How to Make Remote Training Engaging (and Enjoyable)

I recently worked with a client who sent me 50 consultants and service professionals from 11 different time zones. The advantages of remote training were huge for this particular group, though my client had done some remote trainings in the past that were less than engaging. By the end, I received really high marks and many comments about how engaging the training was.

There are many variables in a training, including the trainer, the material, the audience, timing and relevance, executive support, and more. But the one single factor I’d most attribute to the success of the engagement was participation.

If you’re looking to implement a remote training program for your team, I recommend you build in a strategy for group and individual participation from the very beginning of the training. As in, it needs to be core to the training and core to your content development strategy.

My strategy to drive participation had 5 separate elements:

  1. Keep ‘Em In Suspense

  2. Chat Q+A

  3. Group Activities

  4. 1-on-1 Activities

  5. Group Discussions

Making Your Remote Training More Engaging

Add Suspense: Anyone Could Be Next

Perhaps the biggest factor driving participation was the fact that I may call on anyone, anytime, for any reason. Keeping people engaged was easy if they knew that I could stop mid-sentence in the training and ask them a question: “what do you think about that?”

This keeps people a bit more engaged and attentive, knowing that any moment they could be called on and exposed if they’re doing something else. Now the goal here isn’t public embarrassment, but the threat of it keeps at least a few learners a bit more honest throughout the training.

I set this up in the very first training session by emphasizing the importance of interactivity, and telling everyone that I may call on them anytime, for any reason. By the end of the training, learners enjoyed the participation, and saw that it helped deepen their understanding of the sales training.

Use Chat: Because Anyone Can Type One Word

Early in the training, people may have their guards up. They may not be familiar with their trainer, may be slightly embarrassed about their level of knowledge on the subject at hand, and may even be reluctant attendees and instead want to go sell or work with clients. I get it.

I start by keeping them in suspense, but before I randomly call on anyone, I need to train them to participate. This is quite easy: simply ask a few questions that anyone can answer with no prior knowledge of the subject. Start simple with questions about where they are, their job title, whatever. The question doesn’t matter, only insofar it’s incredibly easy for anyone to answer.

I use Zoom online meeting software, with has a chat feature. That way, people can type in an answer without having to speak, which is a nice, low-risk way for them to begin their participation. On the second or third question, I’ll then call on people to elaborate on their answers. This way I’m able to transition and elevate their participation from one word chats to a verbal back-and-forth in front of the group.

Group Activities: Let’s Do It Together

Group activities are as simple as they sound: we tackle an activity together as a group. People are free to weigh in and participate, ask questions, or even be the dreaded “devil’s advocate.” This may sound like chaos, or even a disaster, but it worked out quite well.

The advantage of group activities is that learners can see how others think about things, and learn from each other. Group activities don’t come with the pressure of 1:1 activities, and can be a good way to warm up learners in preparation for 1:1.

I find group activities work best when we’re making something together. It could be a document, an outline, a whiteboard, a mind map…*what we make* isn’t nearly as important as the fact that we’re making *something*, and we’re doing it together. This is real-time creation that everyone can see, which helps learners understand how to apply the material themselves.

1:1 Activities: Social Interaction, Sans Pressure

This wouldn’t work with the right technology - let’s get that out of the way. The way 1:1 activities works is simple: if there are 20 learners on a remote training session, I create 10 “breakout rooms” and learners each join a room where they’re paired up with another learner.

These rooms allow learners larger numbers of learners to practice role plays and activities together, without the pressure of the group seeing them fumble through it. That’s not a criticism: the first time we do something, we’re learning *a lot.* It usually doesn’t go well, but it gets better each subsequent time.

1:1 activities is where learners take the core lessons they learned, and apply them in a low-pressure situation. It also has a layer of team building, which many learners appreciate too.

Group Discussions: What Did You Learn?

After any 1:1 activity, learners came back into the main session room. As they trickled in, I began asking them what they learned, and what was most interesting or surprising about the activity. These discussions naturally surface common tensions within the organization, and allow learners to see that many other people are feeling what they’re feeling.

These group discussions also promote the spread of organizational knowledge. Not all learners react the same way, or have the same experience, and the group discussion creates a place where thinking and experiences are shared.

Group discussions also reinforce what the 1:1 activity taught them. By thinking through the activity and being forced to pull lessons out of it, learners are more likely to remember and apply the material.

Making Remote Training More Engaging For You

You don’t necessarily have to go to the same lengths I went to make your remote training as engaging - but it would be worth it. There are many downsides to remote training, so anticipating and addressing them is critical.

Driving engagement and participation is a key way to make your training more interesting, entertaining, and of course, *more successful.*