Virtually There: Adapting Live, In-person Seminars for a Virtual World
by John Ferrare, Enerdynamics CEO and Facilitator
March 17, 2020. That was the date of our last live in-person seminar before COVID-19 shut it all down. As I look at our training calendar, that date is followed by a series of classes labeled “POSTPONED.” In retrospect I think that label was optimistic since these all were ultimately canceled. I remember speaking to clients and since no one had any idea what we were in for, we all agreed to just “postpone” everything.
After a few uncertain weeks in which the global situation worsened, we decided to give virtual training a shot. Honestly, I wasn’t 100% on board with this. I was leaning toward just “waiting it out” and hopefully rescheduling what was “postponed.” After all, we had no experience with virtual training or platforms like Zoom or Adobe Connect and had never converted a live seminar experience to a different medium. Yet on April 22, 2020, we offered our first virtual seminar via Zoom. It was rough initially, but I’m glad we did it. Here is some of my insight on Enerdynamics’ experience moving to a virtual world.
One important factor we had in our favor during this transition was a full awareness that we were using a different medium. This is a lesson we learned in our early years of developing online training, often from live seminars. They are not the same thing! Similarly, the virtual experience is not the same as physically being in a room with 30 participants. First, you can’t see most of them. Our clients are corporate, and we learned early we can’t demand they use cameras. And even if we had, that caused bandwidth issues that you don’t want anyway. So, the first hurdle was adding interaction among an audience that was not together and often silent and unseen.
Hurdle No. 2 was choosing an online platform. We started with Zoom as it is easy to use, though admittedly it does not have many options. That decision was soon followed by Zoom’s security issues, which were so bad many of our clients outlawed the platform altogether. (These rules were subsequently altered after Zoom made changes to ensure it was more secure. But we still have clients that are wary of sharing files, etc.)
We then moved to Adobe Connect. In a world where everything works as it should, it’s a facilitator’s dream! It has multiple interactivity options, cool breakout rooms with white boards, etc. However, we encountered audio problems that persist to this day. Our workaround is to have participants use both a computer for the visual presentation and a phone for the audio. Not ideal, but it works. Most times. But if I’ve learned anything, the technology can sink a virtual class. Ultimately, whatever features your platform offers, if the technology doesn’t work your class will suffer. I still use Zoom for this very reason. It works.
Maybe not a hurdle but certainly a change from in-person seminars was the timing of classes. A full day in front of the computer is a real tough sell. We’ve experimented with several schedules. For instance, one client schedules a half-day class from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., with two breaks of 30 and 45 minutes. While this extends the day, it works well. For another client we present a two-day seminar on consecutive days, but they are shortened. And the lunch break is extended to three hours. It’s a long day, but it gives participants the opportunity to get work done and attend the seminar. Like everything else, the takeaway here is that virtual is a different world, and you can’t expect things to be as they were in an in-person seminar.
And finally, what is it like to facilitate a virtual seminar? A lot of work! The energy you get from a live audience is just not there. You are literally “on” from the second you open the training room until the last person leaves the screen, often with little to no feedback from your audience.
So where do we go from here? I just got off a call with a client who is scheduling a seminar in October. Virtual. I did attempt an in-person seminar a few months ago (see prior post on that experience) and the same client is going to try again in September. But even when our worlds open up again, will we ever go back to in-person training? I think so, but I also think virtual is here to stay. There are certain circumstances where it just makes sense. And as a facilitator I have to admit I’ve gotten used to working in my shorts and bare feet.
Questions about Enerdynamics' virtual training, in-person seminars or online classes? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 866-765-5432 ext. 700.
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