“Platform skills” is the term most often used for face-to-face presentations: the presenter’s voice tone, body movement, facial expressions, movement, and energy. Let’s translate all of that to the virtual world with “staging.”
What is Staging?
“Staging” in the virtual world is defined as everything that is live-streamed by the virtual class presenter/trainer/host. Staging includes the background that the webcam is live-streaming, as well as the lighting, sound, and trainer’s voice, facial expressions, eye-contact, and energy/enthusiasm.
In face-to-face presentations (note that I didn’t say “training”), platform skills are crucial elements in creating an effective “show,” which is essentially an interesting and entertaining monologue/lecture. (By the way, many gifted story-tellers use platform skills and story-telling as forms of teaching with great success).
In face-to-face training (i.e., classes, workshops, courses) in which the focus is on learning, platform skills take a back-seat to learner-engagement and involvement in the learning activities.
When moving from face-to-face to virtual training, and especially live-streaming with a webcam, staging skills become an important part of effectively facilitating a remote learning experience. Even professional trainers with years of successful, face-to-face classroom experience, often fall short when training virtually.
5 Staging Mistakes
Below are a few of the staging mistakes I’ve seen in webinars I’ve attended. For me, these mistakes became distractions to the learning. With that said, if I reminded myself that all of us – professional trainers as well as beginner trainers in the virtual world – are doing our best and learning as we go, then I was able to ignore the mistakes and concentrate on what I was learning.
1. Lighting:The lighting came from a window beside the trainer, which left half of the trainer’s face in deep shadow.
2. Camera: The webcam on the trainer’s computer was lower than his face so he was looking down the whole time, instead of making eye-contact with his invisible audience.
3. Microphone: The trainer used the computer microphone which sounded like he was speaking in an echo chamber. Yes, I could understand him. No, it wasn’t easy and I had to use contextual clues a lot of the time.
4. Voice: The trainer spoke in a soft monotone with a lot of long pauses while he fiddled with the technology. Of course there will always be tech issues in a virtual training, but practice with the virtual tools and voice modulation would have made the learning experience smoother and more interesting.
5. Background: Because the trainer’s computer camera was lower than his face and slanted upward, the background was dominated by the ceiling light/fan in his office. Another trainer’s background showed a dark, messy office with bookshelves full to bursting.
6 Staging Tips
Full disclosure: I don’t normally facilitate remote classes. So I went to three experts who not only teach online, but also coach trainers who want to learn more about effective staging. All three are TBR Certified Trainers. All three have coached me in becoming better at effective staging elements, whether I’m in an informal Zoom meeting or teaching a formal remote class. Here they are:
Laurie Brown is the founder and CEO of Laurie Brown Communications. Laurie is a virtual and in-person communication skills trainer and coach.
Jean-Paul Bayley is a partner of Actineo Consulting. Jean-Paul is a business agility coach and trainer. He learned about the importance of effective staging for virtual training from Lisette Sutherland and Judy Rees.
Below are a few of the many staging tips I’ve learned from Paul, Laurie, and Jean-Paul:
1. Lighting: You should have a bright light that is positioned in front or at a 45-degree angle to your face. Lighting behind you puts your face in dark silhouette; side-lighting puts one-half of your face in shadow. Overhead lighting may work, provided that it is bright enough. Ask a colleague to check your lighting on his/her computer (often you can’t tell if it’s adequate on your own computer). Amazon sells economical, free-standing lights for live-streaming.
2. Camera: Your camera should be placed so that it looks like you’re making eye-contact with the participants when you speak. If it’s your computer camera, make sure it’s at eye-level with your face so that you’re not looking down or to the side each time you talk. If your computer camera is low-quality, consider purchasing a small external camera that can be clipped onto your computer (sold on Amazon). If you’re co-training, each trainer should have his/her own computer and camera.
3. Microphone: Your audio equipment needs to be of high enough quality that your voice sounds clear and easy-to-understand. Most internal computer microphones have a tinny and sometimes echo-y quality to the sound. You won’t know this unless you have a colleague listen to your voice on their computer, or unless you have sound-test capability that can play back your voice. Consider purchasing a reputable external microphone (either a head-set or free-standing, both sold on Amazon).
4. Voice: Your voice conveys enthusiasm and positive energy, as well as information and activity instructions. In effect, your voice is one of the many virtual tools available and, often, the most powerful one. Some of the elements of effective speaking in remote training are: pacing (fast and slow phrasing, using short pauses), modulation (loud and soft, using rhythm in speaking), and energy (enthusiasm, natural rather than formal classroom speech).
5. Background: A messy room behind you can be visually distracting to your remote participants. Consider purchasing a free-standing background (the kind used in photography stores – available on Amazon). If a wall is behind you, make sure the light doesn’t reflect too brightly off of it; if it does, consider purchasing an inexpensive cloth background (also sold on Amazon) to hang on the wall. I would not suggest using a Zoom virtual background as they can be distracting and they do odd things to your image when you move on camera. Nor would I suggest a “green screen” where you add an image later to a digital green background – movement in front of a green screen can be visually distracting as well.
6. Practice: Don’t assume your lighting, audio, and background will all work together well. Test and practice using all staging elements until you’re satisfied with the results. Be sure to test it all with a colleague on his/her computer to make sure it works well for prospective virtual class participants.
Staging for effective remote instruction isn’t about perfection – it’s about lessening distractions and enhancing the learning for the virtual training participants.
As trainers, we shouldn’t sacrifice the good for the perfect. Good remote instruction is better than no instruction at all. However, it is a worthwhile goal to improve and enhance our virtual training skills, and effective staging is one of the many tools that are important to remote learning.
More Great Resources to Explore (all provide free materials for virtual training)
Collaboration SuperPowers (Lisette Sutherland’s website)
Lisette Sutherland’s Blog
Rees McCann (Judy Rees’s website)
Judy Rees’s Blog
Virtual Training Resources (Cindy Huggett’s free templates and checklists)
Kassy LaBorie Consulting
Free Resources (Kassy LaBorie’s free resources and Virtual Platform Checklists)
More About the Blog Contributors
Paul Tevis, California, USA
Paul is the founder and CEO of Vigemus Consulting. He has more than a dozen years experience in helping leaders foster effective change in their organizations. He works with both start-ups and Fortune 500 companies. He also presents virtual workshops on remote facilitation techniques. Recently, Paul was a featured guest on “Vic Bonacci’s Agile Coffee Podcast” where he discussed remote facilitation and strategies for make any meeting successful, whether remote or face-to-face.
Laurie Brown, Michigan, USA
Laurie is the founder and CEO of Laurie Brown Communications. She works with leaders and teams who want to communicate more effectively. With over twenty years of experience training, coaching, speaking and consulting, Laurie has an international clientele across four continents. Here is one of Laurie’s informative articles on virtual training: “Be Great on Camera: Top 10 Mistakes.”
Jean-Paul Bayley, England, UK
Jean-Paul is a business partner of Actineo Consulting. He uses his extensive experience as a consultant, coach, and trainer to help individuals, teams, and organizations achieve their professional goals. His mission is to share how to create fun, engaging and memorable learning experiences. He has done extensive research on cognitive neuroscience as it relates to remote learning. His most recent blog post is: “When Everything is Suddenly Virtual.” Past blog contributions to Sharon’s website are: “3 Anti-Patterns of Training,” “Anti-Patterns of Training – Part Two” and “TBR, Psychological Safety, and C1-Connection Activities.”