Remote Training and Workshops: Preparation, Materials, and Delivery

Jul 10, 2020

Martina Crnkovic

Training & Development Expert

“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”.” 

~ Jimmy Dean

There’s been much talk about remote work and the future of work during the past few months, including discussions about different approaches towards training and learning activities of employees. These activities were primarily based on live interactivity. They were suddenly sat in front of a camera, for the most part, with no preparation whatsoever – or worse, some were completely canceled.

Workshops and training, as crucial activities for onboardings and development, should strive to be delivered at the same quality level in a remote environment – and they can be, with the right tools, preparation, materials, and delivery. Remote work opened the door to a whole new world for trainers and facilitators, and I like to think we were more than ready for a new challenge.

Preparation is half the battle

It was said by many wise men and women that half the victory lies in the preparation itself, and I wholeheartedly agree. Proper preparation gives you confidence and shows your dedication to the execution of the topic. It also takes time and much more time than the delivery itself. In my experience, a thorough preparation should take at least twice as much time as the estimated delivery time, even when you are experienced in the topic. Experienced facilitators will often mistake their knowledge of the subject for good preparation. Sure, your experience can come in handy and “save the day,” but how satisfied will you, as a facilitator, be if you know you didn’t even put a reasonable amount of effort in it, if not your best? The “invisible” part of work is where a trainer’s success truly lies. It should be encouraged by peers and considered standard by superiors by accepting preparation time as indeed half the battle.

Just because you are delivering remote training or a workshop, doesn’t mean the rules changed: you still need to construct and structure your content into sensible phases, making sure you hit all the requirements, like housekeeping, agreeing on the rules, presenting the agenda, etc. Try scheduling even more time for these elements, and do make sure you schedule everything with a 10% “breather.” Technical difficulties are something we can expect when delivering remotely, so be prepared and plan extra time for it in your training outline or guideline. When creating group activities or practical exercises, take some time during your preparation to assign the task to a dedicated person in advance. In an office environment, you would probably call for volunteers or catch somebody’s look and decide who will lead the activity quickly.

In a remote setting, that’s hardly the case, so prepare in advance in order to save some time and awkward silence during your actual training. Make sure you include icebreakers and feedback activities, even more so, since your breaks will be used primarily for off-screen time, instead of bonding with the group while e.g., drinking coffee. There are many guidebooks and examples online, so get searching – the digital world is your oyster.

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

~ Pablo Picasso

Transferring materials

One of our best-practices is to digitalize all of our work, and it isn’t always the simplest task when it comes to the training materials. We got used to using flipcharts, cards, and whiteboards, and were searching for a worthy digital replacement.

When preparing training or a workshop, one of the things I like the most is the spark of inspiration you get from your surroundings and that inspiration can come from many things and in many forms. A few months before the global lockdown, we came across an amazing tool used by distributed teams — the Miro board. Clearly, there are many tools on the market, and I do always advise to use the ones you are most comfortable with, but inspiration didn’t come from the tool itself, it came from what it represented: opportunity. We’ve been working with remote teams for almost two years at that point, and it was the first “wow” moment for me as a facilitator. Many will say it was a bit late in the game. I, on the other hand, like to think in the exact right moment because in less than two months, we found ourselves working completely remotely – and completely prepared for it.

The spark of inspiration when seeing the endless possibilities in front of us unfolded the simple and easy way to prepare and deliver content remotely: simply “translate” everything into the digital “language.” The remote world also offers the most significant advantage: everyone is online and can easily access online materials. That includes videos, quizzes, and online games that will become your best friends. It would be best to target your whole audience with your content, so give something to the auditories, the kinesthetics, the readers/writers, and the visuals.

When delivering the first Train the Trainer remotely, I recreated the classroom online and digitalized the materials. Some of them were freshly made on the board itself, others, like flipcharts, were transferred into vectors and embedded on the board. Combined with a lot of energizers, interactive icebreaker activities, and colors, it all resulted in a digitalized, creative and interactive training surrounding that felt familiar. Therefore, it made me, as a facilitator, feel comfortable. And when I felt at home, so did my trainees.

Delivery is key

There are a few things you may have some difficulties adjusting to as a remote facilitator, like sitting down for 7 or 8 hours per day, having to express all of your delivery energy online. It can be very tiring and take a toll on your health and body posture, but only if you look at it as a problem. If you are aware of these things in advance, you can find solutions and tackle the challenge right from the start and introduce some beneficial novelties for your health.

If you are used to delivering live, you are probably the type of person that likes to walk around, always on your feet and active. Remote delivery will be a drastic change since you are connected to your laptop and camera most of the day. Tackle it right from the start: stand up whenever you can, use your breaks for off-screen time, and, if this is your permanent job description, think of investing in a standing desk. Something that goes hand-in-hand with proper delivery is your ability and willingness to clown around. A thing that comes mostly from our character and the energy we emit could be hard to translate remotely. Solution? Easy one: simply take it over the top. Act like an actor and get into the role of the world’s best facilitator, gesture a lot, keep an interesting tone of voice, and engage with your audience. Tasking and tiring, right? And on the other hand, satisfying and developing.

You can do some things to improve your visual delivery, like adjusting the camera to your eye-height. It sends a non-verbal message to your audience that you are present and engaged with them. While a higher camera position may seem condescending, and lower camera position may make you seem uninterested. The most important thing when it comes to your camera is to feel comfortable with it. Think of it as the best aid you have when delivering your training or workshop – and think about all the non-verbal things you will be able to communicate by simply turning on the camera.

“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”

~ Stephen Hawking

Change is the one thing I found to be constant in today’s life and work, and even though it is frequently painted as negative, change offers us the learnings and growth that we will rarely find in merely standing still. As the world adapts to the ever-changing situation, so must the business world, and along with it, the learning departments. The change we are currently adapting to may or may not last. However, things will never be the same, and we have to use the benefits of remote work we discovered to be more efficient in the future as well.

Delivering remotely may sound like an impossible task for some facilitators out there. Still, there is one crucial thing to consider here: all the little things that make you an excellent facilitator did not suddenly change in the remote surroundings, you have to adapt them to the change. Remember: the games we play are still the same; what’s changed is our playground. And what a playground it is!