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While politicians and medical professionals will argue for years about the need for 2020’s quarantine measures, one thing is certain: we’ve entered a new era of using technology for human connection.  The “new normal” for face-to-face interaction is the videocall.  And this gives us a great opportunity to explore and exploit the unique advantages interactive video offers.

As the CEO and founder of a leadership training platform that delivers exclusively via videoconference, I’ve learned a lot about how to derive maximum benefit from this medium.  It is my experience that the use of interactive video for employee training significantly improves return on investment; it is efficient, it is effective, and if used well, it improves everything from employee engagement to corporate culture.

In this article I’ll share what training is best suited to interactive video, how to take full advantage of the medium, and how to overcome its limitations.  Also shared are few of the comments I’ve received from learners who have participated in leadership training via videoconference.

The Right Tool for the Job

A radical concept just a couple decades ago, most of us now own a video phone - and probably a laptop or desktop computer with the same capability.  And just like you shouldn’t use a kitchen knife to open a can of paint, the video phone is a tool that operates best if used properly.  

I strongly believe that, because we’ve become well-conditioned to consume entertainment through a screen, any application of videoconference that doesn’t demand interactivity is a waste of bandwidth. 

If we use videoconference for training “hard” skills (binary learning with right/wrong outcomes), training that requires a large amount of one-way knowledge transfer, the audience will quickly default to disengaged viewership.  And they will treat your non-interactive videocall as if it’s a one-way pre-recorded lecture – which, honestly, is what it should be.

Interactive video is a synchronous environment, and is therefore best suited for real-time, conversational, face-to-face engagement.  Its best used to train those “soft” non-binary skills that can only be mastered in a high-feedback environment.

Take Advantage of the Medium

It is important to understand that training via videoconference is not the same as training where participants are physically present.  Simply “moving the workshop online” will significantly and negatively impact learning outcomes.

Conversely, videoconference technology offers several significant advantages, and by fully exploiting these upsides, outcomes far superior to those realized in traditional training will be realized.

End the Day-Long Workshop

Learning retention is highest when training is delivered in small doses followed by regular reinforcement and testing.  But today’s distributed workforce often means participants must travel to attend training, and we’re required to deliver our curriculum in a sub-optimal day-long workshop.

Videoconference allows us to eliminate travel (and facilities bookings, catering, etc.), and to conduct training in short daily, or even weekly, sessions.  Also, by scheduling these sessions early in the day, before unexpected issues take precedence, participation is significantly improved.

“My busy schedule doesn’t allow much time to travel for courses.  Not having to travel, and sharing online with a group, not only allowed me to attend – it was surprisingly fun!” – Michelle, Store Manager

Blend Synchronous and Asynchronous Engagement

By restricting our interactive training to short bursts, we’re forced to be strategic about how our limited time is spent.  Move reading assignments, solo exercises, and one-on-one discussions to the asynchronous gaps between sessions.  Focus the synchronous session on interactive exploration of the topic, on discussion of homework completed between sessions, and on peer-to-peer learning.

Smaller is Better

Because we’re delivering our training in shorter segments, we’re also able to deliver to smaller groups of participants.  And its in the small groups that some of the most significant benefits of interactive video can be realized.  My experience is that a group of 5-8 people is an ideal match with a 1-hour session.

Personalization

To learn and master soft skills, we need to assimilate the principles in a manner consistent with our personal constitution.  This requires an iterative and high-feedback conversation – and being overly constrained by curriculum or by the momentum of a large group significantly hampers individual learning.

Allow organic discussion to inform and adjust planned curriculum, and take advantage of the small group format to ensure precedence is given to interactive dialogue as opposed to knowledge delivery.

“[My instructor] has given me strategies to grow in areas I’ve always struggled in.  I never thought I’d grow so much, so quick.” – Julia, Business Executive

Community of Peers

The vast majority of our workforce struggles silently with Imposter Syndrome.  However, with the normalizing revelations that come from vulnerable and honest conversations with peers, our employees realize they don’t need to hide their insecurities.

