From the classroom to Zoom

When I wrote my last article on March 3rd about my journey from an e-learning instructional designer to a facilitator and instructional designer of in-person workshops, I had no idea that I would go through a new journey in 2020. Covid-19 forced a lot of companies to shut down their offices and sent many employees home; quickly, the decision was made to convert all workshops to virtual.

I had planned to deliver a few sessions of Communicating for Leadership Success (a DDI workshop) and Crucial Accountability (a VitalSmarts workshop). While I had delivered CLS multiple times in person, it was my first year delivering Crucial Accountability. As I cancelled the workshops scheduled in the spring, many AbbVie colleagues asked me when I was planning to offer the workshops and were eager to attend. I realized that I would have to make the jump to virtual workshops. To be honest, I think I was a bit scared at first. I had never delivered these types of workshops virtually, and had limited knowledge about the features available for virtual training in WebEx, Zoom or Teams. I also had limited time since I am now working mainly as a HR Business Partner. So I planned for a progressive approach:

• First, I signed up for a virtual workshop. My goal, in addition to learning new skills, was also to learn from our amazing facilitator Mike Delgado, watching how he was using Zoom features for interactive activities. I learned a lot about using polls, breakrooms, and the annotation tool!

• Then, I scheduled a Communicating for Leadership Success workshop, since I know the content very well, so the only challenge was to adapt it to virtual. DDI provided me with an adapted slide deck for virtual delivery, and I customized it a bit more, trying to leverage Zoom features in the best way. I delivered the workshop in September, and despite a few technical challenges, it went well and I was able to learn a few extra tips and tricks about Zoom and what types of activities work well (or not so much).

• After a successful delivery of CLS, I now feel ready to deliver Crucial Accountability. It will be my first time delivering the workshop, and it will be virtual. I have worked with VirtualSmarts to get an adapted slide deck for virtual delivery, and reviewed the deck multiple times, preparing my activities, preparing my polls in Zoom, testing a few features in advance to ensure it will work well the day of the workshop.

If you are in the same situation and wondering how you can switch to virtual, that is an approach I would definitely recommend. First, watch another facilitator deliver a virtual workshop using the software you’re planning to use. Next, plan for a virtual workshop for some content you already master. Finally, when you are comfortable with the tool and with instructional design for virtual workshops, you will likely be able to deliver new content virtually.

Covid-19 has definitely changed the landscape for learning and development, and while I can’t wait to get back to the classroom (hopefully in 2021), I also hope I will be able to keep offering some workshops virtually for our remote and virtual colleagues, so everybody, no matter what their location is, can attend the same workshops and collaborate with colleagues from all around the world.

I also want to give a special shout-out to DDI, VitalSmarts and all the companies who had to adapt very fast during the pandemic, and did a great job a providing the resources and tools needed to facilitators like myself to help us deliver virtual workshops successfully.

2017-2020: From designing e-learning modules to designing and facilitating workshops

Lessons learned and a few tips to future trainers

Three years ago, I had the opportunity to start working for AbbVie in a new HR role. This new role was still in learning & development, but did not include the design of e-learning modules. I have not used Articulate Storyline over the past three years, but I have had the opportunity to explore another area of L&D: the design and facilitation of instructor-led workshops.

It may sounds a bit backward to go from e-learning to the classroom; after all, we’re all talking about micro-learning, and the classroom seems clearly obsolete, right? Well, not entirely. As I learned pretty early in my career, there’s no best delivery method for training. It depends on multiple factors such as the audience, the complexity of the topic, the budget, the time, the objectives, etc. Thus, going to a classroom for a workshop is still very appropriate in some situations.

Realizing I had not posted for three years and a half, and that there were low chances for me to go back to e-learning design in the near future, I thought it would be interesting to change the scope of my blog from e-learning to learning & development in general. As I am moving away from learning & development and taking on more traditional HR responsibilities, I still want to share my love for learning & development and my experience. The last three years have been incredible: I have been able to use my experience as an e-learning instructional designer in a different way, and to transfer it to the classroom.

Here’s a quick recap of what I have accomplished over the past three years:

  • I planned for yearly training offerings with my team, scheduled workshops and parterned with the business to help them identify needs & learning resources
  • I got certified by DDI to deliver their front-leader workshops
  • I got certified by VitalSmarts to deliver their Crucial Accountability workshop
  • I designed my own workshop, using internal and external resources, and facilitated several times in front of large audiences, getting amazing feedback and having a real impact on the business
  • I facilitated several workshops about leadership skills, change management, personal brand, as well as new employee orientation
  • And more.

And now, what I learned and what I believe every new trainer would like to know:

  • Nobody was born a great speaker or a great trainer. Some people may like it more than others, but in the end it is all about practice, confidence, and more practice.
  • There are many ways to improve your facilitation skills out of the classroom. You can consider joining a Toastmaster club to improve your public speaking skills, as well as taking acting classes. I took acting classes for 10 years during my childhood. I learned so much about public speaking and it helped me build confidence.
  • Co-facilitating the first session(s) with an seasoned trainer is a great way to start and learn.
  • Review the feedback from participants, don’t take it personaly if there are “negative” comments, but take it as an opportunity to improve. Also, keep in mind that it is hard to please everyone!
  • Taking acting classes and being on stage for 10 years taught three critial lessons that I believe are applicable to the facilitation of workshops:
    • You can’t practice your acting skills and your role if you don’t know your lines. First, memorize your lines, then, you can go to reharsal and practice your role. In the classroom, it’s similar: before anything, master your content. If you don’t understand the skills that you are teaching, if you don’t master the flow of the workshop (content, activities, etc.), how do you want to do a good job at presenting it?
    • Speak in front of the audience, learn to project your voice. This one is a bit difficult for some people. Some of us are fortunate to have a voice that is easy to project in a room, that is loud and engaging. Some others have to practice more to project their voices. We can all practice and get better.
    • Unless you are acting in a Shakespeare play that the audience knows by heart, nobody will know it when you forget your line or say the wrong one (unless the discussion does not make any sense, of course). Improvise and keep going! In the classroom, it is the same and even more applicable: you are the expert! People don’t know what you’re supposed to say, how the activities are supposed to be done. So don’t worry if you don’t follow your script (if you have one), if you explain things diffently than usual… just keep going! You’re the only one knowing you did not do things according to plan. Adjust, correct course, and don’t say anything about it! Just keep going.
  • Instructional design skills are amazingly useful when it comes to facilitating workshops. It gives a much deeper understanding of the flow of the workshop, the role of each lesson/activity. It is much easier to make decisions about what elements of the workshops are essentials to the learning of the participants, and which ones can be skipped if you’re running out of time.
  • When it comes to designing workshops, it’s a very similar approach than designing e-learning content: you want to ensure you keep the participants engaged. For that, it’s necessary to have a lot of interaction, videos, exercises, knowlegde check etc. Being in-person adds more options for the activities. We can explore things like role-play, group exercises, flipcharts, group discussions, etc.
  • You don’t know the answer to a question? No big deal. You can either:
    • Send it back to the group to ask the opinion of other participants.
    • Acknowledge that it is a difficult (and good question), and brainstorm with others.
    • Acknowledge that you don’t have the answer, but you can look into it and provide an answer later.

This is already a long blog post, so I’m going to stop there. I really enjoyed working with Articulate Storyline, and to be honest I miss using it and creating e-learning content. But being in the classroom or in front of a large groups at offsite meetings is also an amazing experience.

If you have the opportunity to become a trainer/instructor/facilitator (whatever title you prefer to use!) but you are worried about your ability to do it, keep in mind that we all have to start somewhere, and you will get better with more, more and more practice.