Delivery virtual classroom training – baby steps to confident strides

“Would you be interested in delivering virtuals?”

I shuddered.

I wanted to do something different and here was a relatively new client offering something. Virtuals? I was concerned about me vs technology and thought it might be boring, talking to a void, changing slides every couple of minutes.

Then it dawned on me. It could be fun. I can do this from home. We live in the Scottish Highlands. I enjoy the travelling and love face-to-face delivery and here was an opportunity to augment it with some home working. “OK, I’ll give it a go.”

Getting prepared for the virtual classroom

Three tutorials to get me up to speed. Remember your first driving lesson? All those things to do at once, just to get the car to move, never mind driving it safely. That is how it felt. I had two great tutors, who gave me confidence before I felt it. Then it was time for practice on my own and with trusted partners. It felt like spinning plates and juggling wearing boxing gloves!

The day came for my assessment. I figured if I wrote everything down that I had to do with the technology in sequence, that would be a start. Then remembered that I have a webcam and they can see my face when I fumble with the controls.

Oh, and delivering some training at the same time, with the added extras of speaking even more clearly and calmly, sounding assured enough to inspire confidence in participants. Finally, remembering to find out how they are going to use the learning at the end of the session.

Building on the skills

I passed the assessment. Since then I have had plenty of practice. Just like driving, the many individual acts have become habitual, with a large slice of consciousness.

What I have learned is that getting to grips with the technology increases your confidence and helps you transfer that confidence to the delegates, some of whom may be wary of virtual learning. Learning to make the odd unnoticed mistake and deal with it seamlessly has helped me.

Knowing that if anything technical goes wrong, there is almost always a solution at your fingertips. For the webcam, I make sure your light is good for the delegate view. Keep a crib guide close to hand.

And make sure you breathe, relax and enjoy it! People keep asking me about running virtuals, often with the wariness I had two years ago. It is fun, challenging in different ways and a great way to make learning more accessible.


About our guest blogger

Paul Tran is Director of PT Performance Solutions Ltd. He designs and delivers face-to-face and virtual training in communication, change and management and personal development.

Based in the Scottish Highlands, Paul works throughout the UK & Ireland. Client feedback describes Paul’s training as interactive, informative, engaging and practical. Paul is a qualified coach, Master Practitioner of NLP and Licensed Facilitator of SDI.


What is it like to facilitate a live video broadcast?

I’ve worked with the Charity Learning Consortium for a little while and whilst chatting with CEO and Founder Martin Baker, we somehow came up with the mad idea to live broadcast the presentations from a members meeting in London, up to the members in Scotland, so that everyone is included without the time and cost of travel.

You can read here about some plans we had before the day.

Fast forward a lot of work from a lot of people, and we were D-day!

The live streaming broadcast was TV quality and provided by Colin Steed of Learning Now TV.

I flew to Edinburgh to be the local facilitator. This is an important role to make sure that both geographies were connected. In an ideal world, we would get the full experience of the speakers in London. If all failed, it was my job to make sure that the Scottish members still had a great learning day. No pressure!

It’s not just me and the CLC that were excited, the Scottish members were too!


Setting up the technology

It’s a separate blog post to focus on the specifics of the technology we used, how it worked together (or didn’t!) and the various plans we went through before it was working.

Whilst we had planned, discussed, researched and tested, obviously when you are at the venues with all the variables, things are different. There were also bits of technology we weren’t able to test before hand as well as assumptions made that we didn’t realise about – as always!

It took about 90 minutes or more to get both London and Scotland events set up ready for the live stream. This included Colin recording and the live stream, the communication between Scotland and London, and the connection Scotland to London.

In London we had the CLC’s Harri Le Claire on to be our Scotland voice. In Scotland there was me to facilitate with everyone as well as setup all of the technology. Louise Houston was the CLC representative as well as supporting me in the facilitation and communication with Harri. Complicated? A bit. The important part was the right communication all round.

Long story short – whilst the live streaming from London to Edinburgh was working, we couldn’t get decent video and audio the other way round. As I say, that’s another blog post on what we tried, learned and what we could do next time.


The streaming experience for attendees

I think I meant a “quick” brain quiz!


Facilitating the streaming experience

Again it’s the topic of another blog to go into the detailed nuts and bolts of how I facilitated the day. At it’s best, I was there to smooth the ride between the live streamed sessions and make sure that the technology kept working.

However we all know that technology doesn’t necessarily behave!

When there was enough bandwidth at the London venue the streaming worked brilliantly – the LNTV broadcast visual and audio were excellent. The audio we had in the Scotland room was set up really well so it was good quality.

