I’m Sorry ATD Virtual Conference, I’ll Admit I Was Wrong


Disappointment, apprehension, curiosity, and a slight twinge of excitement were all present as I prepared to participate in the first-ever virtual ATD (Association for Talent Development) conference this past week. I was anticipating and looking forward to attending the live version, which was canceled this past May due to COVID, and was unsure of what to expect from this virtual substitute. Surely, the virtual version wouldn’t come close to the experience of the in-person international conference. I assumed connections with the speakers and fellow L&D members would be muted and superficial. I wasn’t sure what I was going to experience, but I felt it wasn’t going to be comparable to what I had envisioned attending an ATD event to be.

A few hours into the first day, my preconceptions were dashed and promptly abandoned; replaced with sincere gratitude for the opportunity to hear leaders in the training industry share their knowledge and to form genuine connections with those in similar roles from around the world. I had been converted; virtual can be as effective and rewarding as in-person if done right.

I anticipated mundane online training sessions, mostly because so many online training presentations can be described as, shall I say, somewhat tedious, but was met with intellectually and emotionally engaging learning experiences. On-demand and live sessions featured speakers who had no physical audience before them but were able to connect with those on the other side of the computer screen.

As virtual training is a current topic that many of us are experiencing, either leading or attending, several sessions were devoted to helping those in the leading position develop our own presentation skills. While I am generally comfortable presenting in person, the separation from my audience makes virtual a little more challenging for me, so I made it a point to participate in these sessions. After viewing a few, I was able to identify the main takeaways that I’ll bring back to my team.

  • Body language:

How you stand, if you stand, affects the energy level you bring to the presentation. To ramp up the energy in your presentations, stand up, move around, gesture, keep the audience’s attention.

  • Style:

Don’t try to fight your personal presentation style; it won’t work. While there’s always room for improvement, you are who you are, and trying to adopt a presentation style that contradicts your personality will come off as fake and forced. Ever observe an introvert try to spontaneously pump up a crowd? It’s disingenuous and painful to watch.

  • Interaction:

There is a cache of tools at your disposal in the various meeting platforms: screen shares, polls, breakout rooms, chat forums, and videos. These tools increase viewer interaction and promote engagement, use them.

  • Visual presentation:

Death by PowerPoint is a real thing. Remember a particularly tedious PowerPoint presentation, and you’ll know what I mean. Create presentations that people will want to look at, build slides that are both beautiful and informative. If there is text on the screen, you should stay quiet; we can’t expect audiences to read and listen at the same time, our brains can’t process information that way.

I should have remembered who’s show this was and trusted that not only would the virtual experience be incredible, but it would also help me better my virtual presence. Like many who have been cast into the virtual world, I prejudged the virtual experience, but have learned how to strengthen our online learning presence and user experience. After participating in these sessions and seeing the impact the information can have on the virtual experience, I have to say it; I’m sorry ATD Virtual Conference, I’ll admit that I was wrong.

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