VR In Professional Development: 3 Lessons Learned From Walmart

It’s important to keep your finger on the pulse when it comes to innovations in business and leadership. So I like to discuss current and future trends with other L&D professionals, like how to upscale your communication skills when business leaders have so little time for learning, for example. It helps me to get a variety of insights into what works and what’s tipped to be the next big thing.

I was actually speaking with someone recently about Virtual Reality (VR). They talked about the huge impact it’s having in the world of training and professional development. So I thought it was worth exploring the topic in some more depth.

In fact, this person was right. The benefits of using VR in training are pretty amazing. VR has come a long way from gaming. Your teenage son might use it to slay dragons or gun down James Bond’s enemies, but it can also be used for much smarter ends.

VR’s impact on the learning and development scene

VR is not just for children. It’s having an enormous effect on the adult learning and professional development scene. Enterprises are now beginning to incorporate VR into their training schemes, realising its potential for expanded learning capabilities.

Take Walmart, for example. The multi-billion dollar corporation has installed VR headsets in its employee “academies” with the aim of training their one million in-store employees. Software creator STRIVR has created 45 VR programs that train Walmart staff in everything from slicing deli meats to re-stocking shelves.

This got me thinking about what it could do to improve the skills that are commonly lacking within the businesses we work with; communication skills, for example. How often do you hear underwhelming presentations? What about your business pitches, do they pack the required punch?

Perhaps you could benefit from additional practice presenting to the board. Your colleagues may dread having to present to you, or in team meetings for that matter. Few people relish the opportunity to speak in public, and those that do often believe they’re more engaging than they actually are.

When it comes to developing effective communication skills, practice really does make perfect.   

Top 3 reasons why VR can improve your corporate communication skills

1. VR provides much more memorable training

The Ebbinghaus “forgetting curve” shows how quickly we forget information after we’ve been taught it. Ebbinghaus discovered that the decline is more gradual if you review the information in increasing time gaps. This is “spaced repetition”. With VR, not only is this possible but you can practise as often as you like.

VR lets you practise and improve anytime, anywhere. So if you wanted to practise delivering a presentation to the board, you could experiment with a few different ways to communicate over several days or weeks. This would reduce the forgetting curve and improve your memory strength.

VR is also “experiential learning“. Research suggests that we learn effectively when we experience things, rather than simply being told or watching someone else. So it would also be an incredibly efficient way to hone your communication skills.

It’s also a more engaging way to train, because it’s completely immersive and VR environments are highly customisable.

2. It rapidly creates a culture of effective communication in the workplace

Brock McKeel, senior director of digital operations at Walmart explains that VR technology allows their employees to learn new skills more quickly.

When it comes to any workplace training and development, speed is of the essence. The faster employees learn, the sooner they can become productive with their newly acquired skills.

Walmart’s in-store employees are almost certainly better prepared for real life in-store operations scenarios as a result of their VR training. The same would apply to VR training in communication.

Using VR could help to develop the communication skills within an organisation quickly. This would have a positive impact on how employees engage with each other, stakeholders, clients, customers, and various other audiences they may need to address in their role.

3. It helps to overcome nervousness during public speaking

Walmart’s VR training provides a safe space for employees to experience situations that are almost impossible to replicate. It’s experiential, memorable, and fast, says McKeel.

So, consider VR’s potential to help people overcome a fear of public speaking. Even Steve Jobs practised his presentations and speeches over and over. Practice is what helped Jobs to look so relaxed and comfortable on the stage. It also helps to combat common performance anxiety.

For those people who are unable to engage their audience when they speak because they’re anxiously too focussed on what they’re saying, instead of bringing value to the people they’re communicating with, VR could be a godsend.

The benefit of VR for developing communication skills is that you can gain as much practice as you need before experiencing the scenario in real life. You can become comfortable with the scenario, more confident and able to concentrate on what’s important: engaging your audience.

Practising in the safety of a VR environment allows you to experiment with different communication techniques, like storytelling for example. Steve Jobs famously used stories to get his audience’s undivided attention and convey his message in a memorable way.

If you’re not quite ready for VR yet, but you do want to practise an effective communication technique that will help you to stand out and motivate people to take action, focus on storytelling. If you’re not incorporating storytelling into your business communication yet, you’re missing a trick. Have a look at our online Persuasive Business Storytelling Course.

With our help, you can take your corporate communication from capable to compelling. Sign up to the course and then in the future – who knows – maybe you can borrow your son’s VR headset for some stress-free practice sessions.

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The Colin James Method® Facilitators train corporate executives to improve their professional communication skills with a proven methodology. Our highly trained Facilitators and Coaches are recognised for their experience in their fields and have worked with many individuals and organisations around the world to master the art of communication.

Erica Bagshaw

Erica Bagshaw is an entrepreneur, Executive Coach and Co-Founder of The Colin James Method® and Inner Profit Pty Ltd a vibrant leadership development company in Australia. She has spent the majority of her career growing and developing close client partnerships. She loves sharing her expertise on the perfect pitch.