Virtual training … you probably think it’s like attending an audio conference where everyone sits on mute while they ‘multi-task’ (watch YouTube, talk with colleagues, shop online, etc.), right? You couldn’t be more wrong! Virtual training is a lifeline to those who are unable to travel to a set location, but really need to attend a specific Salesforce course. You get a real live instructor delivering the same curriculum as in-classroom training, with the convenience of attending from your own workplace or even from home.

But surely it can’t be as good as in-person training? Well, the short answer is that it totally depends on you: your learning needs and preferences, how you approach the class, and how involved you are during the course.

At Salesforce U, our goal is to ensure you get the most out of your training, no matter how you join the class. So, I’ve scoured the community and combined my “before and during” top tips with those of our extended instructor ecosystem, to bring you the one-stop guide for all you need to know, and what to expect, when attending virtual training. You’ll also get the inside scoop as our instructors share their best practices and how they approach the remote side of their courses.

Prepare before the first day of training:

  • Make sure you have your course books ahead of time and have a quick look through them to familiarize yourself with the topics. Depending on the course, you’ll either get links to your Salesforce Student and Exercise guides in eBook format (soft copy) or hard copies will be mailed to you. Also, if you are using eBooks, you may find it helpful to print out the Exercise Guide.
  • Plan to have a second screen available during class so that you can watch the instructor as you work through the exercises. This is key and will really help enhance your learning. You can use two monitors, a monitor attached to a laptop, or two separate computers. If you have no other options, connect with your smart phone as a second monitor (there are Apps you can use to view the class or eBooks from your phone).
  • We also recommend using a headset to improve sound quality and reduce background noise when you are speaking.
  • Think about the location you will connect from to do your training. Choose an environment that is quiet and has minimal distractions.
  • Book yourself as ‘unavailable’ in your calendar and turn on your OOO. This time is for you to learn; don’t let rogue meetings slip in under the radar.

6 top tips for during the training itself:

1) Be Timely! The early bird catches the worm.

Get your snacks and drinks ready by your desk and log in early (we suggest 10-15 minutes). This gives you the chance to identify any technical hitches or problems with your setup before the class starts, and gives you the chance to engage with the instructor before everyone else arrives. Meeting the instructor early will help you build a rapport and make you feel more comfortable about participating throughout the rest of the course.

2) Close your email and other distractions.

I know how you think. “I’ll just keep an eye on my email in case anything important pops up.” Don’t. It’s just a distraction and will stop you from getting the most out of the course. You wouldn’t have your email open while you were in the actual classroom, so don’t do it virtually either. I know it may be tough, but also turn off your phone (or at least set it to silent).

3) Use a webcam.

If you are attending training via iMVP (Individual Multimedia Video Presence), keep your webcam on as much as possible. Not using iMVP? Turn on your webcam anyhow, so the instructor can put a face to your voice and chat messages.

  • “I recently attended a conference call where somebody was asked to give a 5-minute update on a project. He had his webcam on even though nobody else did. Did that seem out of place? No, it actually came across as quite natural, and it reminded me how much video really helps the communication process.” —Burt Demchick (Me!), Senior Technical Instructor
  • “I ask virtual students to turn their cameras on, and ask them questions, by name. I also make answering questions into a competition. People raise their hands (in both locations!) and I keep a tally on the board of how many times each group (virtual vs. on location) answers a question.” —Andres Perez, Master Technical Instructor
  • “I find that others on the call will also use the webcam if I do. I think it helps the virtual participants get to know who I am. At the very least, they can put a face to the human behind the phone!” —Wendy Braid, Master Instructor

4) Participate!

Student involvement is vital to getting the most out of any class. This is especially true in the virtual environment. It improves the experience for everybody when students have an active voice. Depending on the instructor and setup, you may find chat or the “raise hand” icon helpful. Go with whatever form of communication you feel most comfortable with.

