The power of virtual learning particularly in a pandemic

The power of virtual learning particularly in a pandemic

Until COVID-19 struck, my virtual training consisted of coaching over Skype for clients I couldn’t meet face to face.

Today all my training is conducted virtually over numerous other platforms; clients highly rate the experience and learning and development departments are happy to be able to provide this opportunity for their staff’s personal development while working remotely.

In the past 6 weeks, I have been running eWorkshops in writing, moderating, storytelling, presenting, media and job interviews and speechwriting.

This is what I have learnt about what makes a successful virtual learning experience.

eWorkshops not webinars

Clients are telling me they much prefer an eWorkshop, which is interactive and participatory rather than watching a YouTube video or attending a webinar, which is usually a PowerPoint Presentation with Q&A.

I know from my attempts to do yoga online that what I really miss is the individual feedback on what I am doing wrong!

With eWorkshops, participants can get that individual feedback just like in the face-to-face training room experience, as long as the group is no more than 8 people.

Participatory workshops with individual feedback.

Short bursts not long seminars

Managing attention span is particularly challenging over videoconferences. According to Gianpiero Petriglieri, Associate Professor at INSEAD this is because everyone – participants and trainer – are consuming more energy trying to process the non-verbal cues when we are all reduced to thumbnail videos.

This is why all my trainings are either 60 or 90 minutes in length. If I am asked for longer, we take a break so that people can stretch their legs and give their eyes a rest from the screen. Often I ask them to prepare or reflect on something related to the workshop so it is time well spent.

Furthermore short sessions spaced out over a period of days fit well into people’s busy schedules as they juggle work and personal commitments.

Synchronous and asynchronous learning is a win-win

This hybrid model where participants learn during and also between sessions means they have more time to absorb the learning, put it into practice and prepare well for the next session. They can also choose when they want to do the asynchronous learning.

Furthermore over a series of three or four short sessions, they can cover in the eWorkshop the same amount of material as in a face-to-face training.

A dynamic trainer to recreate the training room experience

It is vital that the trainer has the skills to make the learner feel as if they are in a face-to-face training. This means taking a learner centric approach so that the content is well structured, easy to follow and varied to appeal to those who learn by seeing, watching, hearing, doing, touching and interacting.

In addition, the trainer has to power up their delivery skills – be more animated, modulate their voice and better read the participants non-verbal cues.

And they have to have a great sense of time management. Training virtually is like producing and presenting a TV programme so the trainer has to keep track of the time and end on time as otherwise the line will go down!

Zoom into the virtual training world

I recommend Zoom as a platform for training and coaching. For anybody anxious about using technology, it is the simplest to use – easy to navigate, interactive and with good audio and video quality. And it is secure – even too secure as a head of HR never made it into one of my sessions as I mistakenly left her in the waiting room!

What clients are saying

Claire’s eWorkshop was the perfect length, well structured and delivered clearly and compellingly. She kept me engaged throughout and it will help me in my work persuading stakeholders and presenting my ideas.
Giulia Ragonesi, Associate Legal Officer, World Intellectual Property Organisation, Geneva

This was the most refreshing and positive e-learning experience that I have had in a long time. It was interesting and engaging with just the right amount of exercises. The sessions were well spaced out so we had enough time to prepare for the next tasks. Claire was totally amazing and her expertise and teaching style made this a very valuable workshop to attend.
Zlata Prlenda-Kunstek, Human Resources Assistant, UN Convention to Combat Desertification, Bonn

I learnt so much during the session. As well as tips, techniques and practical exercises, the way Claire delivered it was a learning experience in itself and on worth emulating!
Diego Gutierrez, Head of Student Services, Graduate Institute, Geneva

The 90-minute session was extremely enriching, packed with takeaways that will help us moderate impactful virtual conferences.
Nicole Martins-Maag, Head of Unit, Law and Policy Outreach, International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva

Face to face training and coaching are often people’s preferred option, but eWorkshops are certainly a great alternative and can be an equally valuable way of learning and honing skills. And many believe that even once the pandemic is over, virtual learning will be here to stay!

Claire runs e-workshops on virtual meeting facilitation, presenting, media and job interviews, storytelling, conference moderating, speechwriting and business writing. If you are interested in honing your skills, contact her at

10 Tips for Moderating Dynamic Virtual Meetings

10 Tips for Moderating Dynamic Virtual Meetings

Are you, like me, experiencing your own pandemic of webinars and meetings over various videoconference applications such as Zoom (my favourite), WebEx and Microsoft Team Meetings?

