Leaving the “real” world for the virtual world is scary and when I began exploring training in a virtual environment, I was concerned that I would lose the ability to connect with my colleagues. I feared that if I couldn’t see the people who were in the training room with me, I wouldn’t know if they were paying attention. I also knew I’d miss the chitchat of catching up after not seeing people for months at a time. Now I have adapted to the virtual world of training and I’ve found ways to create dynamic and interactive virtual meetings and trainings.
How do you get people to bond with each other in a virtual classroom, especially if they have never actually met?
There are so many ways, but here are some of my favorites. I have to admit, I love “borrowing” from my colleagues and have been fortunate enough to have many people share their expertise with me.
Building on the idea that sharing pictures is a good way to connect, I asked my team to send me photos of themselves. I made sure to let them know that if they didn’t send me a photo of their choice, I’d track one down. I put the photos together on a slide and when we had our first team meeting, I asked how many people recognized their peers. A few people knew some of their fellow team members, but several people had never met anyone from the team before. We had fun looking at photos of each other and spent a good portion of our initial meeting sharing introductions. That team continues to thrive and while we have never had an in-person meeting, we have accomplished much in the virtual environment.
Photos are a great way to help people feel connected.
When hosting a webinar, I encourage my presenters to include a photo. I’ll often use my recent (or older) travel photos in slides for a web meeting or training. It adds that extra dimension of getting to know you. Likewise, when I bring a group together, I invite them to “play” with the whiteboard and add photos/images/etc., or draw. This free-flowing exchange helps the participants get comfortable with the technology while also allowing personalities to shine through. You’ll find the cat people, dog people, and proud parents and grand-parents. We could spend a full hour with this activity but to keep things moving along I stop the playtime after 3 minutes or so.
Icebreakers are not limited to in-person meetings and trainings; many translate well in the virtual plane. A great icebreaker (thanks Nancy White, Full Circle Associates) is to set up a circle of chairs and invite people to select a chair upon arrival. Then, when the meeting starts, I go around the room and ask people why they choose that particular chair. Selecting the comfy chair says something a bit different than selecting the Jetson’s space age chair, and it is always interesting to hear why someone might choose the rickety chair. I’ve adapted this and sometimes use houses instead of chairs. Some participants will go a step further and decorate their chair or house. And you also find out who is willing to share their chair or house.
Another fun and quick ice-breaker is to put a map up of the state (or USA or world, etc.) and have everyone mark where they are logging in from. This helps give a visual of the group’s geographical distribution. It also reinforces how fabulous it is that we can get together for an hour or two and not have to travel for hours or more to get there.
Beyond ice-breakers, I try to find creative ways to get people to brainstorm or share ideas/participate in discussions. Once again, borrowing from the creativity of others helps to get me started. Having a slide with 2 columns marked “Pluses” and “Minuses” or whatever words fit the theme is an easy way to get people talking about both sides of the issue/opportunity.
Not sure if people are tracking? Take a quick pulse.
You can ask everyone to check if they think the meeting/training is going well so far and X if it is not working as well as they wish. You can also ask everyone to type in three words to summarize what they’ve learned so far. Asking yes/no questions (and getting a visual response) or conducting brief ABCD surveys can help break up a meeting/training and let you know who is paying attention. Polls and quizzes are easy in most virtual classrooms and lots of fun for participants.
Well, I could go on and on about how much I love making webinars and web meetings fun and interactive, but it is time to get back to creating the next one.
Written by Jennifer Fenton, who is the Training Coordinator at the Washington State Library. Fenton has recently been elected Vice-President/President-Elect of the American Library Association's Learning Round Table.