Embracing digitisation: 5 key strategies for better online training events

accessplanit had the privilege of welcoming the wonderful Graham David back to the virtual stage for another captivating talk at Everest 2021. Graham's talk highlights the importance of embracing digitisation as L&D professionals, and outlines 5 key strategies for better online training events.

New Project (16) (2)-1        Graham David, Managing Director at Blue Beetle


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This blog summarises the key takeaways from Graham's talk at Everest Conference 2021. Paraphrasing has been used to aid the flow of the content.

Embracing digitisation

I've spent 24 years saying "you cannot do my style of training online - it is not possible". Over the past 18 months, I've had to re-evaluate my stance.

In terms of online training, it can be a difficult adjustment for those training professionals that still feel they need to be in the room with delegates. Those that need to see the penny drop, that need to see the energy in the room - I've said much of the above myself in actual fact.

But after two months of zero income last year, I rapidly rethought that and thought actually, yes, you can do what I do online.

It's not just about 'can we make it work online' - it's how we can embrace it, with the full energy and passion that might suggest. Can we, as L&D professionals make this, not just 'okay', not just 'better', not just 'alright', but something that is our customers preference.

The world of work has changed fundamentally

When you go on LinkedIn, you still see people say "I can't wait to be back in the training room." 

You still have customers that sometimes want us back in the training room - but let's just be honest here - the world of work has changed over the last year and a half. We know at least 80-85% of people want at least a hybrid version or a work from anywhere version. We know that.

Some of us in L&D still have this, in my opinion, misguided view that we can drag people to some hotel in Milton Keynes and engage them with a full days training.

Please remember, I've spent 24 years very confident in my ability to drag people to that hotel for a day or 2 days training - even 5 day residentials! We used to do huge numbers of this, using all the gimmicks like koosh balls, scented pens and music.

Businesswoman doing conference presentation in meeting room

There's a big part of my heart that wants to go back to that world. However, I don't think our customers want it quite as much as some of us in L&D believe. I'm pretty sure some of our learners don't want it either.

In fact, over the last year and a half, most of my customers have largely fully embraced this idea of "can you drop in for 90 minutes and deliver 'this'", and then we move on quickly.

If we're still arguing that we've got to somehow get back to the 'real world', I think we're holding ourselves back. I think we are losing the opportunity to really, seriously, get a decent piece of good and repeat business.

I think we've also got to get beyond this habit of sitting in the corner of the screen, reading our slides. Whether it's Teams, Zoom, or whatever platform you're on, all too often it's just slide after slide after slide. I think we've got to get past the idea that we're going to 'make do' with Zoom or Teams. I think we've got to get past that to the point where this becomes the 'preferred option.'

When I price my clients, I give them the face to face version, and the online version. The online version is very competitively priced compared to the face to face version. I've had 2 face to face sessions in the past 6 months, just 2.

Was it great to be back? Yes. Did I revel being in a room full of people and all the energy and excitement? Yes, absolutely, I loved it. Both clients were brilliant, and it was great to have all the delegates and learners there. But I've got to look at this from the perspective of your viewer of course - what do our customers and delegates actually want?

Increasingly, we're seeing that delegates love this idea of being able to drop in something fast, meaningful and useful - but it can't just be someone there reading some slides because that's not good enough - it never was. Increasingly, people are realising what they can have if they look around.

So what do we need to do to get there? Do we need all the tech equipment and fancy kit? Not necessarily, but we might need a little bit more than we've currently got. If we're trying to make a cogent, coherent case that online is a serious rival for being in the room, we've got to up our game as L&D professionals.

I genuinely believe that if we fully embrace and get in to this, we're offering a serious rival to the face to face argument, which some people are still making.

5 key strategies for better online training events

I'm going to introduce 5 key strategies you can implement for better online training events. Some of these, you may think, are self-evident. However, I think, as L&D professionals we are still dragging behind (and I absolutely include myself in this), until the last 18 months which has forced us, kicking and screaming, in to this digital space. Just 'knowing something' was never enough, because anybody can google anything and get a good answer, a good video or good response - even an expert talking about it.

So what we've got to find out if how do we make the most of all this?

Ultimately, these 5 strategies help us to create this that is better than it was before.

1. Time management is more important than ever

For me, the first point is about time management.

