Have you ever heard the expression, “It’s the little things that matter most”? This is true when it comes to our family, friends, and loved ones. And at the same time, it’s the little things in virtual sessions that matter most to the participants.
Take empathy, for example. We can define empathy as the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Simply stated, it is how we translate our feelings and inner thoughts to our participants. So, what can we do to foster empathy in our virtual sessions?
Here are 5 ideas that are a good starting point when taking care of the little things that matter most in our virtual sessions, online presentations, and webinars.
#1: Reduce Anxiety
Many participants are anxious when they come to virtual sessions. Perhaps they are not sure whether the benefits of the sessions are clear to them, or perhaps they are relatively new to attending virtual events. Their anxiety may also be performance-based. They want to perform well during the session but are not yet comfortable with what to expect and how to interact. Whatever they might be thinking or feeling, there’s an anticipatory anxiety about participating in live, virtual events.
So, what can we do to help reduce their anxiety? Here are some little things you can do.
||Make sure that you are in the session, ready to go, well ahead of the start time|
||Prior to the session start time, you can invite participants to share a short introduction of themselves|
||Remember to tell your participants how fun and exciting it is to learn at the same time|
Another little thing I practice is to remind participants that we’re all in a discovery and learning mindset. It’s natural to make mistakes; that we often learn through trial and error. Let them know it’s okay because all of it is part of the process of learning and growing. This helps make your participants feel assured that regardless of their experience, they can always join in the discovery process. We’re all in this together.
#2: Create Comfort
It’s difficult to learn when you’re feeling uncomfortable. This is especially true for your participants. So, what can you do to make your learners feel comfortable during the sessions? Here are some little things you can do.
||Make sure that your handouts are well organized and easy to follow|
||If you have an exercise, go out of your way to add additional, supplemental activities and examples|
||Make the exercises easy for them to complete – especially when there are no available mentors to guide them and they must do the work on their own|
Another little thing you can do in virtual sessions is allow the participants to do the exercises their way. Let them use their own examples. This is important because it adds another layer of personalization for the participants. Their context; their personalization; they own it. This in turn allows people to become more comfortable with the exercises they’re expected to complete.
#3: Build Confidence
You’ve heard of WII-FM, What’s In It For Me? Well, the corollary to that is MMFI-AM, Make Me Feel Important About Myself. This is about the participants and their need to feel that they matter in the session. It also has to do with them feeling confident that what they are learning will be value-add to their lives and careers.
So, how do we go about MMFI-AM and instill confidence? How do we reassure them that they will walk away from our sessions with new knowledge and skills? Here are some little things you can do.
||Since each participant has a different level of learning and experience, temper your responses by looking at the way each individual participates|
||Do this with exercises and activities or, by their responses or, by the experience that they’re sharing|
||In doing these things, you are demonstrating empathy and you can encourage them in the moment, recognizing that sometimes they are experiencing a “struggle effect” in learning|
In addition, you can also:
||Add lots of references on baseline information – this bolsters participant’s assurance that the content is sound|
||Provide additional help as needed, by following up with them by email or through an additional call|
Doing these little things helps to create confidence in the participants because they feel supported in performing exercises and ultimately, applying their new skills at work. ,
#4: Deliver with Ease
Have you ever attended a virtual session where you or others can’t find the chat, or how to use the annotation tools, or how to raise your hand digitally? As stated before, this can raise anxiety with participants and detract from the learning experience. So, how do we make the virtual session easy for the participants? Here are some little things you can do.
||Take a little time to orient participants to the flow of the session by familiarizing them with the technology such as chat, annotation tools, etc. Let them practice a little to become comfortable.|
||If using a website or SharePoint to support your presentation before and after the virtual session, make it easy for participants to find your resources|
||If they’re already in the process of learning a little bit a few minutes before the webinar, don’t detract them by learning a new set of navigation tools|
||Clear your icons with your instruction, clear your process so that it’s easy for participants to do so. This way, the challenge of getting lost or feeling any discomfort is reduced.|
#5: Make it Worthwhile
Many participants who come to the virtual sessions are required to attend by their organizations. Even knowing that their organization is well-intended, deep down they might be struggling with reconciling the organization’s needs and their needs.
“Is it worth my time? Will I learn something? Will it add value to me and my work?”
Every participant has their own unique learning goals. You can help them identify what their learning goals are. These goals, and not the stated learning objectives, are the most relevant and valuable to them. Here’s a little thing you can do.
||Have participants identify one or two simple goals that they can take on very quickly|
||This gives them personal ownership; a “stake in the ground”|
“Okay, so what’s your goal?”
For example, when I conduct virtual sessions, I ask participants:
However, to be able to do this, you have to start before the session. You can create a simple, short survey to ask them about their learning goals.
During the session, I add a follow-up question while at the same time, addressing the participant’s name:
“Nancy, have you achieved your implementation and policy?”
The goal is that every time you have an interaction with them in the chat or in video, always call the person’s name and say,
“So how are you doing with your goal regarding processing of that particular product?”
It really elevates the feeling that you are helping them achieve what they deem as worthwhile.
Do the little things to foster empathy in your virtual sessions. Remember that true empathy is expressed in what you do and how you do it. Empathy is not merely a statement. Empathy is doing something that people can experience.
Now, go make a difference for your participants!
Ray Jimenez, PhD
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”
Tip #168 – How Empathy Makes Your Learners Learn
Tip #225 – Make Your Learners Happy
Diresta (2016), Empowerment Comes From Learning Listening Techniques