With the Covid-19 pandemic affecting every part of our lives, training and facilitation has not been left out. Many businesses have closed their offices and asked that their employees work from home and this has gradually become our reality.
For professionals in Education, Learning and Development, online classes have become the order of the day. Virtual training and similar terms have become buzz words as people turn to video conferencing platforms to meet their training needs. E-learning platforms have also enjoyed huge patronage as the lockdown has presented opportunities for upskilling and personal development.
One platform where training has increased is WhatsApp (WhatsApp groups). People with common interests easily form groups on WhatsApp and get facilitators to train them on topics of their choice. Trainers on the other hand, form WhatsApp groups and charge as low as N2,000 or $5 to teach topics ranging from digital marketing to cooking, parenting and so on.
I’ve been in some of such WhatsApp classes and I believe it is a brilliant idea because the platform is data efficient, easily accessible, simple to use/navigate and secure. These are key features of WhatsApp that make it an amazing training tool even though it was not designed as one. The downsides however are as follows:
1. There is no live video interaction with the trainer eg. Watching the trainer speak or demonstrate and being able to respond or ask questions simultaneously.
2. Difficulty in controlling conversations. Most trainers either have to change the settings of the group to ‘admin only can post’ or give strict instructions for members to stop all chatting for the duration of the training.
3. Downloading media is not data or space efficient. To take care of this problem, the trainer usually tries to send minimal media files and use more of words/text instead which sometimes make the training boring.
4. Distraction is a constant challenge for participants because notifications from other apps keep popping up on their phones and sometimes they are tempted to check them if they are not engaged.
5. Focusing on reading text on a mobile phone for a long time is also a challenge for many people (especially people with poor eyesight). Not many people use WhatsApp on web if they are not typing a lot of messages or sharing files.
6. There is usually the temptation for participants to completely skip the training and read up the content at their convenience thereby further reducing engagement in the class.
7. Finally, in situations where the trainer charges a fee, the content being shared is not protected as participants can easily transfer it to other people for free. The trainer cannot delete the content from the group afterwards therefore, cannot ensure that it will not be distributed for free.
Despite these challenges, Some trainers have pulled off amazing WhatsApp classes with fantastic facilitation skills. I’ve participated in a few where I did not feel the time go by and certainly didn’t want the class to end just yet. Over time, I’ve incorporated some of these skills in my trainings and witnessed amazing results so, I am more than happy to share them with you.
Use WhatsApp on desktop
This may seem like common knowledge but I’ve seen trainers struggle to deliver training with their mobile phones. Using the WhatsApp desktop app or WhatsApp web works best for me. Typing on the keyboard is a lot easier. Besides you can easily and quickly do some research or share resources from other sites in the course of the training if you need to.
Before any training, always be clear on your objective and set the right expectations. Find out the demographics of your audience, what they want to learn and how/where they intend to apply the knowledge gained.
Draw up an agenda on what you intend to cover within the allotted time. Determine what is important (a need to have) and what can be taken off if you run out of time (a nice to have). When participants know what to expect from the training, they decide upfront if they want to still be a part of it or not. It also helps them prepare their questions beforehand, commit to being a part of the training to the end and engaging with you.
Ask a lot of questions
Just like face to face trainings and video conferencing, the use of questions always drives engagements. It gives trainees the opportunity to respond and contribute to the conversation at hand.
Typically, I try to have at least one question for every subtopic. Apart from the chance it gives the audience to share their experiences, it gives trainers the opportunity to know if the content meets the need of the audience and what other areas of interest to explore.
To manage responses in large WhatsApp groups, I usually assign a time (eg 3 minutes) for everyone to send in their responses after which I try to respond to as many different issues that have been raised. I prefer to keep a tab on the questions by ‘starring’ them.
Do not try to give out all the information you have at once. Prepare your content under a few subheadings in bullet points and be as concise as possible. Dedicate more time to responding to questions and related issues that have been raised by the trainees rather than pouring out your wealth of knowledge. Also, be careful not to deviate from the topic yourself. Focus is key.
Have your notes handy
Personally, I prepare my notes before time so that I can easily copy the points I want to share and paste them on the WhatsApp chat. This helps to prevents the waiting period where participants in the group see that you are typing a message and sit idle waiting for it to drop. In that seemingly short space of time, trainees could get distracted or decide to turn to other activities. Remember, getting and keeping the attention of your audience all through the training is one of your biggest wins.
Another thing you may want to avoid (despite how tempting it is) is forwarding your notes from another WhatsApp chat. The forwarded sign usually gives the impression that the content is either not yours or it is not tailored to your audience. Participants are usually happier knowing that you prepared the content specifically for them to meet their unique needs.
Prepare a blend of content types
This gives variety to the training and helps you meet the needs of different types of learners. However, each of the content type you use may be more suitable for a particular purpose than another one.
My recommendation and what has worked for me in the past are: Use text to deliver your points, voice notes to respond to questions (you can use text to let the audience know the particular question you are about to respond to). Use videos for demonstrations. Use images to illustrate practical examples and use infographics to share facts and statistics. However, feel free to use any combination that works for you depending on your topic and audience.
Use stories and illustrations
The use of clear and relatable examples is a great way to communicate your content to your audience. In my experience, having an example or story to illustrate the point I am trying to make, helps drive home the message faster.
These stories may either be planned well ahead or shared as they come to your mind in the course of the training. Whatever the case, be real, authentic and ensure you do not give out private details of people in your stories without their permission. Using your own experience is usually better if you want to give more details.
Like every other type of training and facilitation, having a good summary of your lesson is key to ensuring learning has taken place. Before you begin the class, prepare a summary of all the points you would have taught. As questions arise in the course of the training and you respond to them, feel free to add those additional points raised to your summary.
Another way to make this engaging is to ask the trainees to summarize what they have learned, then you fill in the gaps from your pre prepared summary. Either way, bear in mind that there will always be participants who did not begin the class with everyone else or who got distracted mid way. A good summary will help such participants see what they missed and encourage them to go back and read up the training notes/chat.
In summary, always bear in mind that you are speaking with real people who have real needs and are making a sacrifice to be on that platform at that time to listen to you. Do your best to be empathetic. Rather than being uptight and formal, be friendly and generous with your use of humour.
Whether or not it is a paid training, your participants probably already recognize your expertise so there is no need to brag about your qualifications and experience. Simply state them as you introduce yourself in order to build a rapport, establish confidence and credibility.
If you have a product to sell like an e-book, App or advanced training, try not to sound salesy. Focus on meeting the need of your audience and present your offering at the end of the session as a resource for further learning. Focus on doing an amazing job and you’ll be surprised at the number of people that will contact you privately requesting for either your resources, one on one classes or consultation.
So, if you are ready to host a more rewarding WhatsApp class, there’s nothing stopping you now!
Feel free to follow me on social media @tunelcomms for more training tips and resources and if you ever need to collaborate on any training project, contact me on email@example.com