10 Virtual Sales Training Tips: Transitioning from In-Person to VILT
As sales leaders and sales trainers, we’re all in the same virtual boat. COVID-19 has rocked that boat, and this new all-digital norm is here to stay – at least for a while.
As a leader in the sales training industry, we’ve been in the weeds, navigating the challenges that come with adapting our workshops from in-person to virtual instructor-led training sessions.
There’s been some experimentation involved, and a certain amount of trial and error. But we’re here to highlight our findings and offer some tips and ideas to help make the transition to virtual instructor-led training as seamless as possible.
Virtual Instructor-Led Training: The New Norm
As our Training Lead here at ASLAN since 1996, I’ve had to change the way I think about delivering a 2-day training workshop.
One of the things that I’ve learned over the past few months is that there’s a lot more to this shift than just taking the classroom experience and making it virtual. What you’ve previously done in the classroom may not translate digitally. We have to actually change the way we think about things and change our perspective on the training as a whole.
Instead of taking a 2-day workshop and turning it into four 2.5 hour training sessions, I’ve begun framing it in my mind as a learning journey that requires the completion of 6 or 7 stages from beginning to end. From now on, the virtual process is going to be much more of a blended journey than previous classroom training experiences, involving some pre-training work, digital learning modules, as well as the virtual training sessions themselves.
But regardless, making the actual transition does present a specific set of challenges for those of us who are accustomed to that in-person interaction.
Overcoming the Challenges of Leading a Virtual Training Session
As the trainer and presenter, you’re probably used to feeling the energy of the audience in front of you. You thrive on center stage, addicted to the energy of the crowd. Be prepared for that to change in a virtual environment.
Even though you will still have an “audience,” be ready for less interaction and engagement. With a screen between you and your participants, you’ll have to expend a lot more energy creating, guiding and fostering the conversation. You have to expect silence and even be okay with it. This, for a lot of trainers, is not the easiest thing to get used to.
Virtual workshops require more preparation and organization on your end. You’ll need to keep your trainees engaged, make sure everyone is getting the most of the session, keep yourself focused, and keep the session on track. It’s a lot to juggle all at once. To make things easier on yourself, try implementing the following tips.
10 Tips for Leading a Virtual Training Session
1. Have a Producer
Technology can be a challenge for many of us, but it has become more important and irreplaceable than ever. My number one recommendation for pulling off a successful VILT would be to find yourself a producer to manage the whole technology side of things.
Have the producer be the host and the instructor/ presenter as the co-host. The producer will be the one managing participants, letting them into the virtual classroom and ensuring everything is running smoothly for each person. They can also help with the fun aspects of the virtual experience like polling and gamification which we dive into later.
Throughout the presentation, the producer can also help annotate/ take notes on-screen while the instructor presents.
2. Use Break Out Rooms
I recommend using the break out tool for small group interactions and exercises at least once an hour. I’ve been doing 2 or 3 during my 2.5 hour long training sessions.
In my experience so far, this is the most important piece of hosting a great virtual training session. It’s a very powerful tool that participants love. But it’s important to note that breaking out into small groups virtually will require a lot more time than it would have in a regular classroom setting.
Exercises and group tasks can take up to twice as long, sometimes even 10-15 minutes for simple exercises. So it’s essential to pick your time slot for these break outs strategically so that you get the most “bang for your buck,” since they now take much more time.
You need to be much more clear with directions and set expectations before sending participants out into the break out rooms. But when handled correctly, this can be the most rewarding part of the training session for everyone. You may also consider having “team captains” for each breakout room since you and your producer cannot be in every room.
3. Take a Break
It’s important to prevent “Zoom fatigue,” a new phenomenon that many of us are experiencing thanks to our new all-virtual work environment.
I’ve noticed that after about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes, you start to lose people. Their interest and attention begins to wane. I’ve had success introducing a break in the middle of my 2.5 hour training session, giving the participants a chance to refresh and reset before moving onto the rest of the material.
4. Use Multimedia
One great thing about video conferencing is the ease with which we can incorporate multimedia into the virtual presentation and workshop.
I’ve had a lot of success sharing videos with trainees directly through Zoom so that we can all watch together and debrief afterward. These videos can be entertaining to break things up, but they can also be from a true subject matter expert to cement a concept. In our case, we leverage our CEO, Tom Stanfill to illustrate our principles.