  • “I encourage remote attendees to use Chat freely for asking questions. And advise that if I don’t see the questions, other students should jump on Chat to answer if they can. The more we can set the expectation of collaboration for the week, the more interactive engagement the whole class will get.” —Don Robins, Senior Instructor & Salesforce MVP
  • “I think the best tool for me to help virtual students is Chat. It enables me to establish individual relationships with them all, ask if they are OK away from the main group, and gives the less sure ones a quiet question forum. I sometimes tell a few jokes over Chat when I see people are getting a bit frustrated! If they laugh, I know they have read it and are remaining engaged.” —Deborah Handforth, Instructor and Consultant
  • “Just recently, I’ve started experimenting with turning on annotation tools for students. Instead of asking for answers, where they answer verbally or via Chat, I have them use their pointer to point to answers… or type collectively on a whiteboard. I feel like this has made classes so much more interactive, and I’m trying to think of ways to incorporate it even more!” —Brian Richardson, Senior Application Instructor
  • “I like to create polls for all of my morning review questions. That way everyone gets to vote (virtual and in classroom), and we can review the answer together at the end.” —Andy Anderson, Master Instructor

5) Virtually “put your hand up” for ANY issues.

Tell the instructor, as soon as possible, if a concept is unclear or if something is not working from a technical perspective. You’re not going to get the most out of the class if you can’t see or hear something important or if an idea is still just beyond your grasp.

  • “The issue I had the other day was that one remote individual waited until they were very frustrated before asking a clarifying question. So now I go beyond the questions in the slides to get the virtual people talking more, to make them truly feel they are part of the class and can participate freely.” —Stuart Werner, Senior Technical Instructor
  • “I make sure I show any demo slowly, as there is often a time lag for remote students. I also keep a second laptop in front of me to ensure I’m seeing what they are seeing and encourage virtual attendees to speak up if something is not clear.” —Amit Malik, Delivery Manager, APAC
  • “I remind virtual attendees that there are two different mute places, one on the headset, and another on the software. I don’t want the technology to get in the way of the interaction and participation. I also leave long pauses after asking a question, giving the remote people a chance to jump in with an answer.” —Peter Gruhl, Senior Technical Instructor
  • “I have my virtual students give a clear sign (like a smiley icon) when they are done with an exercise. I then ask the ones who have not “smiled” yet how I can help them finish the exercise.” —Katrin Kusek, Senior Instructor

6) Maintain your focus.

Don’t worry, you won’t be expected to log into the class and then sit still for the next 8 hours. There will be scheduled coffee, lunch, and rest breaks. So during the lesson time, be sure to stay engaged. Make notes, ask questions…don’t let your mind wander off until you find yourself opening a new window to just quickly check your Facebook or Twitter accounts…

  • “During review time, I’ll ask a virtual student to demo an answer. So if I ask, “How do you go about doing X?” I then turn control over to the student and have them show me how to do it. I find that this makes it a more interactive session and holds people’s attention.” —Randy King, Senior Analytics Instructor
  • “For me, whiteboards are very important in every mode of teaching and “Shared Whiteboards” can be an engaging tool in the virtual classroom. I call on remote participants to write their ideas or conclusions on it. This makes the session more visually engaging and helps maintain participants’ focus.” —Bhumika Sharma, Senior Instructor
  • “One thing I do that instantly brings energy to my Live and Virtual classes is whip out my Trivia Pursuit Cards! A “Trivia Break” when everyone is lagging gets all involved and re-focused. I also always incorporate questions based on the recent material we have covered.” —Larisa Brisson, Trainer and Consultant
  • “In the virtual environment, I encourage my students to talk, speak up, interrupt me, say “I’m raising my hand” as well as using the icon. I also send them prizes! Virtual Prizes…a virtual cup of coffee and donut on Monday morning, a virtual gold star for a good question or answer, a virtual martini on Friday to start off the weekend! A bit silly, yes, but it keeps everyone engaged. And after a few days they start “sending” me things back, “Oh, Shelly just coughed, I’m sending her a virtual cough drop.” Love it!” —Shelly Harris, Instructor