Are you that person who now turns off their camera citing connectivity issues so that you can focus on something else rather than actively take part in the videoconference? Or, as a friend related, that person who strategically places themselves with their back to the window or light so that all people see on the call is their silhouette?

It may be because the moderator is just failing to engage you and manage your limited attention span. That is not a criticism. We all have more limited attention spans when we are on these remote calls.

Here are some of my tips and techniques for moderating remotely so you captivate your audience. They are based on my experience as a former TV and radio journalist, panel moderator, public speaker and remote and in person trainer.

1. Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. You need to be highly prepared when moderating a virtual meeting and know clearly the outcomes, structure and agenda, tailoring your content to your audience.

2. Know your technology. You have to master the technology – mute/unmute icons, sharing screens, videos, using polling and brainstorming applications and the chat box. If you are hosting a large meeting, I recommend hiring a professional virtual producer.

3. Frame your shot. Make sure your eyes are 1/3 the way down the screen. This means you avoid too much headroom, which will make you lose authority. Do look straight into your built-in webcam. If you look down, you will appear condescending. If you look up, you will lose authority.

4. Be more animated than you are normally. If you want to keep your audience engaged, you have to be more expressive with your facial gestures, hands and voice modulation.

5. Give visual cues. Encourage participants by giving visual cues, like nodding your head to encourage people while they are speaking. If they speak for too long, you move slightly forward and open your mouth to show them that you are going to interrupt.

6. Explain the purpose, agenda and rules of engagement.
You have to be clearer and more structured than when you moderate in person. Remember to signpost throughout the session where you are going to reassure people that you are on track.

7. Frontload key points/messages. People remember best the first things they hear, so don’t bury your key messages in the middle when attention levels are at their lowest.

8. Actively listen.
You need to think only about what the participant is saying, not your next question or anything else that is going on. Show you are doing this by picking up on what they say and making smooth transitions to your next point or participant.

9. Manage the time. You need to manage the length of your presenters’ interventions and allow enough time for questions and answers orally or through the chat box.

10. Bring closure. Recap main points and outline next steps.

If you are interested in improving your remote moderating skills, Claire runs a webinar on how to be engaging and manage your audience’s attention span.

She coaches and trains remotely in the art of presenting, talking to the media, speechwriting, storytelling and panel moderating.

Unprecedented Pandemic Press Conference from Pharma Industry

Unprecedented Pandemic Press Conference from Pharma Industry

Travel bans, remote working and social distancing are making us all think creatively on how we can continue to interact and get our messages across to as many people as possible.

On Thursday, I was involved in what the main newspaper in French-speaking Switzerland, Le Temps, called an ” unprecedented online press conference” on the pharmaceutical industry’s response to COVID-19.

Working with an excellent team from Acumen public affairs, we brought together the heads of 5 global pharmaceutical companies for a press briefing with media from around the world – with just a week’s notice.

Here are my tips and lessons learnt on how to moderate a live studio discussion and press briefing. We are in unprecedented times but the tips apply to any studio setting.

Rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse

Technicians at Actua films in Geneva spent the day before testing the video link ups over the open source platforms with the pharmaceutical companies, who were joining us from the US and Europe.

Some companies had their own studios; others went into nearby studios while others were in their office or joining us from home due to strict confinement conditions. We also tested 30 minutes before recording with the speakers themselves to make sure we had the right camera angles and sound.

Have a back-up plan

If the link went down, we had a plan B: to use a phone line and put up a photo with the speaker’s name on it. In fact, we had to use this a couple of times when we briefly lost video connection. They all quickly reappeared thanks to the quick response of the technicians.

Have someone in person in the studio

We had the Director General of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), Thomas Cueni, in the studio to open and close the briefing. Having someone in the studio is a great back up too if the video links fail as the moderator has someone to direct questions to! Fortunately, this did not happen yesterday!

Set up your communications channels with the media clearly and in advance

We had numerous journalists from around the world joining us remotely. They could submit written questions by email before the transmission or when it started using the chat box in a link we sent. They also had the option to ask questions over Skype.

Clear instructions to the speakers

The speakers were highly accomplished. Many of them forget that even if they are not speaking, they can still be seen so that they need to be attentive throughout the discussion. Similarly they must not interrupt each other, as their mikes are open the whole time.