5. Use Your Whiteboard
I recommend having a second camera set up to film you (the presenter) standing in front of your virtual audience with a whiteboard or flip-chart. This can help simulate that classroom experience for your trainees and in my experience, elicits the most engagement within the session.
It’s almost like when trainees see the instructor step over to the board, they’re hardwired to lean in and participate. Implementing this practice drives really good conversations and I highly encourage you to use within your own VILT workshops.
*Note that with the whiteboard, you may run into challenges with glare and lighting, so I’ve found that utilizing the flip chart may be the better option.
Within ASLAN workshops, we’ve always been known to keep things fun and engaging, sometimes even by “gamifying” our training exercises and offering rewards to participants who really lean into the session.
Initially, I tried to continue the trend virtually in exactly the same way, offering poker chips as “rewards” for answering questions or offering observations. It had previously worked for us and our participants in a classroom experience, but came off as cheesy in the virtual session.
Instead, we’ve begun using Mentimeter and are having great success. There are other options as well, such as Kahoot, among others… but Mentimeter fits well with what we’re trying to do in our virtual sessions. It’s easy to use, and trainees can access it right from their phones during the review, earning points for their responses and participation based on the accuracy and SPEED of their answer. This creates great and productive competition.
7. Keep Things Moving
While this tip may seem obvious, it is not to be understated. Keeping the virtual training session moving is absolutely crucial to pulling off a successful and meaningful workshop. You have to keep things flowing by alternating between activities. Movement is key. Switch it up. Switch between screens, use both cameras, try break-outs, games and polls.
The last thing you want is for your training session to feel like a virtual lecture.
8. Use Polls
As we’ve discovered, efficiency is key when conducting your training virtually. I’ve found that one way to specifically accomplish this is by using polls. It saves you so much time.
If I’m trying to drive home a point or revisit an earlier concept, I’ll put up a question in poll format and have my trainees weigh in: “This should look familiar…” and ask a multiple choice or true false question related to the concept you’re hammering home. Have them give their answers in the poll.
This is a really simple way to keep participants engaged and ensure you’re not losing them.
9. Keep the Number of Participants Low
In conducting these VILTs for the past couple months now, I’ve found that lower numbers of participants usually equates to a more efficient and successful session. If possible, try to keep your class size under 20. 10 participants is a dream, and even 15 is good. Don’t believe us? The Association of Talent Developers recommends 12 as the sweet spot for VILT.
The more trainees you have, the harder it is for your producer to manage the room, make sure everyone’s technology is functioning, and that everyone’s questions are being answered throughout the session.
10. Invest in a Good Camera
This one may seem obvious, but I can assure you that investing in/ upgrading your presenting equipment will pay off. It will make your life a lot easier.
Through the lens and onscreen is the only way your trainees will ever see you, so the right camera can make all the difference. Be sure your image is clear and that the lighting doesn’t detract from your presentation.
There are a number of other factors to consider in regards to switching from ILTs to VILTs.
There is a definite cost benefit, as we will spend much less money on travel and accommodation costs. No one is wasting time in airports and on commutes.
Companies also won’t lose as much productivity from their team during training time. Sales teams can attend the 2.5 hour VILT and still be able to work for part of the day.
Another feature of leaving the 2-day in person format and transitioning to virtual workshops is the added benefit of spacing out those training sessions. They can be daily or weekly, depending on the customer’s preference. That pause between the sessions can allow trainees time to absorb and assimilate the content from previous VILT sessions before returning to review, debrief and continue the new training content.
We may find that this new virtual norm is even more effective for certain types of learners. VILTs can be more efficient, easier to digest in when broken up into “bite-sized pieces.”
The Future of Sales Training
To be honest, I don’t think life, business, or sales training will ever be the same as it once was. This virtual way of life is going to last for a while, and even when things return to relative normalcy, we will assuredly bring many of the current norms with us into the future.
That being said, we can’t just sit by on the sidelines; we need to be proactive, evolving with the changes that have come our way. I am proud of how we have been able to adapt already, and have every confidence that we will continue to do so as we navigate this new future together.
Hopefully these tips have been helpful to all of you involved in the production of VILTs. Please share with others in your network and help our industry as a whole to step up to the plate and learn to deliver the best virtual training experience.
We’ve thrown a lot at you here, so if you have questions, please feel free to contact us to brainstorm how you might make this transition.
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