How I Learned to Love Zoom

I ran my first real life, in-the-same-room, face-to-face training since lockdown recently and I’ve been reflecting on the differences between what I did for 25 years pre-Covid and what I’ve been doing since March 2020:

What are the benefits (if any) of Zoom (I’m definitely a Zoom man) and how does it compare with real life face to face training delivery?

Firstly, I’d like to say that the thought of running an NLP course online pre-Covid was never anywhere near the surface of my mind.

Indeed, a couple of years ago, I had decided not to work with a coach who wanted to use Zoom (I had to Google it) or charge me a premium for her to see me in person. As a seasoned coach and trainer of many years standing, I could not countenance plying my trade online.

Then lockdown happened, the world changed, and I changed with it.

Having lost a year’s worth of work overnight, I realised I had to do something to earn money – so I ran my first webinar.

I watched a few first and learned what I was not going to do in my webinars. It helped me decide that what I wanted to do was to replicate my in-person training style as closely as possible.

It worked really well, so I used this philosophy when creating the content for all the online courses in our online academy.

It took some thought and planning (and a steep technical learning curve) and I have now delivered 93 days of training and hundreds of hours of coaching since April 2020.

So, what do I think?

I love it.  Zoom training has a few downsides and a lot of benefits.

On a personal (and environmental) level, I don’t have to fly all over Europe or spend hours driving across the UK.

Neither do the delegates – they can stop work, join the course, and get back to work as soon as the course finishes.  Of course, this could mean that they join the course distracted and get back to work without the valuable reflection time which helps them embed the learning. It’s up to the trainer (me) to help them focus at the start of the course and build in reflection activities at the end, or following the session.

I have recorded the content delivery on some courses at delegates’ request for them to review and reflect on following the course.  It would have been harder to do this in a room together and would have required planning and equipment, rather than a spur of the moment decision.

I have heard people say that Zoom, Teams, Webex and the others make it harder to read and interact with people’s body language.  I disagree; in fact it means that I can focus closely on one delegate’s facial expressions to see how they are getting on with the content – something that would look really strange in a room full of people.

It is sometimes harder at the start of a course to get people to engage, especially if they are used to being silent on Zoom in their own meetings.  I have to make sure everyone inputs something at the start of the course, and I put them into breakout rooms within a few minutes of starting the course, asking them to give feedback to the group afterwards so they have talked in a group and in the larger group at the very start of the course.

I’m keen on setting the ground rules about no other activities while on the call – no emails, no googling, no phone calls and no other activity that will take them away from focusing on the screen.

Lengthy time in an online session is tiring so, rather than a long coffee break, we break for 10 minutes every hour which helps people focus when they’re back on the course.

Using screen sharing means I can use PowerPoint, a whiteboard or video easily – it just needs preparation and planning time to make sure everything is there where and when I need it.

The chat function makes it easy for people to ask for what they need without interrupting the group and makes it easier for the trainer to check in with individuals without having to wait for a break.

Using the technology can really add value to the session – delegates annotating PowerPoint slides or using Jamboard to collect thoughts with virtual post it notes can create a near to real life experience.

So, there are potential problems which can be overcome with a little creativity and knowledge.  The technology can, of course, let you down and if anyone has a solution to Mirroring 360 disconnecting my iPad and not reconnecting without the old ‘turn it off and on again’ ploy, I’d be really happy to hear from you.

Pictures freezing due to broadband problems is an obvious one, but I’ve noticed this has happened less and less over the last year.

For me, the biggest downside is that it’s a lot harder to chat with delegates before the course starts, or during the beaks.  Delegates have the same problem, and I think there is a lot of benefit to those conversations which help to build rapport and understanding of each other at the start of a course.

I’m starting to run a lot more blended programmes, with a mix of online, self-study content, face-to-face online embedding sessions and some real life, in-the-same-room sessions.

So, what do the delegates think?

I’ve had very positive feedback from the courses I have delivered over the last 18 months.  In one case, I had started the course physically face-to-face for three sessions pre-lockdown, then changed to an online content, face-to-face online embedding model. This group had experienced both styles of delivery and were very happy with the online content/embedding approach. One delegate said “I was very sceptical about this approach when we started it but I found it really helpful and I’d like every course to be run like this in the future.”  As a cohort, they performed better in the final assessment than any other group over the last 25 years.

Is it here to stay?

For me and my clients it definitely is.  There may be a fully blended approach with some clients, some clients will use the online content/embedding sessions model, some will (and have) access the corporate membership option of the online academy and just use the online content, and some will utilise the ‘in the same room’ approach.

I think the key is, as it always has been for us, to focus on the outcomes then design and deliver an approach which works and has the best, least, impact (on work, cost and the planet).  The difference now is the technology is there to give us more choice, and delegates are more used to meeting in a virtual space.

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