Dry Runs: The Key to Training Readiness in the Virtual World

Dry run being conducted by a team virtually

In the post-pandemic world, the communication skills training we deliver takes place in both virtual and face-to-face environments. Surprisingly, as the pandemic wore on, we learned that, in some respects, virtual delivery is preferred. It’s easier to schedule and doesn’t require any travel costs. Face-to-face training still plays its role, of course, because it helps us reach a level of engagement impossible to achieve virtually.

In recent years, training for a single group often involves both virtual and face-to-face components. A virtual workshop or webinar may be used as the first step of the process, where foundational concepts are introduced. This is followed by face-to-face sessions where the fundamentals are put into practice.

What we’ve learned is that we need to be much more buttoned up and deliberate during virtual delivery. Timing needs to be more exact, and every possible technical glitch needs to be anticipated and avoided. The presence of a host (or producer) in these sessions solves many technical challenges, but that person’s presence adds a layer of responsibility for trainers that must be prepared for.

And that brings me to dry runs.

What’s a Dry Run?

A dry run involves talking through training content and getting comfortable with both timing and the virtual tools that will be used. Dry runs help you identify trouble spots, discover sections you may not fully understand, and get a better understanding of how everything fits together. It’s also a good way to find out if you don’t fully understand how an activity is supposed to be conducted or what the host’s responsibilities are. The time to learn about any areas of concern is before you have a virtual room full of learners. For these reasons, we almost always recommend dry runs to our clients.

Oh, You Mean Conduct a Rehearsal?

No. Actually, we don’t. Rehearsing is what actors do. As a trainer, you’re not an actor, and if you attempt to recite a script, you’ll fall flat. The goal of a dry run is to free you from content concerns and help you engage learners in what feels like a spontaneous learning conversation.

What’s a Learning Conversation?

The training you deliver should be a conversation between you and your learners. Engaging in this conversation helps you steer clear of a lecture-style approach and helps your learners engage. Adult learners crave efficiency and relevance. They want to feel part of a conversation that is important to them. A spontaneous, listener-focused learning conversation helps achieve that goal. This is true more than ever in the virtual training room, where the temptation to disengage is strong.

Who Should Attend a Dry Run?

We get this question a lot. There are three options.

  • Conduct the dry run by yourself. The benefit of this approach is that you get to work at your own pace. The downside is that you don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of and no one to actually engage as you walk through the content. If you’re already comfortable in your role as facilitator, this may not be an issue. But if you’re new to training, having others in the virtual room with you can be helpful.
  • Conduct the dry run with outside training professionals. We do this with our clients on a regular basis. Trainers and instructional designers like receiving our feedback because we don’t have any skin in the game when it comes to content. Our focus goes exclusively to whether the instruction is clear, dots are connected, learners are engaged, and learning takes place. Having this third-party eye can be very beneficial.
  • Conduct the dry run with other stakeholders in the virtual room. The benefit of this approach is that you’ll receive feedback from people familiar with the content. The downside is that the feedback you receive might be overwhelming and not particularly helpful.

Here’s what I mean. Often, dry run observers say things like, “I don’t understand why the content is laid out like this; we need to change it.” or “If I were delivering this training, I’d say it like this…” Comments like these are not helpful because a dry run is not the time to make changes to training content. That time has passed. Plus, it’s never easy to receive feedback that sounds like it’s coming from a theater director delivering a line reading. The goal of a dry run is to make the training your own, not sound like someone else. That means you need to set some ground rules.

The Ground Rules

When you do a dry run with others in the room, use ground rules like these.

  • “The goal of today is to get me (or other trainers if there are more than just you) prepared to deliver this content. The instructional design is pretty much locked down. The feedback I’m looking for is not about the design of the class, but rather the clarity of my delivery.”
  • “As you observe, try to put yourself in the mindset of the learner. You probably know a lot more than they do, and they need a different level of detail than you would if you were taking this course. Familiarize yourself with the learning objectives so that you’re clear with what we’re trying to accomplish with each module.”
  • “Please do not suggest that I (or the others) deliver the material the way you would. This is my time to make this training my own. I’ll let you know if I need help describing something.”
  • “Please only interrupt me if you feel I’m being long-winded or if you are role-playing a learner with a question. We’ll debrief after each module, so please save your feedback for the debrief.”

These are just a few examples of ground rules. I’m sure you can come up with some of your own. By setting the ground rules early, your observers will be more likely to provide helpful feedback.

Record the Dry Run and the Training Sessions

We always encourage SMEs and trainers to record dry runs and live sessions so that you can go back and review them later if necessary. It’s never comfortable watching and listening to yourself, but there’s a lot to learn.

If you’d like to learn more, visit our Training for Trainers portion of the website.

If you are in the position to coach SMEs or other trainers, check out our book, Effective SMEs: A Trainer’s Guide for Helping Subject Matter Experts Facilitate Learning. There is an entire chapter devoted to Coaching SMEs in the Virtual World.

Our methodology is based on our book, The Orderly Conversation®, a groundbreaking resource that offers a proven, practical approach for developing and delivering presentations that moves business forward.


Pin It on Pinterest