I had local copies of the slides and a second computer/screen setup to display those for the local attendees. When Colin was first filming the speakers he was focusing on their upper body and face, so we got a got quality picture of them, which was great. However as we didn’t have any technology that allowed mirrored slides (so that when the speaker clicked next in London, we saw the same in Scotland) I had to do that locally. And I couldn’t always see when they changed slide!

Once we realised this, we got Colin to zoom out. The attendees in Scotland really appreciated seeing a bit more of the context and I could follow on better too. There are technical options where we could have done this. However what we decided to do, knowing this was a huge first, was to focus on doing a couple of things well and not over-complicating the use of technology.

There were some other challenges with the slides – such as speakers changing them last minute and me not having the right slides. I also had some local problems in showing them, which was entirely due to me trying to do two or three things on one laptop. Eventually I dedicated one to just slides and it worked much better.

When the live stream failed, which it did, it was my job to keep things going in Scotland. As I jumped up I joked the first time, “this is where I earn my money”.

I had the slides locally and had prepared beforehand, so I knew what was being covered. Also we planned ahead on all the activities so not only did we have the right materials in Scotland, but I also knew how to facilitate them and we could feed back to London too.

The local facilitation model we used worked really well. The delegates said that, had they been at home/work and just watching the live stream, after a certain number of problems they would have logged out. By having me and Louise from the CLC all in a room together, not only could I continue delivering the content, but also we could have conversation together.

This was a significant challenge for me as a facilitator. We had speakers covering topics on engagement, internal communications and neuroscience, as well as shorter lightening talks on a variety of subjects, and some CLC member specific updates. I had to be prepared to step in on any or all of these and deliver value. I couldn’t have done that without Louise, as she knew the CLC-specific material, whereas I focused on the L&D elements.

There was only one presentation I felt I didn’t cover well when we had more serious streaming issues in the afternoon. Whilst I had prepared and looked at the slides, I hadn’t done the extra research that meant I was super confidant.

We got through it fine, it certainly wasn’t a failure, but it highlighted how important this role is to be prepared in depth and breadth. Louise and I thought that, next time, the CLC staff member would concentrate more on the shorter presentations and the facilitator on the larger L&D topics, so both played to their strengths.

Several of the delegates said a version of, “we’re all trainers; none of us wanted to be standing where you were!”. That made me feel better.

Whilst the day as a whole was a stressful one and I had to keep many plates spinning, all of which were wobbling, there was only one moment where I truly started to hyperventilate. The live stream of the neuroscience session failed, so I had to start that off. I knew the speaker, Gary Luffman, so I could do him a certain amount of justice as an introduction. Whilst I’m no brain expert, I know enough to facilitate a session.

The hyperventilating started when even my local slides failed on me and I had nothing to refer to and nothing for the delegates to see. Whilst PowerPoint slides aren’t everything, in the moment, it was one fail too many! Luckily breathing kicked in, I made light of it, realised what the technical issue was and got that fixed very quickly, and then the live stream started working again. And I sat down and relaxed!

All my webinar, live event hosting, technical knowledge and facilitation experience was drawn upon that day!

At the end of the day we did a short Periscope live video broadcast with some of the Scottish attendees on what they thought:



Were there technical issues? Yes, of course. The live streaming from the London venue was troublesome due to bandwidth and other technical issues, despite our work with the venues ahead of time.

Were there local technical issues in Scotland? Again, yes of course! You can plan and prep all you like, but then in a different venue and doing it live, it’s always different.

Was it stressful? Hell yes! But, it was also fun and a great learning experience and I enjoyed the challenge of bringing it all together.

Did people learn something and get value from the day? Also yes. There was an acceptance of the experimental nature of the live broadcasting we were doing. People were just happy that they didn’t have to travel from Scotland down to London. Not only did that save people effort and time (I basically had most of the day before getting to Scotland and got home very late the night we delivered), but it saved the cost and time out of work/life too.

Delegate feedback from the Scottish attendees about yours truly:

  • Having Jo and Louise available
  • Having Jo and Louise here to fill in when IT was an issue. Still felt part of London event
  • Jo was great to make the conference more ‘real’ and keep us engaged
  • Jo was fabulous as always – both as a facilitator and managing the tech
  • Jo’s facilitation was fab x2
  • Jo the facilitator was fantastic, kept the event lively + discussion going despite the tech glitches – well done!
  • Good but IT failed 🙁 Jo was great 🙂
  • Jo the facilitator was fantastic, kept the event lively + discussion going despite the tech glitches – well done!

And lastly, Louise Houston and I had an exhausted but happy journey back down south!

Tweets covering the LTSF17 live online learning conference session

“Making the most of your live online session” was the presentation I delivered at Learning Technologies Conference Summer Forum 2017.

Click for LTSF webinar session description

LTSF webinar session description

These are the tweets that covered my session about webinars and the virtual classroom.

