How it feels to deliver a course in person for the first time that you have only ever delivered virtually

Ooh security, now this is going to be fun…said no-one ever

Last week, I flew out to Germany to deliver some training for a client.

That on itself is nothing special but the thing about this training is that, because of the pandemic, I had only ever delivered it virtually.

In fact, since Covid began I had ran it about 20 times to participants from all over the globe. It is a bespoke 2-day course for future leaders that I had co-developed with the client covering topics such as strategic problem-solving, personal impact, communication & influencing skills, team leadership, and much more.

Having started off a bit wobbly on my first iteration of the course, it had grown to be one of my favourite courses to instruct (and, based on feedback, a real hit with participants too); as such I was really looking to deliver it in-person for the first time ever.

How Day 1 started?

Even the incredibly early morning to catch the first flight out (and the predictable airport delays) could not deter my enthusiasm as I rushed from my apartment onto a bus, then to the tube, followed by a train, then a plane, before a taxi and finally into the client office.

Although my flight was on time, because of all the travel, it wasn’t feasible to make the start of the training course; the first couple of hours being a welcome from the participants’ boss and a series of intros and ice breakers.

Normally, although I am not leading this section, I still join so that I can get a sense of the vibe of the room (plus there are usually some funny reveals). But because of the delay, I missed this so was already on the back foot in terms of building up a rapport with the participants and learning a little more about them.

Throw in the fact that I was tired from a 4am start to my day and I had already noticed 2 key differences from delivering the session virtually.

Not to worry, I thought, I’ll catch up once I get started on my sections. Straight in we go into the first module…or so I thought…

Let’s get going with delivery

Difference number 3 happened immediately… and that was IT problems.

Yes, you may get those online but when I first turned up my laptop refused to connect to the screen and it took me back to my school teacher days when I would fumble with the DVD player trying to show the students something and it just didn’t work — you potentially lose the crowd at that point.

As good as my padding-for-time skills are, as I worked to fix the problem, this clearly wasn’t ideal and already I was scoring it in my head as 3–0 to virtual training over in-person training.

Once we had got the problem resolved, then I was ready to actually start teaching.

Training is a lot to do with engagement

Now, my style of facilitating is very interactive and engaging. I believe that on a course like this if I am talking for more than 5–10 minutes at a time then I’m doing a bad job. It is far better to get the participants doing or talking so as to increase their learning.

In the virtual world I have perfected doing this using online whiteboard/sharing tools like Menti. It’s a great way to get everyone to share their views and then talk about them.

Back in the real world, it seemed a little weird to get everyone to type on their screens whilst we’re sat together so I decided to go old school and flip-chart it.

I forgot about the limitations of a flip chart session compared to an online tool:

So it was 4–0 to the virtual version of the course

Let’s talk timings

As the day progressed one thing became abundantly clear, delivery in person took considerably longer than virtually. Not only was the flip-charting slowing us down but every time we ran a break-out session, I needed to factor in at least an additional 5 minutes as participants physically had to move rooms.

In the virtual world, a breakout room can be started instantly and they have a timer on them so participants come back when you dictate. In the real world it doesn’t work that way.

The same goes for coffee breaks and lunch; everything just took a little bit longer to round people up which meant we either had to rush delivery or extend the day.

5–0 virtual training. Damn! This was becoming very one-sided.

Time to even up the score

One area that the in-person world has hands down on the virtual world is the ability for me to ‘read the room’; be that by the body language, by the number of participants playing on their phones or just general mood.

This makes adapting my delivery to be much more effective than in a virtual setting. That’s another key component to be a good facilitator; if what you’re trying is not getting through then you need to switch it up.

Being in the room made this infinitely easier. That makes the score 5–1

The other key element is rapport building. Over the course of the 2 days I got to know everyone so much better. Not just the participants but also a lot of the client’s Learning and Development team who I had regular calls with but still hadn’t ever met in person.

This was demonstrated by how much trust the participants built in me over the two days and was also reinforced by the L&D team expanding the work it commissions from Shiageto at the end of the course.

Make that 5–2

Throw in the fact that I had 2 days in a new European city , stayed in a nice hotel and got treated to a fancy dinner and drinks and I would say that probably rounds it to an even 5–5

Feels like this was made for a tie-breaker

It wasn’t ideal that, because of flight times, I had to leave the course a little early and then, to rub salt into the wound, my flight back was delayed so I spent 2 hours sitting around the airport (“these things happen”, I told myself).

Still this didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for in-person training. I’d had a great 2 days and although I would get home late, it was definitely worth it.

However, there was indeed a factor that I needed to include, one that actually swings the pendulum back to online training potentially being better for me and my business.

What is it?

The clue is in the ‘my business’ part: whilst Faris* thoroughly enjoyed his two days in a foreign city delivering a course to 10 amazing new connections; those two days came at a cost to Shiageto.

Due to how absorbing in-person delivery is, it meant that fundamentally I didn’t have the bandwidth nor the opportunity to work on other things for Shiageto (sure I squeezed in an hour of emails after the dinner and drinks but this isn’t optimal).

That meant 2 days of downing tools on other clients, 2 days of no business development and the increased admin associated with my travels. This is quite a substantial cost for a small business.

Conclusion

This final factor is considerable and has the potential to massively hinder Shiageto but I don’t see it as conclusively leading to saying “online training is better than in-person training”.

Instead, my takeaway is that, on the one hand, in-person training has amazing benefits and I should try and do as much of it as I can of it for relationship building and my own personal enjoyment.

At the same time virtual training has much greater benefits for my business in terms of speed and smoothness of delivery, alongside greater freedom to work on other things in the same time.

Therefore, the answer is to factor that in to my planning, cost that in to in-person delivery and to bring in as much of the online tools and benefits into the in-person world as possible.

Not a bad few days work all in all. As luck would have it, I have an autumn full of in-person delivery so these 2 days have been very useful test cases indeed.

*apologies for talking about myself in the 3rd person

Faris is the CEO and Founder of Shiageto Consulting, an innovative consultancy that helps firms and individuals sharpen their effectiveness.

Success = IQ x EQ x FQ

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Faris Aranki

Strategist, Facilitator, Emotional Intelligence(ist) with a passion for sorting out the people issues that stop great ideas from being successfully delivered