Imposter Syndrome: “The persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.”  -Dictonary.com

By fostering a collaborative and confidential community during training, an atmosphere of vulnerability and openness is created.  It is my experience that videoconference technology actually enhances and accelerates the development of openness due to the mental and emotional disconnection caused by the physical separation of videoconference participants.  With diligent effort by the leader, group members will typically start opening up after three or four sessions. 

Deliberate Practice

The environment afforded by small group interactive videoconference focused on mastering soft skills is ideal for the application of principles of Deliberate Practice. 

Deliberate Practice refers to a special type of skills practice that is purposeful and systematic.  It requires focused attention by the participant and feedback from an expert and is conducted with the specific goal of improving performance.  According to Anders Ericsson, who has made a lifelong study of Deliberate Practice:

“Even the most motivated and intelligent student will advance more quickly under the tutelage of someone who knows the best order in which to learn things, who understands and can demonstrate the proper way to perform various skills, who can provide useful feedback, and who can devise practice activities designed to overcome particular weaknesses.” ― Anders Ericsson, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise

By regularly assigning between-session homework (i.e. practical application of knowledge acquired), and then debriefing the homework at the next session, the powerful results of Deliberate Practice are experienced.

Strategically Overcome the Limitations

While there are significant benefits to using interactive video for training, this technology also comes with a few challenges.  However, these can be strategically addressed and shouldn’t have a negative impact on learning outcomes.

Nuanced Communication Cues

The vast majority of communication is non-verbal, and with the use of live interactive video, most of these non-verbal cues are exchanged.  However, even the best audio and video equipment will miss the more nuanced cues – the quick eye roll, the small sigh, the clenching of a jaw, the gentle blush of cheeks. 

Here’s a checklist of techniques I’ve implemented to minimize gaps in communication:

  • Everybody must have their video on. You wouldn’t show up to a meeting with a paper bag over your head, would you?
  • All meetings must start with small talk. Small talk is foundational to empathy, and by expressing empathy, we create space for meaningful connection.
  • And say things different ways.  Also, employ skills of Active Listening (summarize and paraphrase).

Change is Scary

Recognizing that tolerance for risk is very individualized, it should be expected that some participants will have a difficult time embracing videoconference.  We can decrease perception of risk, and consequent opposition to the technology, with a few techniques:

  • Create structure and predictability. Start and end on time.  While appreciating that discussions will evolve organically, start with an agenda or learning objective – and update the group regularly on progress against same.
  • Let your learners know what you expect of them and what success looks like. Explicitly state ground rules, engagement expectations, learning goals.  Revisit these over subsequent sessions.

Remember your Manners

We’ve all learned how to behave in in-person social settings, but etiquette for interactive video is new territory that, as a society, we’re still normalizing.  While we figure this out, a few best practices I’ve learned are:

  • If at all possible, don’t mute your mic. Speaking into a muted mic is frustrating for the speaker and distracting for the other participants.  I’ve witnessed many great conversations halted prematurely by an unintentionally-muted speaker.  Ideally, find a quiet place to sit and only mute your mic as a last resort.
  • Video must be on. I get it - your home office is a mess, and there’s a good chance a toddler or a dog will show up at some point.  The reality is: everyone we work with is beautifully imperfect, and with video on, we get to know you on a much deeper level.  If your background has movement that is potentially distracting to others, use the background blur/masking capability available in most videoconference software packages. 

Conclusion

The ultimate objective of any learning and development program is to create lasting change in our learners.  And with the increasing automation of today’s workplace, the need for employees to level up their leadership soft skills is greater now than ever before.  Fortunately, the advantages afforded by the “new normal” of videocall connectivity create an environment where fostering sustained improvement in soft skills is readily achievable.

“The work I’m doing now has improved the rest of my life.” – Natalie, Business Analyst


LevellingUp helps people discover their full potential with interactive feedback from experts.

Mike Deboer is the founder and CEO of LevellingUp. Leveraging a 20+ year career an executive leader in Oil & Gas, he’s using the lessons he learned while becoming Western Canada’s Strongest Man to raise up our next generation of leaders.  To get involved, connect with him at Mike@LevellingUp.ca.

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