Do you still remember those training sessions that used to go on all morning because some delegate had a point of order that they wanted to argue, and then the hour lunch was cut down to 40 minutes because the slightly stressed trainer was going "I think we'll be okay"? Then you come back in the afternoon, and a few people are saying "I've got to leave early to get the train", and the trainer would say "It's okay, we can catch back a bit of time this afternoon, and I'll still be able to get you away a little bit early."

Why did customers accept that? I know we like it, because as trainers it means we can get off early, and the delegates feel happy that they've got an early finish.

But that isn't the digital perspective, is it? In the digital world, we can log in at 2 o'clock, and at 2:30 the talking bit can be over, we can have 15 minutes of questions and at 2:45, bang, that's it - it's done.

I'm finding online 90 minutes to 2 hours is working incredibly well. If I do a 90 minute session, a 30 minute break and another 90 minute session, so 3 hours of actual learning, that, I've pretty much found, with a room full of delegates (digitally) is about as long as they can comfortably work.

A full 8 or 9 hour day of face to face can now be replaced with 3 2-hour sessions, typically over multiple weeks. This allows delegates to pick up something then get back to their working day.

The ability to punch a couple of buttons and log on is so good compared to what we are used to - having the start delayed due to people being stuck on the motorway for example!

Delivering short sharp sessions that deliver some content and move straight on.

2. The breakout room is your friend

Many trainers still don't use this function, despite it being a much loved feature for delegates.

If you're not using breakout rooms, you've got to - you've got to find a way to use them the first three or four minutes of any live session you do online.

The breakout rooms online are so much better than what we used to do face-to-face. Remember how that used to work?

You'd explain the exercise, then the delegates all stand around and look at each other, then they wander off in different directions, someone gets confused when the exercise is already half way through, then one group doesn't come back at the end of the session then you have to go and look for them...

Breakrooms on the other hand. What an amazing experience for you as an L&D professional. You tap the button and they go to breakout rooms. You can send them messages, you can move them around, you can drop in and see them, and you can bring them back. All within an instant.

If you're not using these, or your software doesn't allow you to use these, you've got to consider that.

3. We're going to need a better link between theory, discussion and action

This was never new.

Training has got to be engaging, it's got to have some value, it's got to link back to the real world and ideally return on investments.

We know many trainers don't get that right.

But, digitally, we can do this in short sectors. We can do 2 hours on a Monday morning, and delegates can have the rest of their week.

If we can give them something they can action immediately, we can then, when they come back a week later, pick up on what they did and link it back to the training before they go in to the next week.

That's how most of us learn stuff these days, and how most of us access our television, our music, our entertainment. In L&D, we need to be up there with this, we need to match it.

4. Invest in your technical set-up and your knowledge

Side view of a male photo editor working on computer in a bright office

Do we need all sorts of tech and fancy kit, like a second camera or a ring light?

Well, yes and no.

There's no reason to invest in all the equipment unless you've got a solid reason for it. The point of me having a 2nd camera is really simple, I like to take delegates away from the digital experience, and set them up with a whiteboard so we can have that live moment of chatting and it feels like you're in the room with them. There's nothing to stop you having a 3rd, 4th or 5th camera so you can, if you've got another colleague with you, you could switch to them without the whole 'shuffling in, shuffling out' nonsense.

I'm not saying you need the ring light and all the bells and whistles. But maybe you do.

If we're going to take this seriously, and of course we are, we've got to be able to do these things. But there are a number of tools I use in my day to day. I'm currently using 5 or 6 platforms to launch programs and set up sessions with people. I have a ticketing program, both the meeting and webinar versions of Zoom, I'm using a different social media, I'm using a fan-based piece of software, I'm using payment portals. I don't pretend to be a techno-wizard, because I'm not!

I was that person, who for 24 years said "you can't really do what we do online, it never really translates." Part of the reason was that I didn't know how to do it.

We've got to move past this. We've got to somehow embrace this.

5. You need to be a better presenter - building your profile will help you

We know lots of delegates don't like being on camera.

If you're still saying, as a presenter, that you don't like being on camera or that you find it difficult or embarrassing - I don't think that's good enough.

