How to run the best virtual training workshop over Zoom

Doing nearly 12 months of digital marketing training workshops over Zoom, Teams and WebEx has meant we've learnt a lot about what makes a great virtual training.

Have you run or attended any great virtual trainings over the last year? What great ideas have you seen?

Here are the top 10 things we have learnt – hopefully these can help you run some great virtual training workshops too.

1. Do it on a Friday

Attendance and engagement have consistently been greater when the workshop has been delivered on a Friday. This is likely because most people have got their ‘proper work’ done before Friday and the limitations of socialising on Friday during lockdowns means availability on a Friday isn’t as much of an issue at the moment.

Tip: incorporate a ‘drinks break’ where people can grab a tipple of their choice or even give them a helping hand preparing their drinks in advance (see point 8)

2. Cameras on

Although initially we got some resistance back in April when we asked for cameras to be on, most trainees were much more interactive and concentrated when their video was displayed. The ability to see your peers.

Tip: set a ‘virtual background competition’ for trainees in advance of the workshop date, with a prize for the winner

3. Keep it short

Don’t be afraid to split training up into multiple sessions, rather than trying to do it all at once. Two-hours tends to be the sweet spot, with a 15-minute break somewhere in the middle.

Tip: before the training give trainees three options for the time-length of the training – this helps them feel more in control of the process and structure

4. Record it

When we started recording sessions we thought that live engagement might dwindle due to the fall-back of the recording and not needing to be focused the whole time. In fact, the opposite happened – attendees weren’t worrying about taking notes and were more present in the conversation. We also had great success exporting as audio files for people to listen to like a podcast, when they didn’t have time to rewatch the video versions.

Tip: use transcripts for the recordings, so trainees can search for certain words and phrases post-training rather than having to pinpoint the exact part of the recording

5. Get senior people involved

Having senior stakeholders involved and having their cameras on gave a greater sense of accountability for the rest of the attendees. It’s not about scaring them into performing in front of their boss, it’s about appreciating the importance of the content if someone in a senior position is there too.

Tip: have your senior stakeholder send an informal email out before the training to all attendees conveying their excitement for the training

6. Breakout

Breakout rooms are perfect for mixing up the content away from just one person presenting. Setting smaller exercises, no matter how basic, helps to change the focus and allows the trainer to identify which attendees may need more guidance than others.

Tip: if possible, pre-select the breakout groups in advance so you have an even mix of personalities to benefit group discussion and activity

7. Cheat sheets

Sending cheat sheets, glossaries or fact sheets in advance of the training will give trainees a chance to become acquainted with the subjects and topics before the workshop itself. It also allows them to cross-reference the training content to ensure they’re following along and not getting lost.

Tip: include one or multiple ‘golden ticket’ words or phrases in the cheat sheets that when first mentioned by the trainees allows trainees to raise their hand to win a prize

8. Send a gift in advance

For some of our smaller workshops that have spanned over lunchtime hours, we’ve sent a small Deliveroo or Uber Eats gift card in advance for people to use to cover their lunch. We’ve also sent cocktail kits, mini games, stationary and more. Everyone loves a gift, finding a way to incorporate into the training always helps to encourage participation.

Tip: ask trainees in advance if they consent to receiving something in the post – GDPR has even sucked the fun out of sending presents!

9. Don’t be afraid of one-on-one

Training doesn’t always have to be in a group setting – in a similar mould to private tutoring for schoolchildren, one-on-one training can help to elevate those in specific areas that are required. It’s often a much faster and more effective way of upskilling key stakeholders in the areas focused to their role.

Tip: incorporate both training and mentoring into any one-on-one programmes to diversify the upskilling

10. Offer extra time to the introverts

In a training workshop it can be intimidating for the more introverted personalities to ask questions in front of their peers and this feeling can be accentuated over video conferencing platforms. Offer extra time at the end for those who want to have a private discussion or offer to keep your emails open for follow-up questions – it’s important to cater to every type of learner.

Tip: place your email address on multiple/all pieces of training content that you are presenting, to encourage private communication at all points