What we learned switching from in-person to a live-streamed workshop

In 2020 we pivoted our in-person training to a live online format taught on Zoom. It took a lot of work, testing, and trial and error to make the switch. Here’s what we’ve learned along the way and my hope is it helps others make the switch to virtual.

What we learned switching from in-person to a live-streamed workshop

2020 has not been easy for anyone in the live training business. At our 7-Figure Fundraising workshops, we provide high-end fundraising training for nonprofit leaders on how to ask for 5, 6, and 7-figure donations. In 2020, we pivoted our in-person training to a live online format taught on Zoom. It took a lot of work, testing, and trial and error to make the switch. Here’s what we’ve learned along the way and my hope is it helps others make the switch to virtual.

Mindset

Don’t think of this as your same training just done on Zoom. It’s completely different.

There’s a magic to in-person training. For the students, they get to meet other interesting people, block time off on their calendar and are in a different location free from many typical distractions.

Live online training is different. You can’t control the environment for your students. It’s hard to have them meet other people in the class, and it’s often impossible to be distraction-free working from home.

Accept that you can’t replicate an in-person experience, but you can create something different. You can create training that is entertaining, actionable, and useful. Also, because it’s online, you can lower your price, which allows people to attend who usually couldn’t afford it.

Here are some key ideas to consider.

  • Teaching on Zoom for two hours is so much more exhausting than teaching in-person for two hours- The exhaustion improves with time, but it is still more mentally tiring than in-person. There’s just something about teaching to a screen that drains energy, where in-person teaching tends to increase energy.
  • Use a second monitor - It’s hard to teach and train when you can’t see the responses of people. We set up a separate oversized monitor right below our camera to show the entire class in the gallery view during the whole course. It made it much easier to speed up or slow down the content based on the student’s reactions.
  • 7-minute rule - Student attention spans are much shorter. You need to have things change up every 7 minutes to keep people engaged. To keep it exciting, mix both education and entertaining content. Show a movie clip, have them do an exercise, have them think for a minute, and write how it applies to them.
  • Think more like live TV than a live classroom- People are comfortable with watching live TV, so make your training fit a pattern they are familiar with and understand. It might mean more work on you as the creator, but it keeps students engaged. For our workshop, we decided to use two cameras so we could change the camera shot of the instructor to add variety.
  • Make students work, but design a sense of accomplishment and completion throughout the training- We redesigned our entire workbook and handouts to make it more fill in the blank and added clear areas for them to write and engage with the material. Our goal was to put students on the edge of acceptable difficulty. Enough blanks to create a sense of accomplishment and capture the big point when they completed a section, but not so many that it got annoying.
  • Match slides to the workbook - The challenge with fill in the blanks in a workbook is what if you forget to cover one to the blanks when you present? The simple solution is to match every fill-in-the-blank form in the workbook to have the phrase on the slide. As long as you advance the slide, the student will get to fill in every blank. The presenter still has the freedom to teach and not continually need to make sure they are saying the exact fill-in-the-blank phrase since it’s already on the slides. (I wish I’d thought of this myself but saw it done really well at a Dave Ramsey Entreleadership workshop.)
  • Think about the one point you want them to remember one year from now-  Each day of the workshop, we tried to design one point that our students would remember one year from now. The one point helps clarify the content and makes sure you are conveying the big ideas of the topic. Sometimes with the material you’re covering, it’s impossible to make it only one point, but it’s a good goal to have one overarching theme for each day of content.
  • Even when virtual, have a physical component- If you want students to engage with a workbook, print it and send it ahead of time. We sent a book, a moleskin style notebook, and a workbook to every student. Many people don’t have great at home printing options, and you don’t want them trying to find paper or ink 20 minutes before your class starts. You can get your workbook printed in small print runs from a variety of online vendors. We use SmartPress to print our workbooks. Bonus tip: pay the extra 15% to have it printed on heavier paper and use the soft feel cover. The small extra costs add a lot to the student’s experience using the workbook.
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  • Make a custom box - we used PackLane to create a custom box to send to our students before the workshop. PackLane has a great online tool that makes designing your custom box easy, and it’s very affordable. After the workshop, one student told us how nice it was to have the box since she knew everything she needed for the workshop was there in one place.
  • Self-selection bias is very high right now - people who sign up for training right now, likely really need it to help their organization. Or they are very tenacious. Either way, you will get some of the best people you’ve ever trained.
  • It doesn’t have to be easy - People like to have a challenge so don’t dumb down your training to the lowest common denominator. If it’s hard, that is okay. Just make sure you are teaching it in the best way you know-how, but it’s okay to push your students outside their comfort zone and challenge their beliefs. Just make sure if the student makes a significant effort to give them a big payoff.

We hope this list is helpful as you are thinking through your own training.  The key to remember this is all a big experiment with no right or wrong ways to do it.  So have fun, try new things, and don’t be afraid to test some crazy ideas.  You never know what will work out and what amazing things you may create.