We have to understand that this, whether we like it or not, is likely to be the medium that we're now working on. Whether it's conferences, training sessions, briefings or catch ups, whether it's inhouse or external training or whatever it is, this is now how it's happening. It's been like this for a year and a half, and it's absolutely going to be like it in the future.

You don't want to be like one of them call centres where you call up and you're stuck in a queue then eventually you hear that all-too-overused excuse "Due to the difficult circumstances.." It's a year and a half ago, you have to have fixed it by now?!

So we need to be better presenters. Perhaps you're really in front of an in-person audience but you hate being on camera, so you've got to be better on camera - it's a whole new world, a whole new set of skills.

What does 'embracing digitisation' mean for us?

I think we've got to understand that all the different digital technology and various platforms and different kit we can have are important, but so is a fundamental understanding from us as L&D professionals that the way we present has got to be different, it's got to match this new world.

We must use the help and support of digital technology to deliver the best and most engaging training experience we can. We should define what we want to achieve and then use the technology to get there, not the other way round!

The risk and cost of us not doing this is that it's going to make it increasingly difficult to deliver presentations that actually make any different to people.

One thing which is really important, is we've got to work on the basis, if this is how we want things to go (and this is how things are going), we've got to be the ones to improve and alter our style of delivery and that involves the technology, our presentation style and probably our profile.


What format, setup and platforms do you tend to use for virtual training delivery?

Graham: "The arguments about Teams and Zoom continues of course, and there are other platforms! I make no money out of the platform people choose, but I'm absolutely convinced, no question whatsoever, that Zoom is the platform you need. I'll often use Zoom Movies - we make very low priced movies using our actor facilitators, and that is often used then to prompt further discussion or issues/problems with our delegates. We'll sometimes use live, active facilitators in the session where we'll bring them in. Plus, don't forget about the breakout rooms!"

How do you price a virtual training course compared to face to face?

Graham: "So there's a couple of points. First of all, I've now moved from 24 years of 'face to face is better than everything' to actually really liking this. I think it's better, and I think I can offer better value to my clients. So I'm going to try and price this in a way that makes you go "actually yeah, we're going to pick that."

"So, first of all, we can strip out all of the costs that you're going to incur as the client - if you don't need to get the venue, the people in the room, the catering, the hotel, the travel - none of those things are necessary, so straightaway there's a massive drop in pricing. Second of all, if I'm going to get a group of people together (and I frequently in a days training will deliver with 3 of us) - whether or not 3 of us are used all the time (which of course or not), I'm going to charge you for a day because we're there on site. Now what I might do, instead, is have three 2-hour sessions. So it's marginally less time than a full training day, it's spread over perhaps 3 or 4 weeks and the pricing of that is substantially lower than face to face."

"Now it means I can do two, three or four sessions in one day, so actually my profitability hasn't dropped. My colleagues are getting paid differently, so they're able to drop in to two, three or four different sessions, so their profitability hasn't dropped, and yet paradoxically, the price for the client has dropped."

How does a training provider take a traditional, intensive 1 day (or more) course and break it down in to shorter virtual sessions?

Graham: "I think there's a few things. First of all, the most common format I've had is a 1 or 2 day, 2 days are generally fitting in to 5 2-hour slots, so that alone is less time for the client to spend away. Three 2 hours slots of course replacing a day."

"I've tended to work on - Module 1: why do we have to do this? What are the reasons behind doing this? So, difficult conversations, let's take that as a topic. The reason people don't have difficult conversations, is because they're difficult, they're embarrassing, people don't want to raise them. That's why we don't have them. But we need to have them because if we don't, all that happens is we ignore the problem, we hope it goes away, then we're going to HR saying "please exit this person", which doesn't get us anywhere."

"So Module 1 is 'why do we need to have difficult conversations? What stops us having difficult conversations? What's the reason behind it? That might stray in to a little bit of what happens when it all goes wrong. Our second session is always going to be 'how to you do this better?' Here's the tools, the tips and the techniques. There's no point doing those first, because until module 1 you don't believe you need them."

"What we do we in module 3? We try and practice, and we use those tools, tips and techniques. Now the great thing is, you can do that over 2 or 3 weeks and at each stage delegates can use what they've picked up and what they've learnt,  what they've been thinking and talking about in the previous module. See that's why I actually prefer it compared to people being taken out of the real world for a whole day."

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