in writing. Ideally, you will find pictures, graphics or icons and avoid writing any longer texts or even key takeaways.

  • Use animation! - Gradually fade in the elements of your presentation in meaningful chunks. This helps your participants find the balance between listening and looking at / reading your slides.

  • Presentation ≠ handout / documentation! - If you also send your presentation to be used as a handout, important key points will be missing. If you use the handout document as a presentation, there is too much to read at the same time. I recommend creating two different sets of slides: one to show it parallel to your input and one that you can send as documentation and that contains notes and key points for the illustrations.

Or should I do it without any slides instead?

If you prefer to speak completely without the support of presentation slides, even in face-to-face training, the same thing is of course also possible in a virtual setting!

You could, for example...

  • ... use and illustrate a virtual whiteboard just like you would in a classroom - this works particularly well if you have a tablet connected in your session.

  • ... show objects to illustrate your presentation.

  • ... hold pictures in the camera.

  • ... do something in front of the camera to demonstrate what you are talking about.

  • ... ask someone in the group to demonstrate.

How and for which purposes can I make use of surveys and polls?

Surveys or "polls" help activate and involve the participants in virtual training and workshops. You can use it to assess the audience’s mood, to gather information on prior knowledge of the participants or their expectations, to take a small quiz in between, and so on.

There are separate online tools such as Mentimeter, which you can use independently of the video conference tool choice for your session.

Some video call tools such as Zoom also enable small surveys to be carried out directly inside the software. A well-made tutorial from Zoom can be found here: Zoom Polling (in Meeting)

How and for what purpose exactly can I make use of group exercises?

(How you can technically set up breakout sessions can be found above.)

Here are a few ideas for group exercise topics in virtual training:

  • Structured peer coaching or Mastermind Circles

  • Brainstorming or any other form of gathering ideas in smaller groups

  • Research and preparation of inputs and content by smaller groups, with subsequent presentations to the whole group

  • Check-in / in smaller groups

What are the points to consider when facilitating virtual group work?

Especially in a virtual context, you should make sure to communicate the following information very clearly:

Bild von Hand die einen Stift hält und in ein offenes bereits beschriebenes Notizbuch schreibt
speak plain language!
  • What exactly is the specific task at hand?

  • What are the details and timing of the process?

  • What exactly needs to be done and how are results documented?

  • What is the purpose of the exercise, and what will happen with the results afterwards?

  • How can you be reached out to in case of any uncertainties or problems?

How can I explain group exercises and additional information?

The more elaborate and complex this information is, the more useful it is to provide it in writing. It is very worthwhile to create a slide or a visualization and to share it with the participants. Please note that it is often not possible to access the shared screen or the shared chat from the breakout rooms.

This is why I would recommend the following alternative options:

  1. Share your screen, explain all the information and ask the participants to take a screenshot.

  2. Share the information in the chat and ask the participants to copy it and then transfer it to the breakout group chat.

  3. Send the information as a message to the individual breakout group rooms (if possible).

  4. Create a PDF and send it by email.

  5. Create a PDF, make it available online, e.g. via Google Drive and share the link in the chat.

How can I ensure that the timing of a breakout session is adhered to?

In face-to-face training, you usually have the groups in your view. You can easily check with them how they feel about the timing and, if necessary, give them more time or get everyone back together earlier. In virtual breakout sessions, it is not quite as straightforward. You can take the following measures to ensure that the schedule is adhered to.

Hand die ein Miniwecker hält
manage your Time!
  • Just like the instructions for the exercise itself, you should also communicate the timing for it in writing (see above) - especially if it becomes more complex, for example with several phases of an exercise.

  • With Zoom, you have the option of having a timer displayed for the groups. You can also make use of the feature to send messages into the breakout sessions to announce the start of the next phase for the exercise, remind them there are only 5 minutes left, etc.

  • You could "drop in" on the groups if necessary and ask how they are doing with regards to the timing.

  • It is worth considering to appoint a person as a time keeper per group and have them, for example, hold a cell phone timer into the camera - so everyone is aware of the time.

  • Especially with more complex exercises, it is worth having co-hosts in the groups, whom you can brief about the timing in advance.

How can I record the work results of the groups?

Of course, when it comes to documentation, it is very important to think about what should happen with the results. Is the exercise just about discussing individual ideas with the entire group later? Or should an actual presentation or other form of written result emerge from it?

The groups in the breakout rooms usually have their own virtual whiteboard and chat. Work results and additional points can be recorded there. Depending on the technology used, it could be important that those results are saved separately by a group member, in order for them not to get lost when the breakouts end. So make sure the groups know beforehand that they will have to copy the text or take a screenshot.

Regardless of the video conferencing tool in use, there are some other options:

  • The participants document the results locally on their computers and then send them to you. With this option, you should also be very clear in which format (text, table, key points, body text, etc.) you require them to save and send the results.

  • Collections of ideas can also be collected in a Google Docs document. Additionally, you could work together on presentation slides with Google Slides, or on spreadsheets with Google Sheets.

  • Collaboration tools like MIRO and MURAL offer the opportunity to work on a common whiteboard. They can be used in parallel to a video session, but are independent tools. Therefore, results remain stored when the group sessions are ended and can be retrieved later and processed further at any time.

  • When it comes to collecting different types of media, PADLET is another good option.

What are the pitfalls when hosting virtual group exercises?

The biggest impediments for virtual team work are ...

  • … ambiguities, misunderstandings and misinterpretations of what needs to be done

  • … uncertainties about the timing.

  • … ambiguity about the roles

  • … too little time available

  • … too much time available

  • … loss of work results because the documentation is unclear

  • … lack of clarity for the way the results should be made available and about what happens with them after the session

Wie kann ich Gruppenarbeiten abwechslungsreich und interessant gestalten?

Here are a few suggestions – keeping in mind that even in classroom training, team exercises are not always exciting just by themselves:

  • Let the team sizes vary a bit: sometimes two large groups, sometimes people work in pairs, etc.

  • Use different formats: brainstorming, checklist, research, etc.

  • Give your participants a challenge! Who can find the most solutions to a given problem? Who has the most original idea? Whose representation could be presented directly to the customer ... whatever is useful!

  • Try using a presentation to introduce the exercise to your audience, e.g. in a short overview with some icons, on a slide, in a short video, etc.

  • Use different software tools like Miro, Mural, Kahoot ...