I just finished up a three-day training session via video teleconference.  It’s been a long time since I had nightmares before a delivery, but this one really had me worried.

It’s not that I’d never used VTC technology before; I had, but only for short, several-hour sessions.  Everything you read says that VTC and webinar formats are not meant for multi-day training sessions, that it’s too long a time for folks to be sitting and staring at a screen.  Not only that, but my participants consisted of a mixed group—nine people in a boardroom together, and ten people sitting by themselves in front of a laptop webcam.  I thought surely the laptop folks would be comatose by the second day, and I worried that they would feel too isolated.

While I still have a lot to learn, I can now say that the session went better than expected.  Here are some things I learned:

1.  We had a couple additional video conference bridges set up in addition to the main bridge, and this was critical for keeping everyone involved because it allowed me to do small group activities, discussions and case studies with the folks who were by themselves.  The boardroom folks would stay on the main bridge and just work with each other in the room, but the other participants would log out of the main bridge and connect with each other on the breakout bridges in smaller groups.  I would give them specific time limits and then they’d come back and report out.  This worked beautifully, and there were only a few activities in my program that I wasn’t able to adapt for virtual use.

2.  It’s critical to spend time setting norms for a session like this.  The main things I asked of people were to wave a white sheet of paper at me when they wanted to speak, and to synchronize their watches with mine and be very conscientious about coming back from breaks and breakouts on time.  We did well with the timing, but not so well with the white paper.  I could not always see people waving paper at me, particularly in the boardroom, so I began to let people speak up whenever they wanted to and the result was too much “stepping on” each other’s audio.  I will need to work on this next time.

3.  Lastly, we all know about the time lag with VTC but I learned that even when you’re aware of it you don’t really know what you’re doing without practice.  It wasn’t until the end of the session that some of my folks told me I wasn’t waiting long enough after I asked for questions and comments.  I guess I didn’t really understand just how long that time lag truly is.

Can I say that it was great fun to do a virtual session, that I enjoyed the interaction as much as I do when I have everyone in the room with me?  No, definitely not.  But I will say that I have finally gotten on the bus.  Especially for those of us who work with federal agencies, we must be sensitive to restricted travel budgets right now.  We can find ways to work around the need for travel or we can watch that bus leaving without us.

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