Key learnings from switching our in-class traineeship to digital

It’s Thursday the 12th of March 3 pm, the Dutch government is hosting a Press Conference about the Coronavirus in the Netherlands and are announcing their first measure to control the virus; no events with more than 100 people & stay home when you are feeling ill.

While watching these announcements I also started to think about the consequences for our Growth Hacking traineeship. We just started with a new group of young professionals that were in the middle of their full-time month training. And yes, the following day we decided: our traineeship is going digital. It was a rollercoaster ride, I can tell you that. Different sessions, multiple external facilitators and an ongoing traineeship to run. Some things went surprisingly good, others failed gloriously.

We learned a lot by embracing the uncertainty and now we’ve come to the point where we can really say: our Growth Hacking traineeship can be done completely digital. How did we do it? I won’t outline 1000 steps, but by sharing our tips and biggest learnings I’m sure you will be able to rock it yourself!

Get the most out of Zoom

Your Linkedin feed is probably exploding with screenshots of Zoom meetings and there is a reason for it. It is a great tool, but you probably already know that. When changing to digital sessions from one day to another you don’t really have the time to think about the things that work and don’t work. Plus, you don’t actually know. You just learn by doing, sharing, and trying out all the possibilities and functions you have.

From awkward to awesome
The first 20 minutes are super weird” is what we often hear from our external experts and I had the exact same feeling at first. I am talking to my screen and I have no clue what is happening on the other side”. The aspect of non-verbal communication is gone. So now more than ever, we need to be aware of how we will interact with each other.

The best way is to add more explicit interaction moments in your session. When you do so, you’ll experience a new kind of thrill in facilitating. Rocking a session digitally is different but really doable. There are multiple ways of accomplishing this:

Questions, questions, questions
During a session, questions will always arise and that is great. The more the better! However, you do have to think upfront on how you want people to ask their questions and how you will answer them. There are of course multiple options depending on the type of question & group size. Do you want people to ask their questions in the chat where you will just repeat the question and answer it? Or do you want to start a dialogue by having the participants unmute and ask their questions that way?

Small exercises
Actively listening for a long period of time behind a screen is very exhausting, so try to mix up the amount of time you are talking with putting your participants to work. So, instead of explaining a piece of theory, give your participants a quick exercise. These exercises can be anything from a quick Google exercise to writing down key ideas and takeaways or formulating an answer to your questions.

For example, during a session where I talked about Google Analytics, I gave the trainees this quick Google exercise:

You have 3 minutes to find the different levels of scoping in Analytics, go :) “

This way your participants actively interact with your content instead of you just explaining it. After the exercise, you can ask a couple of people what their answers were before you continue explaining and moving on to a new subject. This is a great way to engage with your audience and make sure they are actively involved with your story.

Get a room!
The bigger the group, the bigger the change it gets messy when you ask for a lot of interaction. Is my mic on? Oh no, you go first. Hi, can you all hear me? Not the kind of session you want to have, right?

A great functionality of Zoom is the Breakout Room where you can create smaller sub-meetings” and assign for example 4 – 5 participants to each group. In these Breakout Rooms, they can work on bigger group assignments. You, as the host of the Zoom meeting, can switch between these sub-meetings to offer more in-depth help and create a more 1on1 type of interaction.

Tip: Use Zoom’s Breakout Rooms to create interactions between participants and facilitate bigger group assignments.

You name it!
This completely depends on the type of session and the group size of course, but it is great to know who is in your session. By having a list of participants ready, you can create more interactions by calling out someone’s name after asking a question, instead of (awkwardly) waiting for a response. This also makes sure you can interact with the majority of the group.

Tip: Have a list of participants ready so you can call out these people to answer certain questions.

One slide to rule them all
Before you start your session, always start by explaining to your participants how we, as a group, are going to get the most out of this session. This creates clarity among the participants, manages expectations, and also creates a mutual responsibility. The best way to do this is to add a Session Ground Rules” slide to your slide deck.

On this slide, you can add how you will deal with questions & file sharing, how we are going to use certain tools (tip: check out Mural) & how we will do our group assignments.

Tip: Try adding a Session Ground Rules slide to your slide deck.

The energy glow up

Not only is it important to think about interactions with your content, but we also need to check-in on a more personal level. It is very exhausting to sit behind a screen for hours and take in all kinds of new information. And it’s way harder to find out how the energy level of the group is when you’re not physically together. So make sure you add check-in moments to your session and boost the energy with a few simple elements.

We’re all in this (Zoom) together
I mentioned mutual responsibility before because, in the end, we need the input & feedback from the participants to make sure we can get the most out of a session. For example, everyone who knows me knows I can talk really fast and I am very high in energy. If I am going too fast and I am not aware of how this affects the participants, I can not make any adjustments. Based on that input, I can adjust my pace and make sure the participants are actively engaging with my story.

Tip: Gather feedback from your participants with regards to the speed of the session. Should we pick up the pace or go slower?

Quick check, quick fix
Easy but effective. We no longer have that vital non-verbal communication. This is why it is important to check how the energy level of the group is. This can be done by asking something like: How is the energy guys? On a scale of 1 – 10? Please put it in the chat.”
From the responses, you can gather if you need to add an extra break for example so people can get away from their screens so they can re-energize.

Tip: Make sure to check in on the group’s energy level with a simple question or poll every now and again.

Break the screen
I can not stress this enough, but add frequent breaks! Not only for the participant’s energy level but also for the facilitator’s. Sitting behind and talking to a screen is nothing like being in an actual room and getting the energy from the people there. Make sure that during the break people get some fresh air or grab a coffee as long as they are away from their screen for a while.

People want to have fun
Add energizers to your session! Kickstarting your session with a short energizer will not only help with the energy level but also with the interactions between your participants. At home, people get distracted way more easily.
With an active energizer, you force everybody to really check-in with the session in a fun way. Yes, it will take some minutes but the benefits for the rest of your session are worth it. You can, for example, do a quick 2‑minute Breakout Room where they can show each other their home office.

Tip for all facilitators to build the best session!

Building a digital session doesn’t have to be hard. At The Talent Institute, we use a great tool called Sessionlab. With Sessionlab we can create a clear overview of our sessions by using different building blocks, timestamps, and color-coding, i.e. green stands for exercises. We can immediately see if a part is too theoretical or will take too long. When building or iterating a session, Sessionlab is our starting point. From there we adjust the content and eventually the slide deck.

This tool can also help you with time management during your session. After evaluating your session, you can adjust for example the timestamps you added to certain parts, so next time your session will run even smoother! And you don’t have to start all over’, just tweak small parts. Like a real growth hacker.

There is no one size fits all

We are now two months into delivering all of our sessions digitally. In those two months we have learned a lot, I can tell you that! Some things worked great, others completely failed. For me, switching an ongoing traineeship to a digital format was definitely challenging, but also very exciting: exploring new opportunities, diving into the content & embracing the uncertainty of how it will unfold.

I hope these learnings can help you with your digital sessions! Always remember, there is no one size fits all”. Every session provides new challenges and every facilitator has their own style & preferences. And every session will require some form of freestyle. Things can go wrong or simply don’t work and that is completely fine, as long as we learn and try to make the next session even better!

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Guest blog by Simone Lentjes
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