Going virtual: Top tips for trainers and facilitators

Covid-19 means many campaigners and activists will be turning to online meetings to organise. Lead Bootcamp trainer Nim shares their top tips for running engaging virtual trainings.

This is the start of a series of blogs written by Bootcamp lead trainer Nim Ralph to advise trainers and facilitators on how to run effective online trainings in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. This blog introduces the topic and Nim’s top 10 tips. Scroll down to see the other 5 blogs in the series.

Trainers and facilitators, while facing a huge amount of precarity in our work right now, are needed more than ever in these unfolding times. But many trainers and facilitators aren’t experienced in holding engaging online meetings. There are a whole new set of challenges with online meetings that manifest differently than in real life, for example:

  • People get restless
  • It’s hard to read people’s faces/body language
  • People have more distractions 
  • People can find tech overwhelming 
  • It’s harder to engage all the learning styles; especially kinesthetic and emotional
  • It’s harder to observe and deal with conflict and difficult dynamics

Luckily lots of great tips and resources have been popping up on the internet this week. I wanted to ensure that our Bootcamp community have access to some of these tips too, in a way that speaks to our activism and values. 

But first, the biggest thing I want you to know is that this is new to so many of us, and your biggest weapon as a trainer and facilitator is your truest self — play to your strengths and be open and honest — it’s how you build trust. Therefore, if you are feeling nervous about moving your session(s) online don’t be scared to tell the folks participating — there is a lot of compassion and generosity right now for folks as we adjust to this new COVID-19 online world. Be honest with them that you’re feeling nervous about the tech and/or format, and they won’t misread it as nervousness about knowing your shit!

When hosting real-life trainings and meetings there are 5 core components (listed below) that we tend to think about. I’ve broken these down into separate blogs to consider what they mean when applied to running an online training, workshop or meeting:

  1. Finding a venue: Part 1: What to consider when picking your tech
  2. Prepping your session: Part 2: Prepping an online session
  3. Building the container: Part 3: Building trust in a group online
  4. Including engaging design elements: Part 4: Thinking about learning styles and needs online
  5. Post-training application and follow-up: Part 5: Post-training application and follow up online

As a quick summary, here are my online training 10 top tips:

1. Know what tech your participants have

Tailor what you are using for the session to what the people you want to reach have available. Use the most interactive combination of tools you can.

2. Practice

It’s nerve wracking taking our work to a new space, and things like energy and timings for activities are different online than offline. If possible practice with other trainers/facilitators or on your friends before going live.

3. Prep is key

This is a big one — a lot more prep is required for online training then for offline. You need to ensure all the different tech and tools you are using work, and are up to date at the point you run the session. It’s harder to make a whole new slide deck mid-training than it is to write up some flipcharts.

4. Accessibility

Don’t overlook this — much online space is inaccessible, think about what platforms you’re using and how they leave some people out.

5. Breaks, breaks, breaks

It’s much harder to look at a screen and stay engaged than to be in the natural energy of in real life trainings — don’t over-estimate how long you can run a session for and give lots of breaks for people to rest their eyes and move their bodies. If possible have some of the session run offline (have participants do an activity off the call).

6. Ask people to put away phones and other distractions – no multi-tasking!

It’s easy to get distracted by incoming notifications and the soup you forgot to add to your online shopping order. Ask participants to put those things aside, close tabs and turn their phone off for the session

7. Have support folks if you can

Co-facilitator: It’s hard to keep our energy up too – have a co-facilitator if possible

Tech support: Some people find tech overwhelming – have someone support the call who can help individuals with tech so that the session can keep moving. 

Remote participant support: if someone wants to join but doesn’t have access to tech/their wifi fails at the last minute you might want to have someone who can “buddy” them for the session and help them still participate

8. Appoint participant roles (note taker, time keeper etc.)

This isn’t ideal if you are running a webinar/training but if it’s a workshop or meeting it can really help people keep engaged and build a sense of collectivity in the group. It also takes some weight off your shoulders!

9. Interactivity – bring in other skills/tools! Include learning styles!

Don’t get stuck thinking you have to stick to a powerpoint and video call — think outside the box. What are some of your favourite websites, apps or games? Can you bring those into your session somehow? You could include some drawing or movement activities, or sing a song together.

And definitely have people collaborating on interactive slide decks and documents so they are typing and participating, not just listening.

10. Record so other people can attend!

Most online platforms have this function — it helps archive the session, and also widens potential participation.

Now jump to the other 5 blogs in the series below:

Click here for a downloadable PDF of the whole series

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Picking your tech for online trainings: Top tips

Zoom? Google Hangouts? Skype? How do you pick the right technology to host your online training? Bootcamp's lead trainer Nim shares their top tips below:

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Lotte Marley

Lotte is a campaigner with Brighton Youth Strikes for Climate, who helped organise Brighton’s Global Climate Strike in September 2019.