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Best Practices for Developing Virtual Workshops for Executives

Most executives have limited time to take a class. However, just like everyone else in the organization, they need training in order to enhance their skills, build new skills and increase their knowledge as the organization continues to grow and change, expectations of clients change and the expectations of their employees change.

Certainly learning can be accomplished in a face-to-face environment, or through reading case studies and articles. In fact, for some workshops, face-to-face is still the best method given the increased ability to engage with others.  However, engagement is possible via virtual platforms. Consider providing professional development opportunities through a virtual platform such as WebEx, Elluminate, Saba Centra, etc.

This article will focus on best practices around providing training virtually — there are lots of software options to consider! Once you decide to move forward you’ll decide on the platform to use based on what you want to accomplish in the virtual workshop.

It’s difficult enough to engage some individuals in a face-to-face classroom environment; imagine how difficult it can be to engage them when you are not co-located and they are logging on to a computer.

Most important in developing virtual programs for executives is to ensure that the programs are engaging and meet their needs and enables participation when they have a calendar full of appointments and are trying to run a business. Let’s look at some best practices to consider when developing virtual programs for executives:

Conducive to online learning: Be sure that the particular skill you are training on is conducive to a virtual environment. Some skills are better learned face-to-face. For example, if your executives will need to negotiate with individuals from other countries and you want to strengthen their skills in negotiating; a virtual-only format will not be the most effective. Certainly you can use the virtual environment to learn a model for negotiating and convey some other key information, such as cultural differences. But even with the use of “break out rooms” in virtual platforms, nothing is better than a face-to-face role-playing component. Consider if the training should be blended rather than solely virtual.

Limit participation: Limit the number of participants for a virtual workshop to no more than 10-12 participants. The larger the group, the more difficult it is to engage them and keep them interacting with each other and with the facilitator.

Provide pre-work: Pre-work may be in the form of reading articles, case studies, reading blogs, or responding to assessment questions. An e-mail introducing all participants to each other — their name, location, title, etc. — along with introducing the facilitator enables for individuals to get to know each other prior to the virtual session.

Consider a collaboration portal: Use of a collaboration portal enables for interaction between participants outside of the virtual classroom. A collaboration portal enables for a discussion forum, problem-solving forum, access to articles and other relevant materials, and sharing of ideas and best practices. I find it of value to provide access to the collaboration portal after the session ends to keep the participants engaged and enable them to continue to build on their skills, get answers to their questions and provide support to others who were in the program with them.

Reduce the time online and keep a flexible schedule:  It is difficult to pay attention in a virtual format. Participants become distracted easily and lose attention. Keep lessons to no more than an hour in length to ensure that participation does not wane. Consider off-hours for participation in virtual workshops. Often before work hours or after work hours is a more effective time for executives to get together. There are fewer distractions when regular work is not going on and the executives will not be subject to as many interruptions.

Make it engaging: Of key importance in developing the virtual program is to make it engaging. There needs to be significant activities such as discussions, case study analysis, small group break outs, polls, and problem-solving sessions. Consider reading requirements — such as case studies, articles or research — in between sessions and have discussions around the outside reading requirements during the session.  Be sure participants leave with great ideas, tips and best practices to use immediately. Don’t assign busy work. It isn’t conducive to learning and you’ll lose credibility with executives.

Have a great facilitator: Not everyone can facilitate virtual workshops. It takes an engaging individual to do so. Don’t assume that someone who facilitates a face-to-face workshop will also be effective in a virtual environment. You need someone who can keep the participants engaged and interacting with others and with the virtual environment.

Practice before the session begins: Be sure the facilitator runs a “mock session” with others prior to the actual session. Technology always has its difficulties and nothing is more frustrating than setting aside time for attending a virtual session and the platform not working.