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How to Fail at Virtual Facilitation

Training people to train other people is enough of a challenge, and it’s one that pharmaceutical T&D departments have taken on for many years.

But did you know that virtual facilitation – training at a distance using on-line video – has its own challenges? Here are five quick pointers on to help you fail at virtual training (don’t do them!):


What message are you sending with that sloppy pile of folders and crumpled up paper? Let me give you a hint – it’s not ‘creative genius at work’. Whether they’re in a home office or corporate setting, people don’t spend enough time organizing the scene behind them. Turn on your web camera in advance to assess the entire picture. Clear away distractions, board-scribblings, or knick-knacks that might pull focus away from what you’re saying. And never, ever use a window as your backdrop.


Watching unprepared presenters is bad enough when you’re in the same room and listeners are held captive. But if you don’t prepare your virtual presentation well enough to keep it interesting and moving quickly, there are plenty of distractions to keep your audience occupied. In fact, studies show that the number one participant activity during a webinar is checking email (actually watching the webinar comes in 2nd). After all, there’s no physical proximity to shame them into paying attention.


I always get a kick out of video chatting with my parents. If I’m not looking up their noses, I’m talking to the ceiling. Camera position is critical. If your web cam isn’t at eye level, raise it (put a stack of books under a laptop, or use a tripod for a dedicated camera). And remember – if you’re not looking directly into that camera, you’re not making eye contact.


We’re watching you – usually far more up close than we would in person.  I don’t want to see bits of your breakfast on your cheek. Nor do I want to see you sweat. Keep water beside you. Take deep breaths to relax. Brush on translucent powder to keep the shine off. If you don’t think this is important, watch Nixon’s first TV debate with JFK.


Between 60-90% of a message’s effect comes from non-verbal cues. That’s why video meetings are such a great business tool. Think of all you leave on the table if you’re not using the camera! However, since virtual presenting doesn’t come naturally to most, mistakes will happen. If you’re able to be self-deprecating or laugh at your blunders, your audience will relate to you, trust you, and soak up your wisdom.

Facilitating in front of a classroom is not the same as presenting or training “live” in front of a camera. As companies commit more and more resources to virtual meetings, but sure your employees are camera-ready!

What are some of the ups and downs you’ve discovered in your virtual efforts thus far?

Thanks to Amanda Bergen, Stage Harbor Communications, for these tips!

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