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6 Tips for Online Workshop Facilitation

With the Coronavirus pandemic on the loose and causing havoc, many of us are hunkering down and working from home. Flights are not taking off. Countries and cities are closed. Members of leadership teams are self-isolating. Just because you can’t meet in-person, does this mean that your leadership teams should stop strategising, planning and working together? Of course not. We have to keep going. We will get through this.

Comparisons have been made between Covid-19 and some of the most horrible diseases in history where people have had to be quarantined. However, one thing which makes our times much more bearable is the technology we have available to us - I propose we use this to its full advantages. Our digital culture means we can still work together.

I have had the privilege of conducting quite a few brand strategy workshops with leadership teams working remotely or that are spread out globally via online methods. With the recent reality of working life, I’m expecting to do more and more of these - I thought I’d share a few tips. I hope you find them helpful:

01. Software

My favoured software is Zoom. It has loads of great features, is easy to use and is compatible with most systems. Some of the best things in relation to running workshops are:

  • Ease of use - really easy to set up and invite people

  • Compatibility - it even works with Smartphones

  • Breakout rooms - Perhaps one of the most essential things ever for running a virtual workshop. Group participants into breakout teams to complete exercises and then have them come back together and share with the whole group - just like in real life!

  • Whiteboards - Also very helpful in workshops. Get teams to whiteboard up solutions together and then share. Like a real whiteboard, they can all chip in, draw and annotate together.

  • Screen sharing - meaning you can share a deck to present ideas to the group

  • Polling - very helpful for democratic decision making which is usually key in my workshops

  • Recording - you can record everything so if you need to write up a playback report it's easy to find the information you might need.

One amazing thing about Zoom is that it has a free version which has loads of great features. Get an account and have a play.

02. Timings

At the start, I’d suggest you build in some wiggle time to allow for any tech issues. I recently did a workshop with a team who had a participant tuning in from Dubai - they had to use a VPN and it took a while for the tech to get sorted. Start the webinar feed early so people can join and be happy with their tech. If they have problems or are not used to virtual working it is less painful if you have built-in 15 mins to ensure the tech is all ok. As you go through the workshop make sure you set clear expectations on feedback from exercises (e.g. This exercise will run for 20 mins. Then I’ll give each group 1 minute to let the group share your outcome). To keep the energy high I also advocate short sprints with tight deadlines - obviously, this depends on the objectives of the workshop and the delegates you are working with but having a hairy deadline monster running around keeps people on their toes and gets them to be succinct.

03. Focus

There are so many distractions with a virtual workshop. People are looking at screens and emails and Slack messages can distract them. Where possible, ask people to quit email and messaging apps so they can focus on the work in hand. Also as a facilitator make sure your backdrop is appropriate. A blank wall is better than something which distracts.

04. Deck

Variety is the spice of life and who wants to simply watch somebodies face for hours on end? A deck with simple (but engaging slides) can help to keep peoples attention and offers some diversity. As a facilitator, I will share my screen when introducing new exercises and theory and then jump out of that to add some variety. Another benefit is that the deck can be sent around if there are any tech issues and people have to tune in without video.

05. Design

As with all workshops, it’s key that as a facilitator you have a clear plan and design each section of the workshop so everyone knows what they are doing and what the outputs of each part are. Preparation is everything. Make sure an overall objective, as well as individual exercises, are clearly communicated. Only plan exercises that the results of which can easily be shared via a screen (the tech allows you to do almost everything you would in person but it's worth thinking about this!)

06. Breaks

Remember to give people breaks (easy to forget virtually!) and as the facilitator make sure you have your own refreshments (coffee/drink) handy so you don't need to leave for too long even if the group is having a break. As you go through it’s always a good idea to check-in with the group - how is everyone? Do you need a break? Etc.

So, I hope this has been helpful. Things don’t have to completely stop due to the Coronavirus. And although we all have to think short-term to deal with the day to day, do not forget to think longer term. Perhaps one way your leadership team can get ahead of the competition is to use this time to align your teams around big brand principles - like why does our brand exist and who does it exist to serve? What is its role and how should it show up in the customer’s story? How could we design a better employee or customer experience? What's the plan after Corona all blows over? If this is of interest and you need a remote digital facilitator, be sure to look me up!

So that’s it from me for now. Stay safe, wash your hands, keep calm and carry on digitally.


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