Greg Owen-Boger - Aug 14, 2020

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

In our book, Effective SMEs: A Trainer’s Guide for Helping Subject Matter Experts Facilitate Learning, Dale Ludwig and I encourage trainers (and subject matter experts turned trainers) to conduct a dry run before they deliver their training for the first time.

As we all find ourselves conducting training virtually now, dry runs take on even greater importance. The reasons for this are because there’s more that can go wrong, and time management is more challenging when facilitating in the virtual world.

What’s a Dry Run for Training Readiness?
A dry run involves talking through the training content. 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 how the virtual tools function. 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. Dry runs help you be spontaneous. They free you from content concerns and help you engage learners in a learning conversation.

Learning Conversation?
The training you deliver should feel like a conversation to both you and your learners. Thinking of it this way will help you steer clear of a lecture-style approach and help your learners engage. Adult learners, or, as we call them, “Busy People at Work,” crave efficiency and relevance. They want to feel part of the conversation. A spontaneous, listener-focused learning conversation helps them feel that way. This is true more than ever in the virtual training room.

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 others. 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 by the time a dry run is conducted, the time to make major changes to content has passed. And 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.

Lay Some Ground Rules
If you do a dry run with others in the room, make sure you lay out some ground rules. Here are just a few examples.

  • 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, rather my delivery of the content.
  • 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 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.

Written by Greg Owen-Boger

Greg Owen-Boger has been with Turpin Communication since 1995, first as a cameraman, then instructor, account manager, and now vice president. Schooled in management and the performing arts, Greg brings a diverse set of skills and experiences to the organization. Greg is one of Turpin’s facilitators and coaches. When he’s not with clients, he manages the day-to-day operations of the company. Greg is an active member of the Association for Talent Development (ATD) and was the 2015 President of ATD, Chicagoland Chapter. He is a popular speaker, frequent blogger, and the co-author of the book The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined. His latest book, also co-authored by Dale Ludwig, launched in 2017 and is entitled Effective SMEs: A Trainer’s Guide for Helping Subject Matter Experts Facilitate Learning.