Preparing for a Remote Training Session

By Elaine Biech

Preparation is the key for success in all you do as a trainer. Whether you deliver classroom training or virtual training, develop learners individually or in groups, or are coaching a group or providing feedback to a team, if you are prepared you will deliver a fabulous training. In the case of remote training, preparation becomes even more crucial because all (or most) of your learners are in one location and you are facilitating from a distance. In some cases, you may facilitate from your workplace conference room, your office, or even your home.

Preparation is more critical because you need to keep things moving — constantly. Your participants will be together without a leader in the room. When bored or uninterested, people search for something to hold their attention. A room full of participants can create a boatload of ideas that may cause your learning event to quickly unravel if you do not keep things interesting, active, and focused.

So, in addition to all the things you might do to prepare for a virtual online or in-person classroom setting, here are additional steps to prepare to conduct a smooth remote learning session.

Pictures are worth a thousand words

In remote training, an exchange of pictures is a good idea. Pictures personalize in a way that words never can. You can share a picture of yourself as you prepare and design the training. Impress your group by customizing your pictures for them. You can easily do this by taking a picture of you with documents or training materials that clearly identify the organization or group to whom you will deliver training. Send the picture of you in action to the participants. If you meet any of the participants prior to the session and have photos, send those too.

Ask someone to send pictures of the group to you. Pictures of the individuals help you visualize participants and begin to learn their names. Ask someone to take several pictures of the room where the learners will be located. This will help to visualize the physical setting as you plan for activities that require your learners to form pairs or small groups. It also provides you with a picture of the room’s limitations. Is it filled with excess chairs? Are the tables movable or stationary? Is the room large enough for small group activities? Visualize the room to help you choose activities that will work best for the layout.

You could also ask everyone to post all pictures to a special section on a shared website. You could ask them to share a few comments about their backgrounds, expectation, or other information that would be helpful to you and the other participants. If appropriate, ask them to include personal information such as their interests outside of work.

Learn the lingo

You will of course practice your delivery, but delivery is especially critical in a remote training session. The least little lapse in time and activities can be cause for your group to take matters into their own hands and find ways to have some unrelated fun. You will need to be organized and be ready to keep the learning moving.

Conduct an assessment, asking distinctive questions about the group and their organization. Know what the concerns are, how this content will help the learners be better on the job, what problems these skills and knowledge will solve, where your participants need your support, and how this will make a difference in your learners’ lives. A few well-placed phone calls or emails will result in a design that includes real-life examples and practical situations. It will make it easier to maintain the group’s interest. If you are not internal, learn the department names and the names of key leaders in the organization. Understand and use the industry language.

Before the session learn participants’ names so that you can use those names throughout the session. Pictures help with initial connection, but plan for how you will maintain focus by using participants’ names. Learn their names, roles, and positions. When you present examples, integrate them into the story lines. For example, you could say, “Since Fenny is a supervisor, she probably needs to know . . .” or, “Mason is in the welding division, so he will want to . . .”

Select a co-facilitator

Prior to the event, select someone to serve as your proxy facilitator on site. This person acts as an extension of you, providing information and coordinating events on site. Your co-facilitator is invaluable to help you assign and time activities or for group debriefings. The co-facilitator can be one of the participants.

Select the person carefully. Your co-facilitator will need to be able to attend to both the group and your needs. Sometimes individuals want to be facilitators like you, and these are always the best choices. However, any reliable person will be helpful to you. How can you prepare with your co-facilitator?

Begin by talking with your co-facilitator about how the two of you will operate as a team. Emails are okay, but a phone call is better. Let your co-facilitator know what to expect, what you will need, and an overview of the entire session. Discuss how you will get each other’s attention. Create a special agenda for your co-facilitator that includes time allotments for each module or activity. Suggest other ways that the two of you can work together. For example, as time expires on activities, you could use your annotation tools to write “Please Stop” in large letters across the activity slide. Ask your co-facilitator if this would be helpful.

Help your co-facilitator feel like a real partner. Ask for suggestions. Run ideas past the co-facilitator. Obtain “insider” information such as the participants’ level of enthusiasm about the session or how management is supporting it. You could even pre-test activities with the co-facilitator, such as your planned icebreaker.

Plan your icebreaker

You need to plan for how you will introduce yourself and what comments are required to explain how the session will unfold. Use the information you learned during your pre-session assessment to determine what you need to include in the first five minutes of your session. Consider the following questions:

  • Is this the first remote session for some or all of these participants? If yes, you may need to include a more in-depth explanation initially than you might normally.

  • Will you need to explain that the session will be interactive, find out what you will do to gain their attention after activities, gather any requests you have regarding participation, or deal with any other session guidelines?

  • Will you need to ask for their questions and provide clarification about the topic or the reason for the session?

  • How will you establish a tone for a successful, interactive session?

  • Do participants know each other? Or will you need to allow for introductions?

  • Will you need to assess the temperature of the group?

  • What will you need to accomplish with an icebreaker? Introductions to participants? Introduction to the content? Reassurance about the content or need?

If possible, use a single question that helps participants focus on the content quickly, such as one of these:

  • What skill or knowledge do you hope to gain today?

  • Which part of today’s content are you looking forward to the most?

  • What problem do you hope to solve with today’s content?

  • What’s your expectation for today?

  • What’s your hope (or fear) for this session?

Your icebreaker doesn’t have to be charming or even creative. It does need to set the tone. If everyone knows each other, you could do something just a bit different.

  • You could congratulate individuals at the beginning who have done something that deserves recognition within the last month or so.

  • Deliver donuts or another treat to the training room just prior to the session and invite everyone to indulge. (If this is impossible, show a picture of a donut and invite them to enjoy a “virtual donut.” This is harmless and will add some humor.)

  • If you want to start informally and not necessarily relate to the content, open your Skype or other virtual screen at least 15 minutes before the session begins. As each person enters the room, ask them the same question, such as, “What achievement are you proudest of this week?” “How is your day going so far?” or “What’s the funniest thing that happened to you this week?” Stop when it is time to begin the session. This will encourage everyone to show up earlier next time.

Before your session, think about how you will introduce your co-facilitator to the group. An appropriate introduction will help to provide the required respect and support the co-facilitator needs to help you stay on track.

Finally, script your session. This will help you to start your session quickly and on time. If there is one problem with most remote training, it is that they start too slowly. Be ready. Be timely. Start with confidence. Plan for milestones and know when each should occur. Plan what you will do to ensure that your session will be exciting,