In my previous blog post about interruptions, I covered noise-based issues and suggested muting all participants. However, the delegates still need a way to communicate with you. Most online conferencing/presentation systems (such as Webex, Acrobat Connect and Centra) provide a number of tools that allow attendees to communicate with the presenter (or trainer in this case) including text chat, the “raise hand” button and emoticons.

The text chat feature behaves like instant messaging. If a delegate has a question, wants to make a point or simply has a problem (for example, their audio has disappeared or they need to leave the session early for personal or business reasons), they can advise you. The “text chat icon” (a little speech bubble) changes colour on the presenter’s screen to indicate that there is a new “message”, or if the chat panel is open, their text message will just appear in the panel.

When an attendee clicks the raise hand button, a hand icon appears next to the attendee’s name in the participants panel, indicating that the attendee may have a question, a problem or simply wants to make a point.

It’s important to “set the rules” before the course starts. I encourage participation but ask delegates to use the raise hand button and the chat panel appropriately otherwise it stops the flow of the training session.

Emoticons allow the trainer to ask a question and have the participants reply by clicking a button. If I ask my group “Have you ever used pivot tables?”, each delegate can reply by clicking a “yes” icon (which could be a green tick or happy smiley, for example) or “no” (which might be a red cross or a sad smiley).

When I deliver online courses I like to use a dual-screen setup. Acrobat Connect allows the presenter to choose which monitor to share, however, the version of Webex that I use at work doesn’t support dual monitors so I run the main application (the one that I am delivering training on, for example, Excel) on the primary monitor and put the participants and chat panels on the other one. This allows me to keep my eye on the chat and delegates who join late/leave early with just the glance of an eye.

A final trick to share with you is that I often join the Webex meeting as a participant from another computer. One of the disadvantages of delivering and attending online training is that you are at the mercy of a sometimes-flaky Internet connection. This can result in a “lag” where the attendees screens are “behind” mine, for example, where I have moved to the next slide of a presentation but the attendees are still seeing the previous slide. By logging in to the meeting twice (once as presenter once as a participant), I am able to monitor the training session from a delegate’s perspective.