7 tips for running a successful large group training session
Updated: Nov 15, 2021
I recently had the opportunity to facilitate a training session as part of a conference for a professional organization with ~150 infection prevention specialists in attendance. The topic was Excel tips and tricks to help you work more efficiently. This training session was challenging for several reasons:
It was virtual. Engaging a group in a virtual setting, in particular a large group, is difficult. There's the lack of visual clues on how well your points are resonating, the ability for people to disconnect and multi-task while you're presenting, and myriad other potential shortcomings associated with virtual learning.
The skill level of the participants varied from complete beginners up through more advanced users.
The session was 90+ minutes long. Microsoft Excel is exciting to me, but the average person glazes over within 90 seconds let alone stay engaged for over 90 minutes.
Creating customized training content the participants would find relevant, interesting, and engaging was a feat given my background is NOT in infection prevention.
The other presenters were experts in their field of infection prevention. My topic was dramatically different in scope.
The session was being hosted through two platforms with which I had little to no experience. The conference was hosted through Whova and the virtual sessions were hosted through GoToMeeting.
I'll save the suspense for another post; the session was extremely successful. The feedback from the participants and event organizers was overwhelmingly positive. Given the challenges listed above, the session could have easily gone another direction. Below you'll find the ways I overcame these challenges to give you ideas on how to be better prepared when facilitating your next training session.
Know your audience
The participants were experts in infection prevention, not Microsoft Excel. Many session participants were nurses that moved into positions dealing with large amounts of data with limited background/training in Excel. While many participants were Excel beginners, there were also more advanced users in the crowd. In order to make the session useful for all skill levels, basic items were covered in detail, but more advanced topics, shortcut keys, and intermediate topics were touched on.
The example below is more advanced and required participants to use an If formula with a nested and statement. They also used conditional formatting to automatically color cells if certain conditions were met.
Some of the more advanced users commented on the value they gained during the session from learning about shortcut keys (think the F4 key to toggle $ signs in a formula before column and row entries) to why utilizing Excel Tables is such a time saver (hint: graphs that reference actual Excel Tables will auto-update as lines are added to the table).
Work out the technical details in advance
I elected to record my session in advance and play the recording during the live session. This was effective for several reasons.
It's easy to make mistakes with formulas, macros, and other Excel functions. Compound this with doing this work live and you have a high probability of making errors. These mistakes may be easy to correct, but when teaching a new concept it can be detrimental to the learning process if errors are made by the instructor during the teaching process. Think back to grade school and a teacher making a mistake while teaching a math problem.
Recording the session in advance allowed for a polished product to be available for the participants to go back to and reference later.
I was able to cut out non-value added transitions from one example to the next. This made things run more smoothly.
Also, using two platforms (Whova and GoToMeeting) I was unfamiliar with presented its own challenge. I met with the conference organizer in advance and we tested each aspect of the presentation including what the participants would see on the conference platform, the technical details of how I would stream the pre-recorded video, what to do to ensure the participants could hear the audio from the recording and not hear me at the same time, and other small details. Without this pre-work, I would have been more focused on making sure the technical details worked during the live session rather than focusing on the session participants and ensuring they got the most value out of the session as possible.
Footage of me if the pre-work was NOT completed:
Make the content as relevant and relatable as possible
I, for one, tune out during training sessions when the content presented has nothing to do with my daily work. I suspect I'm not alone. Because of this, I customized the content of the session to closely align with topics related to infection prevention. This required additional work on the front end, but I received feedback from participants this was a key part of the success of the presentation. Here are some examples:
The topic of this part of the presentation was creating combo charts. Rather than use sales $ from a grocery store or the number of students that went to college each year, I found actual data related to the number of cases of Lyme disease in South Carolina from 2000 - 2019.
The topic of this part of the presentation was formulas and relative references. I created a fictitious example regarding SAAS usage at various hospitals. Again, this is much more interesting for an infection prevention specialist than an example about the cost of laptops for schools in a particular school district. The learning points are all the same, but a relatable example is much more likely to resonate with the participants and keep them engaged in the session.
Engage, engage, engage
An extremely effective learning method is Learning by doing. In this method, you practice what you're learning to help reinforce the points and exercise the skills throughout the learning process. This session was setup with the Learning by doing method at its core. This was done by providing session participants with an Excel file to follow along with during the presentation. The Excel workbook had two different worksheets for each example covered; a template worksheet and a completed worksheet.
The image below is of the Infections by County_Template worksheet. The goal of the exercise, raw data, and placeholders for where the work should be completed is laid out.
The image below is of the Infections by County_Completed worksheet. The final output of the exercise is provided for participants to check their work, reference the completed exercises in case they got different outputs, and be able to come back to after the session if they have additional questions.
Providing this learning format for the participants encouraged constant engagement as they were actively learning. This method limits the amount of multi-tasking that can be done because you need to be fully engaged in completing the exercises while following along with the presentation itself.
Allow key people to preview the content
While developing the content for the training session, I asked for feedback from trusted sources on the content developed as well as the approach taken. Doing this early in the process allowed me to make changes, as necessary, before the entire session was completed. In addition, I sent the conference organizer the final session output (recording and companion Excel file) in advance for him to preview. This allowed me to get feedback on the content and provided him with greater security the session would be useful for the session participants.
If you ask for feedback, be ready for the following reaction:
Under promise and overdeliver
The quote I provided for the session detailed the following deliverables:
What was not listed is the following:
Examples directly related to participants daily work
Excel companion file for participants to work through alongside the presentation
Session recording that participants can come back to for future reference
The final recording was 1 hour and 48 minutes
I was available during the live session in the chat to answer any questions that came up
These bullet points were not required or expected. But they made the presentation much more impactful and were appreciated by the event organizers and participants alike.
Be well prepared in advance
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
― Benjamin Franklin
The front end work for the conference took a considerable amount of time in comparison to the event itself. From researching and developing content that would resonate with the participants, to the countless video outtakes, to learning and practicing on the platforms used for the session, many hours were invested upfront to ensure the session would be successful. However, all of that work made the conference itself run smoothly with little stress and allowed me to focus on the participants themselves rather than all the other possible distractions.
I hope this information helps you as you prepare your next training session or event. If you need help improving your existing training content, developing new content, or want a turn key solution facilitated by The Quality Awakening, reach out to us by filling out the contact form on our training page to see how we can help you increase the value of your training initiatives.