The Art of Training: Part 2 – Tips for Engaging Your Virtual Audience

virtual classroom

Shannon Tipton, Owner, Learning Rebels LLC

Welcome back! In our Part 1 of Virtual Training, we discussed techniques to gain success in your virtual session. This time around we are going to talk engagement tips. End the silence!

As you might imagine, creating engagement activities for your virtual audience is a tad different than planning those for your face-to-face participants. I’m sure you have participated in webinars that were dull and boring; and those that were just buzzing with activity. What was the difference? How to we get from dull and boring to buzzing? Planning for engagement is the secret sauce. You want people to learn something, or be able to do something after they get off the line – and we all know that when a session is engaging and interactive the odds are greater people will learn something.

How to make this happen? Not to worry – I’ve got you covered! I’m going to dig into my bag of virtual tricks and tips, but I’m sure I’ll leave something out and this is where you come in. Do you have a favorite webinar activity that keeps people with you? Please share those tips in the comments.

Now, let’s get this party started! 

1) Be Fun and Personal! 

  1. Have a fun welcome activity. Remember in Part 1, I talked about specificity and clarity? This is critical. In part one I gave an icebreaker as an example, go back and check it out – I’ll wait.  An icebreaker serves 2 purposes. First, to get everyone in the groove of practicing with the webinar tools. Secondly, this is your sly way of checking for possible technical issues. Today we’re talking about getting people in the groove.
  2. Start with an interesting question. Not the typical boring, “How was your weekend” type of stuff. Ask people about their bucket list vacation destination or guilty pleasure. Ask the question aloud, type it in the chat, and be sure you have a welcome slide with the question on it. Then, be specific about how you want the attendee’s to respond. “In the chat area, type your response.” Repeat the instructions every few minutes as the people trickle in. Be encouraging but firm. This activity is setting the expectation that interaction will be the name of the game. You are setting the tone that it won’t just be a talking head webinar.

2) Create slides that are mini-activities by asking thought provoking, open-ended questions

For the most part your slides should be mini-activities, not info dump. If all you are doing is talking through majority of your slides, they don’t need you – just email the slides out and be done with it. The key to engaging conversation is to provoke thought, and to do this in a virtual setting the questions must be open-ended and specific.


  1. What would be the first step you would take if a customer has become non-responsive to your emails?
  2. Review the picture on the screen – what mistakes do you see?
  3. Look at the chart on the screen: With the information given, what conclusions can you make?
  4. There is a business scenario written out on the screen – How do you think the supervisor could have handled the employee issue more successfully?

3) Raise your hands! 

Raise your hand if you know. This is also a slightly different paradigm than in the classroom, where many times people will just shout it out if they know it. In a virtual setting, ask people to raise their hands. Example: Everyone go to Google and search for “Places that have the most people over 75 years old”. Come back and raise your hand when you have the answer. You can use this technique to ask for volunteers as well.

4) Use the Whiteboard

Have the participants brainstorm on the whiteboard. Ask a brainstorming question, “List the attributes of a successful candidate.” Show them how to grab the text tool and write on the white board. You can then do a screen grab and email the brainstorm list to the participants after the session is completed.

5) Create a poll. 

This is a great way to get people involved. One way to use polls is to allow your audience to choose the learning path. Example: “We have 5 topics to cover today about communication skills. How about you choose where we start”? Here are your choices:

  1. Body Language
  2. Tone of Voice
  3. Verbal
  4. Effective versus non-effective
  5. Written

Have the participants vote in the poll, deciding where to start.

6) Or, Use Polleverywhere in conjunction with your webinar

By using Polleverywhere you can run surveys, create polls to check for understanding, or create competitions. Go to their website for tons of ideas.

7) Pair and share!

Have the participants do pair and shares or teach backs.

  1. Using the whiteboard, list participants in pairs.
  2. Instruct them to chat privately to share best practices, ideas, or brainstorm. (be sure to specifically explain how to chat privately)
  3. If there is an odd number of people, have the odd person partner with you.
  4. After the time is up, have the pairs write out one main idea or take away from the discussion on the whiteboard for others to see.
  5. Ask for specific comments in the chat, “Which idea are you going to use immediately after leaving this session?”

8) The Chat! Use the Chat! 

For me it’s frustrating when presenters turn off the chat function, or only allow for direct questions to the presenter. UGH! If you want engagement, let people talk, and the only way they can talk in a virtual session is through the chat feature. Here are some tips about the chat feature.

  1. Don’t try to control the chat. People will talk about stuff. That stuff may or may not be relevant to the class, and that’s okay. As soon as you try to moderate a conversation, the conversation will stop. Let the chat flow.
  2. The chat will require you to talk and “listen” at the same time. This means you will have to talk less and read more. Do not be afraid to tell the audience to give you a second so you can catch-up with the chat. Tell them you are looking for unanswered questions. They will be cool with that.
  3. Be sure to read the questions aloud. Not unlike repeating the question in a face-to-face session. Some people may have missed the question, you repeating and answering it is quite helpful.
  4. Address the questions by name. Example: Brad had a question about how to build charts in Excel… at this point you can throw the question to the audience to see what suggestions they may have. Then wrap up the answer by saying – “Brad, did that answer your question?”
  5. Have fun with the chat. “Everyone with me?” If so, type “JAZZ HANDS” in the chat. If not type, “SO LOST”.

Bonus tips! Here are some added tips to help make your next virtual session a success.

  1. Buy a good microphone/headset. I love my blue snowball, if you have a favorite put it in the comment section.
  2. When at all possible, use dial in. Because VoIP is internet based, it is susceptible to all the hitches that comes with using broadband, jittery connection, dropped internet service, latency, distortions etc.
  3. The rule of thumb is to limit sessions to 90 minutes. Personally, I think 60 minutes is enough for one sitting. If you go over 90 minutes, be sure to plug in a 10 minute stretch/bathroom break.
  4. Slide animations can be tricky over a webinar. I prefer slides with no animations, and no transitions. This way if I have to use a PDF file as my slides, no harm no foul.
  5. Have directions for breakout rooms, whiteboards, or annotation tools clearly written out ahead of time so all you have to do is copy and paste them into the presentation. Don’t try to verbally explain how the whiteboard works, you’ll end up confusing people. (Trust me, I’ve done it – it hardly ever goes well.)
  6. Practice, practice, practice! Practice the tools, and practice the timing. Sessions that fit within a 60 minute time frame when face to face, may run long in a virtual session. Why? Because of all the pausing, instructions, reading questions, waiting for people to type in responses…plan accordingly.

So there ya go! These are my Learning Rebels tips for ensuring you have a successful and interactive virtual session. Plus here are some other things to avoid in the classroom in general I’m sure I’ve left out a thing or two, add to the comments your tips and tricks for a successful session.

Talk to you next month with more from the “The Art of Training”.