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What Can Online Trainers Learn from Virtual Events?

21 January 2021

6 Min Read


Events and educators face similar challenges when it comes to keeping audiences engaged. Moving online presented challenges for both industries, however as virtual events have developed, they’ve presented some interesting ways to keep an audience’s attention.

In this episode of The Learning Xchange, Matthew Brown reflects on how virtual events’ transformation can inspire online training. Schoox’s VP of Learning and Brand Success analyzes what’s made virtual events successful and shares what digital trainers can learn from them.

Listen to this episode of The Learning Xchange.

Or keep reading to discover how virtual events can influence online learning.

The two types of virtual events

As in-person events moved online, two types of virtual event experience emerged: traditional and optimized.

The traditional model moves an in-person event online with very little changes. The “sprint” model optimizes events for an online environment.

The traditional model aims to keep virtual events as similar to an in-person event as possible. They often stay the same length, e.g., half-day, one-day, or multi-day, and use the same structured activities such as a keynote, an opening or general session, and smaller, more personalized, group sessions.

The “sprint” model keeps the traditional format but condenses the event into a much shorter time-frame–typically around 90 minutes.

Why traditional-model virtual events are less effective

Large in-person events such as all-company conferences or industry conferences frequently use the traditional model, recreating the in-pushing structure in an online space.

The main challenge with delivering an online event this way is the duration. If attendees have a busy work schedule and are signed up to attend an eight-hour event, they might struggle to focus for that length of time.

In a physical setting, it’s much easier for the event to capture your attention. The energy, atmosphere, and behavior of fellow attendees can help you focus and engage.

This is very hard to recreate in a digital space as event hosts and digital trainers don’t have access to attendees’ physical environments. It’s difficult to put up guardrails or create a support structure that helps participants avoid distraction.

Trainers have more control over how learners approach training when they’re in a productive physical space, such as an office. Even when training is conducted remotely, learners have greater focus in a work environment. This is due to a mindset shift. Learners are conditioned to concentrate in a work environment and are often physically distant from other responsibilities or distractions.

When learners work from home, it’s much more difficult to secure that same level of focus. There might be distractions that trainers aren’t aware of, technology challenges, or other factors, such as screen-fatigue impacting the learner’s ability to engage. This distraction can affect productivity as learners may not gain value from the event and fail to reach their learning goals.

To keep learners engaged, trainers must find ways to overcome online-meeting-burnout syndrome and keep virtual training interesting.

The benefits of optimized virtual events

Optimized virtual events or the “sprint” model is ultimately a far more engaging and impactful experience. These events are inspiring how many industries choose to communicate online, including education and digital training.

The format for a sprint event is largely similar to traditional models, with one crucial change–the duration. Sprint models are condensed, turning half-day or day-long in-person events into one to two-hours of digital communication.

Even though these events are much shorter, they use the same structure. They bring everyone together to establish a common message and then break out into small groups for a more personalized experience. The major difference is the pace. The condensed schedule, rapid delivery, and interactive elements make the event more engaging and ultimately more beneficial for participants.

How optimized virtual events improve engagement

The pace of a virtual event is often dictated by how long activities last and movement between topics. By breaking down a 90-minute event into smaller chunks, changing speakers and levels of formality, events can hold attendees’ attention for longer.

A typical sprint event structure might look like this:

  1. General session – single presenter
  2. Roundtable or panel discussion – multiple presenters
  3. Breakouts – group discussion

Optimized virtual events move quickly through each segment. As people are focused on working towards goals quickly, this often means that there can be additional time to discuss more topics or that’s set aside to revisit one of the more traditional aspects of events, relationship building.

Forming new relationships is a beneficial part of events but is often missed in the virtual space. However, some optimized virtual events are making space in breakout rooms or small group sessions to ensure that this element isn’t missed. A sense of community is also linked closely to improved engagement and successful learning. Online trainers should consider how they can incorporate relationship building and community into their sessions.

How virtual events leverage digital tools

There’s a large crossover of digital technologies and tools that virtual events use that can also be used in online training. Virtual events use unique and innovative ways to deliver messaging by leveraging tools from PowerPoints to platform-specific features.

Giving people the opportunity to show they’re interacting can enhance engagement and inspire others to interact. Meanwhile, making playful use of virtual backgrounds or filters can bring entertainment to communication, making the experience more enjoyable.

Using virtual tools with purpose is a great way to bridge the gap between virtual and in-person events. Some tools reminiscent of past training or that are familiar from live events help establish that community atmosphere and reinforce learning and deliver messages for participants.

Think about the virtual events you’ve attended over the last 12 months. Consider how large external events or even small internal company meetings keep your attention. What did you find engaging? How has it been optimized for the virtual space? Could your answers inspire your approach to virtual training?

Thank you for reading this podcast episode summary. For more from The Learning Exchange, find all of the episodes so far on your favorite podcast app or website. Please subscribe to show us your support!

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