volunteer training 7 Deadly Sins to Avoid for Better Online Volunteer Training

If you lead volunteers, it’s likely you’ll be called upon to design and deliver online presentations as part of your volunteer training or orientations. I’ve been participating in and presenting webinars for about seven years now, and I’m sad to say I don’t see much improvement in the field. Often, even if the content is important, they barely hold my attention.

Folks, it’s time to up our webinar game. Volunteers will not learn if they are not engaged and inspired. Content presented is not necessarily content learned, even more so in online environments. So, if you’re not capturing the imagination of your audience, you’re probably not getting through. More likely, they’re checking their email or making a sandwich and pretending to listen.

Don’t waste your time or theirs. Take a moment to design your online volunteer training so that it hits the spot.

The 7 Sins (Plus Tips For Better Online Volunteer Training)

Here are some of my key tips for presenting volunteer training online.

Sin #1: Not identifying 3-5 Key Learning Objectives – Before you open up your PPT software, you need to identify what you are actually teaching. What it is you want people to be able to do at the end of the webinar? Translate this into actions that can be witnessed. “Becoming aware” of your agency’s services is not an action. Being able to accurately describe three key services your organization provides is a doable objective.

Sin #2: Not Designing for Interaction…Real Interaction!! – Start by getting participants warmed up to interact by using a digital icebreaker like sharing an inspirational quote in the chat section or answering a poll question. During the presentation, stop from time to time. Ask participants to respond to a question, share their experience, or explain how they might implement a suggested tactic. Acknowledge participation by calling out first names and reading their chat responses aloud. Try to use a variety of the interactive tools your webinar platform offers. Be as creative as you’d like.

Sin #3: Not Inspiring Emotion – Pay attention to the natural rise and fall of emotion during a webinar. Do you have a call to action at the end? Make sure you plug in an inspirational quote right before. Are you presenting soulful or painful content that touches the heart? Be sure to allow time for participants to reflect on their responses. Is there particularly dense data or complex information you must present? Be sure to lighten up the content immediately following. Webinars have an emotional rhythm. Design to deliberately keep it positive and momentum moving forward.

Sin #4: Not Testing the Technology Ahead of Time – I can’t tell you how many times a platform has worked fine for me one day, only to have the audio go out the next time I log in. Internet bandwidth and computer software are crazy things. Be sure they are functional and continue to work all the way up to your live presentation. Test both audio and visual a day or two before and the day of, an event. Also, have a backup plan. What happens if the internet goes down from where you, or your guest speaker, is broadcasting? I always print out my slide notes so that if necessary, someone at another location can advance the slides while I present over the phone (and, yes, I’ve had to do that!).

Sin #5: Reading Your Speaker Notes – Reading a script just isn’t compelling. Your voice tends to devolve into a boring monotone. Practice, if you need to. Use a highlighter pen to single out important topics you need to cover. Write your notes in outline form. Do what it takes to keep you from reading. There may be quotes or statistics you need to refer to. Learners are fine with an occasional verbatim read, but they quickly lose interest if the entire course is read aloud. Unless you are a paid voiceover actor, take another route. Imagine your audience as a friend with whom you are sharing a cup of coffee at the kitchen table. Find a friendly, conversational tone and stick with it.

Sin #6: Going Over the Time Allotted – Plan your talk so that you never go over the scheduled timeframe. When you run over time, your audience feels like their time isn’t respected. They also question your expertise and sometimes the credibility of your content. Don’t devalue yourself by not planning ahead. Keep your slides to a manageable length. Estimate the time needed for each slide (I include the time for each slide in my speaker notes). Also, include the actual time of day at which you expect to reach several midpoints throughout your training. Include them in your notes. That way you’ll know whether you need to speed up or slow down far before the end of your talk.

Sin #7: Putting Too Much Text on Your Slides – A picture is worth a thousand words. Use photos and graphics to describe concepts. If you think you have too much text, but don’t want to lose it, cut and paste it into your speaker notes. Then pare the text in your slides way, way, way (did I say way?) down. The bulleted text should not be more than one line long. You can also use bold and differing font sizes to give your slide more depth and scan-ability.

Make Time for Design

Webinars often get a bad rap, but they can be a very effective way to connect with busy and geographically dispersed volunteers. If you take time to design and present volunteer training webinars that are fun, educational, and highly interactive, your volunteers will not only learn from them, they’ll look forward to them.

What sins would you add to my list? What are your webinar pet peeves? What have some presenters done to delight you? Add them to the comments below.