When Cindy Huggett envisions a great online training facilitator, she’s thinking about Oprah.
A key skill is “building rapport with an audience that you don’t have visual contact with. People do this all the time. Think of a television personality like Oprah. She’s the master of creating that connection. And how many of us have ever met her in person? But we feel like we know her. She just draws us in,” said Huggett, a virtual training consultant and a dynamic, experienced presenter.
But being a great presenter is only a starting point; online training is very different from presenting information, Huggett emphasized. In training, facilitators—instructors in the virtual classroom—should engage with learners every few minutes.
That’s a far cry from a lot of learners’ virtual classroom experiences, where a facilitator drones on … and on, and on, maybe grudgingly squeezing in a poll question or two.
In a recent conversation, Huggett emphasized the need for frequent, varied interactions—every three or four minutes. She gets pushback from instructors on this; people say they don’t have time to do that much interaction, or they ask a question and get no response.
Huggett’s response is to tell facilitators to look at the design of their virtual class session. “ A presentation is not the same thing. It’s not the same thing in person, and it is not the same thing online,” she said.
“If you have a design or you have a facilitator or delivery person who goes 15 minutes of lecturing and then asks a question—of course they [learners] are not going to respond,” Huggett said. “You are thinking of it as, ‘I need to fit this into my presentation.’ But really, it’s about engaging them from the start.”
Set expectations for learners up front
When designing training, Huggett emphasizes that facilitators have to let learners know that they are expected to participate—even before they enter the virtual classroom.
“It’s a little bit of an art, when you think about how to sculpt a class or design an online class so that the interaction is natural and it feels like a collaboration, instead of feeling forced. A lot of it goes back to setting the expectation that this is going to be interactive,” she said. “It’s learning—it’s not a meeting, it’s not ‘Let’s hop online for a conference call.’”