With your analysis done and your Virtual Instruction Planning Form and current curriculum assets in hand, you can now begin modifying your face-to-face instructional materials to support virtual training.
Here are a few strategies that will make your virtual classes resonate. While these strategies are particularly critical when you convert classroom training into a virtual instruction, they are also useful in preparing and enhancing any training class.
1. Increase the number of slides in your instruction. Separate key points into individual slides. Find graphics that complement your verbal remarks. Since you are not there in person, the more visual stimulation the viewers have to hold their attention, the better.
2. Use less text and more graphics in your PowerPoint slides. Stop using your slides as an outline. Remember to design your PowerPoint slides so that they are visual and telegraphic. Instead of using the sentence, “The T1000 reduces the cost of ownership,” use, “Reduced cost of ownership.” Get over the feeling that you need to use full sentences. When you are creating or revising PowerPoints, your displays should look more like signs than paragraphs. Remember that these slides are aids to your attendees, not a crutch for you.
3. Transfer detailed information to handouts. Large amounts of text, data, graphs, URLs, or other reference information should be included in handouts that are separate from your slides. Make your instruction about the value and use of the content, not about the content itself. If a listener cannot actively use the data while listening to you, those data do not belong in the presentation.
4. Get rid of extraneous graphics and video. Do not use cute visuals that are not critical to your message. As important as it is to hold your audience’s attention, your video presentations, graphics, and animations should be more than just eye candy. A simple visual theme, such as a timeline, can be helpful. Make sure that the graphics and videos that you employ serve a purpose or get rid of them.
5. Reformat your slides to make them easy to read in a smaller area. Use high-contrast colors that allow the foreground text to be easily read over your background. The area in which your slides will be displayed in your virtual instruction is small, and your PowerPoint slides need to be completely readable.
6. Reorganize your instruction, placing the most important information up front. Because virtual instruction tend to be shorter than face-to-face training, you should consider making sure that you cover the most important points early in your presentation. Identify slides near the end of your instruction that you can skip if you are short on time. It is better to eliminate content than to rush through it in a panicked attempt to jam everything into a time slot. If you do elect to leave out information to meet your schedule, do not call attention to that fact. Let attendees think that you had always planned to deliver exactly as much material as they heard.
7. Remove distractions. Small, subtle animations can be useful in focusing the audience’s attention. For instance, you might use an animation to add an arrow pointing to a key item on a slide. Avoid the temptation to add repetitive and distracting animations, such as text that flies in for each bullet point. You can also use annotation features in your Web conferencing software to draw lines, arrows, boxes, and other highlights that pull your audience’s focus to the screen and synchronize their attention.
8. Do not make your attendees wish they had a pillow. Sitting quietly and staying fully focused is tough enough in a face-to-face environment under the gaze of all your colleagues. Doing so when you are alone with plenty of distractions is much harder. It’s your job, as a facilitator, to keep your attendees tuned in to what you are saying and following along. Add lots of interaction and variety to your instruction, so that your attendees don’t switch the station, so to speak.
9. Plant and you will reap. Prepare planted questions for each important topic. Your producer/moderator can use these questions to seed discussions and question-and-answer sessions.
10. Make life easy on yourself—be prepared. There are a lot more ins and outs to a virtual instruction learning experience than to an in-person one. You want to double-check to make sure that everything is squared away before you begin your class. Place copies of your media in one folder. Create files of polling questions, planted questions, and URLs labeled by when you will need them.
11. Small can still be beautiful. The presentation window on attendees’ screens will be much smaller than they are accustomed to in a meeting room or standard desktop presentation. To make sure that your presentation is still effective, you need to take a few precautions, including testing that it is readable when you resize the main slide area to 50 percent.
12. Use simple backgrounds, fonts, and colors in your PowerPoints and other materials. Complex backgrounds may look cool, but they distract attendees’ attention. Too many fonts and colors begin to look amateurish. Stick to a couple of fonts and maybe three “related” colors. Use font sizes of 30 points or more. You may be able to go as low as 20 points in a pinch, but never below that. Do not use shadowed type styles. They do not translate well into most virtual meeting services and applications. Use labels and directional cues (e.g., arrows or boxes) discreetly and well. Simplify, simplify, and simplify some more. Do not use builds. The meaning of a click changes when you use a build. This increases your chances of making a mistake during the instruction itself. You can always fake a build by using multiple slides. Design the last one first, and then work backward by deleting sections.
13. Create a quick and dirty Instructor’s Guide. Taken in total, this should be the shooting script for your instructional presentation. It should include the following:
- Handouts of your PowerPoint presentation with three slides to a page.
- Talking points on the right-hand side where they are easy to see.
- A completed Virtual Instruction Planning form.
- Carefully scripted notes for your introduction and ending. This will help you begin your instruction forcefully and end with a bang.
Plan to update and simplify your guide as you gain more experience conducting your virtual instruction.
14. Lean toward the professional side. If you will be using video, plan to make it more on the professional side. Even if you are using the video for a quick and dirty demonstration, such as a software demo, plan to edit it and include labels and directional elements (e.g., arrows and boxes). If you will be broadcasting yourself live to an extremely large audience (over 100), consider using a prepared set and a professional videographer.