Signpost the process

At the beginning I told the media that I would lead 20 minutes of Q and A with the speakers online before we would take their questions. I also let the speakers know when we were going to wrap up.

Make sure the media questions are clearly visible and legible

It is not easy to read questions coming in on a screen and field them to the appropriate speaker. It helps if there is someone who can filter and redraft for clarity and accuracy. They can also be sent to the moderator’s Ipad with instructions on who should address which question.

Watch the screen for visual cues from the speakers

I told the speakers to give me a hand signal if they wanted to add to someone else’s answer or to take a specific media question.

Manage the time

It is important to have a clock in front of you, showing the exact time. This allows you to manage it, leaving enough at the end for final remarks

Under embargo

If you embargo the press briefing or discussion, technicians can edit out any glitches before posting online.

Here is the video that we posted without the need for any internal edits.

Constraints of social distancing

All of this was done at a time when Switzerland is in semi lockdown mode. There are different measures in different Cantons. But in Geneva most people are working remotely and those who come in from nearby France have to have the correct documentation.

We followed the social distancing rules for Geneva, so that we had only 5 people at any one time on set. Thomas Cueni and myself were seated at least 2 metres apart and so were the studio director and the support team from Acumen.

I even had a make up lesson (in French) from the make up artist so that we respected the rules. Daniela showed me the products and how to apply them and I tried to copy her. Let’s just say that she was very patient ….

The show must go on

Despite the constraints, the online press briefing worked well. The speakers got their message across and the journalist coverage was excellent with stories from many of the major media outlets such as the Financial Times ,the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and The New York Times.

In the words of the studio director, Patrick Siegenthaler:

“This online briefing showed that if you want to reunite people from all over the world to discuss and share their views on important topics, it is still possible even at a time when few can move.”

And what can be more important than to hear how the pharmaceutical industry is gong to respond to this global health emergency.

Moderating Panel Discussions in a “Pandemic”

Moderating Panel Discussions in a “Pandemic”

The World Health Organisation has not yet declared the new coronavirus to be a pandemic, but to some of us who earn our living from moderating at events or training international teams, we are already suffering the consequences.

Last Friday the Swiss Federal Council announced a ban on all gatherings of more than 1000 people. It looked to be curtains for the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights scheduled for the 6th to the 15th March.

But yesterday the organisers announced their “programme 2.0” in which a smaller number of discussions and interviews would be transmitted live over the Internet allowing the public to ask questions of the speakers.

Proof indeed that webcasting is a potential solution for event organisers as they navigate the uncharted territory of travel bans and cancelled conferences and panel discussions.

Webcasting is just one option as I outline below based on my experience as a radio and video producer, presenter and panel moderator.

Audio or video

Audio, like radio, is much easier and less expensive than video.
You can create a sense of intimacy and connection with the listener if you have a moderator with a well-modulated voice and who is skilled at animating a discussion.

The speakers must also have good radio voices and have clear opinions and points to make.

With video, it is technically more complicated as you will need lights, camera and operators depending on the size of your budget. However, people remember things best when visually presented so video can be more powerful.

Pre-record or live

Live broadcasts get more viewers, as people love the sense that they are in real-time and capturing the moment.

However they come with the risk of technical glitches, challenging audiences and online trolls.

If you have a well-developed social media strategy and significant followers, then broadcasting on Facebook or YouTube live is a good option as it is technically not complicated and relatively inexpensive.

However, you have more control over a pre-recorded audio or video discussion and can also use the material in podcasts, online and on digital platforms to maximise audience engagement.

Whether live or pre-recorded, keep the panel discussion to no more than 30 minutes. Unlike traditional panel discussions, which can be from 45 minutes to 1 hour 15, those that are recorded and watched on line need to be shorter so you manage people’s short attention span.

Logistics and look and feel

Whether you are pre-recording or going live with audio or video, you need to think about the look and feel of the discussion. Do you want people to be seated on sofas like on Breakfast TV or in high backed chairs like at the World Economic Forum in Davos or will everyone be on high chairs news presenter style? It will all depend on the atmosphere you want to create.

