The unexpected benefits of virtual training during lockdown

Funnily enough I never anticipated having to launch our first training course during a pandemic. All those weeks of careful planning, writing and organising had been done with a view to running our 8 week Bootcamp in a funky office in front of 16 brand managers. We’d planned brand immersions to experience the products first-hand, and drinks for people to get to know one another.

Cue March 23rd, lockdown and a large pivot.

When Chris and I realised we’d have to deliver the course virtually I have to confess I was both daunted and concerned. Could we deliver the same quality on-line with no experience of teaching virtually? And would people still want to come given the circumstances? But it turns out I needn’t have worried and I’m proud to say we delivered one of the Copy Club’s most successful courses ever (so much so we’re already running round 2). But the best outcome of all was actually unexpected – what totally blew us away was the enormous sense of community & belonging that was created amongst our cohort during a period of unprecedented worry, change and uncertainty. 

So given the profound and unanticipated effect it had on us all I thought it was worth reflecting on the experience to see what I could learn & share. These are my musings: 

AUTHENTICITY IS EVERYTHING

Chris & I are such ‘people’s people’ and are known for the relationships we build, the rapport we create and how we bring individuals together. Plus we rely on body language and eye contact to read a room and make sure our content is landing. How could we possibly have the same impact virtually? But we pushed ahead and made it work, and this is how: 

  • We allowed extra time to do introductions for ourselves and for the group, and asked for our cohort’s help in making the course work. Being open & honest from the start created a real sense of togetherness and by sharing our concerns our guys got behind us, and even helped us solve some of the issues that cropped up.
  • We asked for feedback after every session and acted on it for the following week. We shared the feedback with the group so they understood the impact it had and how critical is was to shaping the experience.
  • We never tried to be too ‘polished’ and were very open about our personal circumstances which helped our cohort get to know and trust us (and provided a few laughs along the way). 

FIND NEW WAYS OF CONNECTING

Going for drinks and mingling before and after the sessions is – traditionally – how people get to know one another. I thought that was going to be near on impossible to replicate, but I was wrong. This is what happened:

  • We built a WhatsApp group which was originally designed to be a practical tool but took on a life of it’s own. Soon everyone was sharing anecdotes, interesting info, key take outs and even lockdown photos! It built a great sense of community and helped people get to know each other on a personal level. And that community still thrives to this day.
  • Chris & I made ourselves accessible outside of the classroom for follow ups, chats or general  advice. I’ve given career advice to 2 people now and we often helped with live business questions off-line.
  • We were deluged with amazing samples! It was a real highlight waiting to see what the postman brought each week from the likes of Tony’s Chocoloney, Rude Health, Smith & Sinclair & Seedlip. Cue lots of Whatsapp chat and love. 
  • We had virtual drinks at the end of the course, and a chance to chat informally and reflect.

TAKE PEOPLE ON YOUR LEARNING JOURNEY

Did I mention that technology is not my strong point, I’d never used Zoom before and had no idea how we’d manage things like breakouts & plenary? Needless to say this was one of my biggest concerns but I quickly got over it and it’s proved that being out of your comfort zone is when you learn the most. And I think the group seeing and being part of this journey built empathy. 

  • We tried something new each week – for example size & length of break outs, having guest co-hosts and using vox-pops. People liked the variety and we learnt what worked
  • Using the various VC functionality ‘live’ was daunting but everyone is very patient and if it doesn’t work then have a laugh about it and move on.
  • Essentially it’s amazing how quickly you learn simply by just trying stuff! 

THE RESULTS

Having now ‘graduated’ our first cohort we were overwhelmed by the feedback. 

“The course was exactly what I was hoping for. And not only that it’s been a safe space to ask questions and to build a network of people I can have on speed dial in the future”

“What a fab 9 weeks! I will feel very lost without everyone on Wednesday evenings now”

So while Chris & I learnt heaps about running on-line training, and our cohort learnt lots about marketing, I think we’d all agreed that the true insight has been how the power of community really can get your through the most challenging of times.  And for that I am truly grateful.

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