4 Ways to Use “Sonar Alerts” in Every Virtual Session – Workshop Tip #246

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“What questions do you have?” Silence. Crickets. Now what?

Have you ever experienced this before? Has it happened to you? Do you sometimes think to yourself, “Is there something wrong?”

In a traditional classroom setting, facilitators are physically present in the room to see their participants eye-to-eye. This is not the case with virtual sessions. It is one of the significant challenges we, as facilitators, face. We must find a way to bridge the visual gap in virtual settings.

To do this we must rely on our own skills, awareness, and creativity. We must find solutions to “see” what’s going on with our participants and discover how well they are learning and progressing. Our challenge is to constantly develop our skills as virtual facilitators.

Let’s go back to those annoying crickets. How do we fill that awkward silence as the virtual session continues to roll on?

Ping it!

Perhaps you’re familiar with the concept of sonar (sound navigation ranging) that is used in submarines. In submarines, everyone is underwater, and they have no way of seeing physical objects. They rely on sonar systems. The sonar system pings objects. It sends a sound message out from the submarine. When the sound reaches a certain object, it bounces back. This creates a way of “seeing” using sound waves. These are “Sonar Alerts.”

So, is it possible to apply a version of sonar in virtual sessions? Let’s find out.

The sonar system, in relation to virtual sessions, centers on the facilitator as the one who communicates and detects actions and movements from the participants, even without physically seeing them. This helps the facilitator navigate the waters of the session.

Here are 4 ways you can use “Sonar Alerts” to help you break the awkward silence and establish better communication with your participants. 

Sonar Alert #1: “Are You Connecting the Dots?”

This is our first way of seeing/hearing during the session. Ask participants questions to confirm that they are engaged in the learning process. As a matter of practice, I typically ask whether they are starting to connect the dots with the content. Asking this question allows the participants to assess themselves how well they are understanding and following the virtual discussion. 

Sonar Alert #2: “Rate Yourself on a Scale of 1 to 10”

Here is another idea for seeing/hearing and keeping learners active and engaged in the session.

Create a survey with a number rating scale, such as 1 to 10. You can do this using the polling feature or in chat. Ask the participants where they are in terms of applying some of the content or deciphering the clarity of the lessons.

Another way to use a rating scale is by solving a problem or getting a sense of their knowledge at a specific point in time. For example, ask them how familiar they are with an upcoming topic. Ask them to rate themselves with 1 being “not at all” and 10 being the “completely familiar.”

Sonar Alert #3: “In Your Own Words…”

Ask your participants to synthesize and summarize the discussion using their own words. This lets you know their level of involvement in the topic. When you accept and acknowledge your participants’ own interpretation of the content, it helps them feel comfortable and allows them to connect with you on a deeper level.

For example, let’s say you’re showing a chart or graphic to illustrate an idea. Ask the participants to use their own words to interpret it so they can adapt it to themselves and at the same time, relate it to their personal experiences.

Sonar Alert #4: “What Are Some Stumbling Blocks?”

Another idea to keep participants engaged is to let them reflect on the current discussion. Ask them to identify situations that would hinder or slow down the application of concepts being discussed.

You can also flip this by asking them to identify opportunities within their work that would accelerate the application of the concepts.

When you allow participants to place the concepts within the context of their work, you’re gauging how well they are generating personal understanding. This helps you easily identify the potential stumbling blocks or opportunities to readjust or pivot in your facilitation.

In Summary

Conducting virtual sessions has its unique challenges compared with traditional classroom training. You need to navigate the silence. Using “Sonar Alerts” is a way of sending out pings that allow you to see/hear what participants are thinking and how well they are synthesizing the concepts presented.

So, start pinging and sending out “Sonar Alerts” in all your sessions. You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll see/hear and learn from your participants!


Tip #139 – Dealing With the Most Challenging Webinar Problems

Tip #214 – Why Keeping Your Language Casual Works in Webinars

Tip #241 – Are We Training Too Fast That We Don’t Allow Learners to Reflect?

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”

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