Here are some other thoughts:

• Do seat the moderator and speakers so that everyone has eye contact. You don’t
want them to be seated in a line.
• Keep the number of participants to 4 including the moderator.
• Check the sound quality. Tie mikes are best for video and audio, as people often
don’t hold mikes correctly.
• Dress so that tie mikes can be clipped onto a shirt or blouse with no cable
• Make sure the room or studio is sound proof. If you are recording in an office
space, turn off the air conditioners as they hum.
• Provide make up or at least powder for video as this evens out the skin tone and
under studio lights guests won’t perspire.
• Select a moderator who is used to taking instructions from a director in their
earpiece if you are webcasting. The moderator will need to pass instructions on
to the speakers such as which camera to look into.
• Have an autocue for the moderator’s opening and closing remarks and for the
questions coming in from the public.

2020.02.25 – Studio Smart Cuts
L’équipe de 120 min en studio fond vert.
Photo : Philippe Krauer / Smart Cuts Video & Animation

Use professional production houses

Check out your local video and audio production houses and their studio facilities. They can advise you on what is technically possible in terms of lights, microphones, and cameras as well as how to manage speakers remotely and handle questions from the public.

In Geneva, I have worked with Actua films and La Souris Verte and just outside Lausanne there is Smart Cuts video and animation run by a former BBC colleague.

So event organisers, and moderators, don’t abandon hope in these uncertain times. Think creatively and you will be able to hold panel discussions albeit in a different format.

Storytelling Is An Essential Professional Skill

Storytelling Is An Essential Professional Skill

“I am not really comfortable with storytelling. I don’t see how I can use it in my work”. This is a typical response from senior managers/executives to the idea of attending a storytelling workshop. And what’s more, I understand where they are coming from. As a BBC journalist, I was a professional storyteller – every day looking for the nugget of gold that I could mine to tell a story about something that had changed in the world.

But telling other people’s stories was much easier than telling my own. Journalists don’t like being the centre of the story – it makes them, among other things, feel vulnerable. What I have learned as a trainer, moderator and coach is that storytelling is about sharing experiences – either your own or someone else’s – so that you connect and build rapport, trust and credibility with those around you.

Research shows that our brains are hardwired to listen and to tell stories. Stories are how we think, make meaning of life and explain how things work. They help us make decisions, persuade others, create identities and teach social values.

In a business or organisational setting storytelling helps to sell, educate, inspire and motivate. It is a strategic tool that can bring you closer to your colleagues, clients and peers and transform how you and your organisation are perceived.

How to tell stories

All of the above holds true if the story is well told. It needs to have a clear structure so that it is easy to follow and relevant to the audience. In everyday life, we tell stories to our friends without necessarily drawing a morale or lesson learnt. If you are telling a story in a professional context you must always have a point.

In my workshops, I often tell a personal story about how I lost the equivalent of my annual salary when I first joined the BBC, due to poor advice by a former financial advisor in Geneva. He put me in funds that were far too risky for my investment profile, and which either collapsed or were suspended by the regulator. I explain how I then tried (and am still trying!) to expose his wrongdoing. I tell this story showing that there are different structures that you can use to achieve different impacts, as well as different rhetorical techniques to make it memorable.

It is a story that shows who I am – illustrating my values – trust, perseverance and quest for justice. It is a story that I could use to show people the type of person I am and why they should believe in me or want to work with me.

But it is also a story that can be used to teach a lesson – underlining the importance of assuming responsibility for your finances. I could also tell this story to motivate change by shedding light on what is wrong about the present way Swiss independent financial advisors are regulated and the need for tougher regulation.

Everyone is a storyteller

I hope that none of you have to tell a story like this, but if you are looking for a story, one of the simplest ways is to think about a key moment in your life – positive or negative – and reflect on the lesson learnt.

I also advise people to start to build a library of stories. Think about:

• Moments that made you who you are or who clarified your values
• Moments when you discovered your voice or leadership potential
• Difficult moments in business but worthwhile struggles or extraordinary feats
• Dangerous mistakes in business
• Stories of how your company handled the past
• Stories of how the future could look bright or dark

Start to catalogue stories that might serve as powerful illustrations of your ideas, register other peoples or institutional stories (anecdotes) that could illustrate a point you want to make or think about universal myths and fables that you can use as metaphors and analogies.

We are all storytellers but we are not always aware of it. Have the courage to tell a story and you will see that it can be your most valuable asset and even give you competitive advantage.

PS If you would like to know more about the story of my financial advisor, please email me. My purpose is naturally to warn you against using him!

PPS If you are interested in learning how to become a master storyteller, I run two courses – on public speaking and on storytelling in business.

Please get in touch by email or book a 30-minute discovery call.