Are you working remotely during the COVID-19 outbreak? Are you looking for some tips/tactics to lead virtual training for your teams?
Based on the lessons learned from attending and leading virtual sessions, I am very humbled to create a two-part blog series as an experience report to help my fellow colleagues from the Agile and Scrum community to lead live virtual classes like a professional. I’d like to thank the awesome Scrum.org PST community, where my fellow colleagues have shared their learnings and wisdom that has helped me to lead my virtual training effectively.
In this part one, I am going to share what it takes to prepare for an effective remote live virtual class.
"Proper Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance".
Preparation is key: In order to deliver the best in class experience for my students, I focused a lot on preparation. This preparation includes many things such as preparing the setup. Here is a snapshot of my setup:-
Preparing setup: Hardware, Software, and Tools:-
- Mac book connected with an extra big monitor, so I can view two screens at a time . I have always found dual monitors being more productive.
- iPad with Apple Pencil for sketching during the sessions. Any other tablet would do for that matter like Microsoft surface.
- Flipcharts with markers - I am also a visual facilitator and hence I used flipcharts extensively during my sessions, which turned out to be the most loved part of my virtual training.
- Apple mouse was a savior at times when I wanted to drag and drop some stuff especially in the whiteboard.
- Blue Microphones Yeti USB Microphone with condensers. Thanks to a dear friend and fellow PST Venkatesh Rajamani for suggesting this Mic, much appreciated!
- Good quality headphones, I have an old pair but still working very well wired Bose headphones.
- Additional webcam to focus on the Flipchart- Instead of a separate webcam, I converted my iPhone into a webcam. There are many tools that can do this however, I found Epoccam very useful.
- A solid high-speed internet connection. I also used speedify- Speedify can bond any combination of Internet connections and will intelligently distribute your online traffic between them for optimal performance.
- Very good illumination in the room. I experimented with changing my work desk thrice to ensure there is proper illumination. I ensured placing my desk towards the window to take advantage of the natural light as nothing can beat that, and then I had right placements of the artificial lights with some extra lamps just in case if I need them.
- An adjustable laptop stand to ensure there is a proper ergonomic posture.
- An ergonomically designed chair, I have one from IKEA that is very comfortable.
- Some sort of timer, like a stopwatch/alarm timer or a virtual clock for time boxing sessions.
- Props like a ringing bell or tingsha bells to grab the attention of your students. A rugby ball for using it as a metaphor with Scrum, some books or anything physical that you think might be helpful for your audience.
- Video conferencing tools- The features I was looking at were primarily a tool that supports: good streaming of audio and video, break-out rooms for exercises, screen sharing and ease of use. I experimented with many tools like Adobe Connect, Microsoft teams, Bluejeans, Goto Training, and Zoom. Finally, I decided to go with Zoom. However, I kept Goto as a backup for the video conferencing just in case I need it.
- Creating a slack channel for every LVC can be extremely helpful for just in time communication- especially when someone accidentally leaves the online meeting, then they can reach out to the host via a chat app you may also use other chat apps.
- I created two co-hosts for the zoom sessions. If accidentally the host gets dropped off then, the co-host can manage the situation till the host rejoins. It also helps during the breakout sessions.
- A virtual realtime whiteboard- For this, I experimented with google docs, Jamboard, Miro and Mural. Finally went ahead with Mural, as its also recommended by many of my colleagues.
- Preparing Murals in advance - (One main mural with the course content and one with common exercises) and separate team murals for the teams, so that they can work in their breakouts. This has helped us the smooth usage of the murals, else it is quite likely to experience lag if too many people access the same mural, and also there are chances to override each others work
- Hiding upcoming exercises in the Murals is helpful retain the focus of the participants as they'd be very curious to look for the next exercises instead of focusing on the current one's
- Having a backup of murals either in Miro or google docs can be a saviour when the service provider is down for maintenance
- Being yourself- I also learned that being natural and not limiting myself to the tools. My strength is visual facilitation, hence I leveraged my strengths. If you are good at something, this is the time to tap into your potential and leverage your gifts.
Preparing Mindset: Motivation, Practice sessions, and Self-care
"You need to conquer yourself before you conquer the mountain".
- I am being vulnerable here sharing that there was a tug of war inside my mind moving to virtual, as I had a cognitive bias that virtual sessions can’t be effective. I attended a few sessions conducted by fellow PSTs Ralph Jocham and Dominik Maximini that helped me gain more confidence, appreciate your gesture folks. I also attended a live virtual class by Magdalena Firlit, she is an exceptional trainer. I also feel grateful to Barry Overeem and Christian Verwijs, for conducting sessions for PSTs. And my mentor Steve Porter, for always inspiring me to deliver my best and act professional.
- Practice Practice Practice - I ran many small experiments to validate my hypothesis (testing the Mic, video, audio, screen sharing, iPad sketching, Flipchart art, teaching a block, etc.) with a shorter core group. I’d like to thank Abhishek Johri and Prabhat Pandey, without whom these validations wouldn’t have been possible. I still look forward to your continued support.
- Dress up well, Even if it is a virtual training, you are still a professional.
I always do a short prep session with participants prior to the main training session, so that they are well aware of the web conferencing and whiteboarding tools that would be used during the training. Also, I utilize the prep session to create working agreements for the session.
- Self-care: Apart from the above strategic and tactical stuff, I also have some more subtle things:-
- A picture of my family in front of my desk, as they give me a lot of strength and motivation.
- Few of my favorite books on the desk, that I can have a quick look.
- A small basket with some snacks and a water bottle, to ensure I don’t forget small bites and hydrating myself.
This was a short attempt to share how important preparation is and how greater impact it can create on the overall training experience. I'd like to also extend my gratitude towards the students from all my virtual classes who've helped me to get better with every session. In my next blog part two, I will be sharing my lessons and experience of facilitating the session effectively.
I hope you enjoyed reading this blog, and I'd love to hear from you in the comments section.