Iceman: “You can be my wingman any time.” Maverick: “Bulls**t! You can be mine.”
– Top Gun, Paramount Pictures, 1986.
Three years ago I learnt how to truly add value visually in the virtual classroom as a Producer. We were piloting the first soft-skill training our company had undertaken in this medium. Our team of 4 (a fellow facilitator, a digital learning producer and a program manager for the content) worked together on it over the ‘airwaves’ between Sydney and Melbourne. Using call signs from the movie Top-Gun (I was Maverick!), we took risks, had fun with the participants, bounced off each other, found where the engagement lives in the virtual classroom and built trust. More than anything, the following tips are a result of those times.
10 best practice tips for producing visually in a virtual classroom session using WebEx Training Centre.
1) Use opportunities to reference other forms of learning into the session to be truly 70/20/10. As the producer, you are best to do this through Chat, in the breaks or before the session formally commences. Like the reference to coaching below, it starts an interesting conversation for the participants to engage in. It also gives ‘shoulders’ for the facilitator to stand on. In this case the facilitator asked follow up questions on what the benefits of the coaching were.
2) As the facilitator debriefs a group activity slide, use the ‘check-mark’ tool to score the answers. Some participant answers are more correct or more important than others. Whilst it is good to lead the eye as the debrief occurs by ticking each item as it is discussed, adding extra ticks lets everyone know the core learning outcomes from the debrief.
3) Make the initial technical directions visual, not just verbal. The risk is visual clutter, but the pay-off is that overwhelmed first-timers to the virtual classroom get another mechanism to quickly learn how to use the tools. Plain language, symbols and arrows work really well for this.
4) Post summarised technical activity instructions into Chat. The main reason for this is so the participants can still see it even if they have been asked to join a break-out tab. It is also impossible to delete. As below, you can combine technical phone break-out instructions too. Also, use first names instead of initials. It means there is one less thing to translate for the facilitator and the participant.
5) When posting a URL into Chat, give a brief explanation first. Do this within the same field ideally, after ‘screening it off’ with a line of asterisks. The explanation is best limited to about 10 words so that it is a quick read.
6) Use “All Panelists” to communicate with the facilitator. This option allows you to include any people sitting in on the virtual classroom for observation/upskill as well as any guest speakers. This is so much better than using another messaging service like Messenger, SameTime or Office Communicator because it keep your conversations on the same screen. Also, below you can see a phone breakout option – in this case #19 – specifically for the Panelists. This allows for quick discussions in the breaks, and for this to be teed up in the moment without disturbing the participants.
7) Foster some whimsy by interacting with the participants. As a facilitator in the virtual classroom, the best thing you can do is deviate from the script, ask an open question or share a story. As a producer, you can inject some personality into Chat to encourage others to do the same. This particularly works well around case studies and when participants come back early from an activity. When responding to individuals, the @ symbol preceding their name makes the conversation personal. Be positive and slightly vernacular in your language to break the ice.
8) Have a common approach to technology use. An example is for participants to put up a green tick when they are finished a task. It’s a simple thing, and where I work it is the common language that facilitators/producers use with participants. This means a consistent experience with less focus on the technology and more on the learning outcomes.
9) Encourage participants to self-produce by using “All Participants”. In the situation below, the participants were trying to find each other in a phone break-out. In advance, we made sure they knew to use Chat in a way that was visible to everyone, including the Producer. They actually solved it themselves really quickly, and all I had to do was to pop into their phone room and confirm they were OK.
10) Transcribe verbal conversation into Chat rather than on the slides. When a slide disappears from view, so does your notations on it. Using Chat instead creates an archive of the verbal learnings. At the end of a session I will often suggest to the participants to cut and paste the entire Chat into a Word document for reference afterwards, even as a one-pager. You can see below a good way to transcribe. Other ways are to start fields with words in capitals such as LINK, EXAMPLE, CONTEXT and QUOTE.
As cost-pressures mount, the worth of having a Producer comes under scrutiny. In my career I have both facilitated and produced concurrently about 8 times to ensure a session goes ahead. It is possible to be done, but only with a lot of experience under your belt. If something major goes wrong, you need to be able to solve it very quickly and without disturbance to the session. This is very difficult. For this reason I will usually defend the notion (and cost) to have two people there to run a session. If a Producer is there, then they need to do everything they can to support their Facilitator to build engagement and embed learnings. This is the point of the 10 best practice tips listed above. There is nothing to stop someone running a session solo using these tips however.