Book Review: Interact and Engage! by Kassy LaBorie and Tom Stone

Most who know me know that I’m a “bit” of a Star Wars fan. And most of the people on earth that haven’t been in a coma for the past 12 months know that a brand new Star Wars movie came out a few weeks ago.

It was like an old friend came back to town, eager to show off his or her newest project. Needless to say, I was excited and really looked forward to checking out the latest story from a saga that I’ve appreciated so much over the course of decades. At the same time, there was a bit of nervousness, centered on a single question, as I sat in my movie theater seat on opening night counting the minutes before the film started…

“What if it sucks?”

That same combination of eager anticipation and cautious fear was present as I sat down to dive into the new book Interact and Engage! by Kassy LaBorie and Tom Stone. I’ve known Kassy and Tom for a number of years, greatly respect the knowledge and skills they possess, and appreciate their willingness to share openly with the learning and performance industry at large. It’s what made me look forward to reading their book the moment I heard about it. It’s also what created a bit of nervousness based on my desire to not have my high expectations lead me to be disappointed.

Thankfully Interact and Engage!, like Star Wars the Force Awakens, met the high expectations I had for it.

About the Book

interactInteract and Engage! is a book written for the virtual instructors, producers, and facilitators of the world. The early portion of the book lays the foundation, exploring the world of virtual platforms and their use. It’s also examines the importance and value of engagement. With this foundation in place, the bulk of the book explores over 50 different activities that can be used to put the promise of engagement in virtual training into practice. The book concludes with tips to leverage what you learned from the shared examples to create new activities of your own.

What I Liked

The foundational part of this book is solid. The early section of the book covers the critical aspects needed to understand the world of virtual training, including the often overlooked differences between online meetings, virtual training, and other services that are too frequently merged into the singular context of “Virtual Training”. It also explores the virtual training platform, examining common functionality that exists across the majority of tools used in the space, and taking a specific deeper dive into two of the more common tools used in our industry: Adobe Connect and Webex Training Center. As someone that has lead training teams over the course of my career, I could easily see myself handing this book to team members that are new to the world of virtual training, asking them to read the introduction and first chapter, and using that as a springboard to train and coach them.

As mentioned earlier, the bulk of the book shares specific activities that can be used to engage participants in your virtual sessions. I liked the choice to arrange this section into chapters that can easily form the outline for planning a virtual training session, from the welcome and kickoff, to the activities to use during (a section further divided to be tailored to the unique environments of virtual meetings, webinars, and training), and then exploring activities related to closing sessions. The last chapter shares tips that explore some of the more advanced functionality of the platforms, such as multimedia and breakout rooms.

A pleasant surprise was a chapter filled with tips not for training or learning, but for celebrations. As someone that has spent the last few years working from home and connecting with my team through online tools, I appreciate the challenges that exist in connecting with other team members when you don’t have the everyday interactions that exist in a face-to-face office environment. The chapter exploring using these tools for parties and celebrations among virtual teams was a welcome addition to the book. It’s also a chapter that serves as a great example of looking beyond the typical expectations of what virtual training platforms do, so that you can consider the greater possibilities of these tools “can” do.

Lastly, I very much appreciated the consistent formatting used to share the individual tips. Each tip starts by concisely establishing the purpose of the activity, and detailing important criteria that helps you determine where the activity may be applicable, such as the intended audience, ideal group size, required materials, and time needed to conduct the activity. With that in place the full narrative of the activity is described, followed by the “how to” explanation of setting up and conducting the activity.  This consistent format makes it easy to quickly determine if an activity is appropriate within the context of what you may be trying to accomplish.

The Verdict

There are often two types of books for me: ones that I read through in a single sitting, and ones that I use more for reference, taking the book out as a resource related to a task or problem. Interact and Engage! is the rare book that works well for both purposes.

Before the days of eBooks, I always had multiple bookshelves in my office. Most of my bookshelves were where I stored a book after I read it. But I also had another smaller bookshelf that was accessible right at my desk. It was here that I kept the select few books that I used for reference; the ones I would call upon often to help me solve a problem, or to provide design inspiration for a project. Interact and Engage! is that type of book for those working in virtual training – especially those newer to the space.

If you’ve seen Kassy and Tom present at a conference or online, you know their expertise. That expertise sets a high bar for what you might expect from their first book.

Thankfully, it doesn’t disappoint.

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