Over the last several years, I’ve been steadily amping up my teaching skills:
- 2010 – teaching day-long pre-cons alone
- 2013 – teaching 2-day in-person classes with others
- 2014 – teaching week-long classes with others
- 2016 – teaching week-long classes by myself
- Now – teaching 4-day classes online
Here’s some of the things I’ve learned so far.
Writing and Rehearsing the Material
Test the material in person first. Teaching online is way harder than in-person because online, you can’t tell what material is working, what attendees aren’t understanding, or when you need to change tacks. Online, it feels like all your jokes are bombing and your training isn’t getting through. Get comfy with the material in-person first.
Don’t worry too much about timing for breaks. Don’t try to get a module to be exactly one hour long – on the day of the class, as you’re teaching it, just set 60-minute alarms with your phone. When it goes off, finish up the slide or demo you’re on, and then declare a 15-minute bio break whether you need one or not. (Some of the attendees do.)
Write too much material. What takes 6 hours to deliver in person may take only 4-5 hours online because people ask less questions online. You want to come armed with 8-9 hours of material per day. You may not actually need to give all of it, but you’re better off having too much than too little. (This also influences how you write the abstracts for the course.)
Selling Live Training Tickets
The purchaser and the attendee are often different. We use WooCommerce for training sales. As they buy tickets, we use Zapier to automatically send their registration details to GoToWebinar. This works great, but very often in big company environments, there’s someone with a company card who’s doing the purchasing for someone else. As a workaround, our purchase pages have edit boxes for the student’s name & email.
Send emails leading up to the event. The buyers and students are going to forget about their classes and misplace their registration emails.
Encourage attendees to test their computer setups. You want them to make sure they’re going to be able to see screens and hear audio. We do that by encouraging folks to attend our weekly Office Hours, which uses the same webcast platform that we use for training sessions. Before that, we gave them a link to GoToWebinar’s test meeting that they could go join at any time, and that was a little less successful.
Expect rescheduling requests. With in-person events, folks nail down their travel plans in advance including their flight and hotel. They’re less likely to want to reschedule those events because of all the change fees involved. With online events, on the other hand, folks regularly want to switch session dates because things come up. If you’re expecting to only do a one-time event, you’ll need to decide how to handle those requests – refund, no refund, or credit towards future events.
Stuff You Need for The Event
Use a wireless lavalier microphone. I used to use a microphone mounted to my desk, but during webcasts, it felt like a big, bulky barrier between me and the audience. I switched to this $225 Samson one with both 1/8″ plugs as well as XLR. I use the XLR outputs, wired into a $100 Scarlett USB audio interface. I plug a pair of headphones into the Scarlett to check my levels, but once it’s plugged in and set up for the morning, I tend to leave the headphones off. Again, I want it to feel & look more natural, like my in-person classes. (You’ll also want the rotating lapel clip so the microphone points up despite your strange shirt choices, the electric adapter for the Samson receiver, and rechargeable 9V batteries for the microphone, which last about a day.)
Use a sit/stand desk. During the day, I’ll flip back and forth between sitting and standing. I like sitting for demos when I’m typing a lot, and then standing when I’m doing lectures. I’m still madly in love with my very stable NextDesk Terra Pro, but there are cheaper options out there like the Jarvis.
Take care of your throat. Talking continuously for four days straight is hard on you, so ease up on the coffee. I’m a big fan of Slippery Elm lozenges and Throat Coat tea – you only need one of these taken once mid-morning in order to keep you going through the day as long as you avoid caffeine. The lozenges and tea have two big drawbacks, though: they taste like butt, and they can affect your heart rate. Use in moderation.