Ady Howes had a 360 degree camera and recorded the session. I’ll update this page when we have a video link!

My session was one of the last of the day, against stiff competition of conference Chairman himself, Donald H Taylor, as well as 702010 God Charles Jennings! I still had a packed, sold out room though.

As Kate mentions, each conference session has a person tweeting the highlights, which was the lovely Joan Keevill.

Many thanks to @Obhi and @Designs_JoanK for their tweets.

Remember to download the paper that goes with this session.

And you can also join us for the webinar version!

Eight reasons to remove chat from your webinar

There must be some really compelling reasons to switch off the chat section in your webinars, as so many that I’ve attended recently don’t have this active.

Reasons for removing webinar chat functionality:

Stretching my imagination a bit, they could be…

  1. Focus on the content delivery
  2. Reduce distractions for attendees
  3. Avoid over taxing the speaker
  4. Ensure competitors attending the session don’t see each other
  5. People will see how few attendees there are on the webinar
  6. Avoid negative comments or questions
  7. Use the Question panel direct to host/producer/moderator
  8. It doesn’t exist in the software (such as GoToWebinar)

Are there other’s you could add? Comment below if there are.


Are these legitimate reasons? Really?

From my tone so far you have probably picked up that I don’t think so.

  1. Focus on the content deliveryI focus better on the content when I’m discussing it with other attendees and the speaker(s). I can share my own ideas, thoughts, research and resources and look forward to other people doing the same so I can have broader and deeper learning.
  2. Reduce distractions for attendeesIt doesn’t reduce distractions, as I’m actually MORE distracted. Probably the speaker isn’t the most amazing in the world, and therefore I’m more likely to put the webinar on a second monitor and start ploughing through email, or pick up my phone and load Twitter.
    Using chat is me ENGAGING with the content, not being distracted!
  3. Avoid over taxing the speakerMaybe you should select a speaker that can handle the chat window. Or you team them up with a host/producer/moderator that can handle that for them. This role is typing in the chat too and bringing comments and questions to the attention of the speaker at pre-decided points.


  4. Ensure competitors attending the session don’t see each otherYep, competitors or clients in different industries might be a challenge to deal with. If people are logging in with their real names, that’s only an issue if they might know each other. When is this a negative? Perhaps when you have two strong competitors both your clients. Then perhaps offer two webinars, promote one to one company, one to another?
    Some software allows you to keep the attendees separate but still include the chat, though this usually does include names. If that’s an issue, some software allows you to set the format, such as first name only, or perhaps suggest to your attendees a protocol in your pre-information.
    Perhaps more transparency is a better thing.
  5. People will see how few attendees there are on the webinarFew attendees on a webinar is not a failure. It’s a huge strength for the attendee and the conversation or learning points as you get to have much better, in-depth conversation. If this is an issue, you need to address your approach, expectations or marketing.


  6. Avoid negative comments or questionsPeople will make negative comments and ask awkward questions one way or another. If it’s not the webinar, it might be on your Facebook page, or Twitter including your @handle. Why not get it out and deal with it?
    If you have a marketing webinar, this is about objection handling. If it’s about service and products then at least you have feedback for improvement. If you are worried about what other potential clients will think, it’s probably how you handle the comments and questions that will make the difference.
    If you do have a rogue attendee really bent on making an issue, and you’ve attempted dealing with it politely in the chat and offered to take it offline to deal with and they are persisting, then perhaps removing that person from the session is the best thing to do. But this doesn’t penalise everyone else!
  7. Use the Question panel direct to host/producer/moderatorQuestion or Q&A panels or pods are brilliant to separate out questions from a busy chat window. This makes it much more manageable for a speaker on their own and if there is a moderator/host/producer, who can deal with that. Sometimes there can be a few people to deal with a busy Question area and reply direct or to all attendees.
    That said, I’ve been on a number of webinars the last couple of weeks where there has been ONLY a question pod.

    This is a great example of the question not being answered properly on a webinar I’m attending whilst writing this blog post (yep, because there was no chat, no tweets and it was a boring webinar). The speaker said that webinars should be social. So I asked this:


    It would have been nice if they actually answered the question. Or, am I being mean?

    On other webinars recently I’ve asked questions pertinent to the beginning of the session (such as, “is there a Twitter hashtag for this webinar?”) received no response. If there’s no verbal, private written or public written answers to the questions, what’s the point of entering them?

  8. It doesn’t exist in the software (such as GoToWebinar)Get better software.




Engagement in virtual classrooms video

It was an honour to be interviewed by Issy Nancarrow, of Nancarrow Partnerships, at the Learning Technologies 2016 conference.

I spoke about how important engagement is in virtual classrooms, as well as the importance of good design for live online sessions and that online facilitation is a new skill to master.