Moving workshops online

We have had the pleasure of working with a number of organisations recently to facilitate online workshops. These workshops have been very successful and we’ve picked up some tricks that are not only helping in a virtual world, but will also be relevant when we get over this curve and back together.

1. Use the tech to make it genuinely interactive

Smaller group discussions are more engaging. Use ‘break out rooms’ to break groups into 4-6 people (Zoom is great for this). You can pre-plan or auto allocate people into rooms, and send messages out to the group when it’s almost time to wrap up the discussion.

Use online tools like ‘mentimetre’ to replace the whiteboard. It allows your audience to enter their thoughts or ratings into their mobile phones while the presentation shows the collective results in real-time. It has great functionality for risk assessment.

Update your presentation on the fly. You can take your PowerPoint presentation into edit mode, or pull up a Word document to capture people’s thoughts as they go. This takes some solid listening skills, an ability to synthesis ideas quickly, and a willingness to let things get a little messy, as well as top notch typing skills. Or even better this is where a facilitator and/or a co-pilot can be a huge help.

2. Design workshops with online empathy 

Build in bigger break times. Zoom and Teams meetings can be exhausting. It’s not unusual to have physical workshops that are 1-2 days. This is not a good idea virtually – it would be exhausting. If you are going to run a workshop over 2 hours, there should be a break of at least 30 minutes. I would suggest capping a workshop at 4 hours (with a full 30 mins in between). 

Make up for lost eye contact. We are used to relying heavily on body language and eye contact for communication. Consider where your camera is located and try to ensure it is as close as possible to being level with your eyes.  In Zoom, you can move and reshape the layout of the display of your audience’s faces. It’s helpful if you move this so the people appear near your camera, so as you look at their faces on screen, it still appears you are looking at them. I was a bit horrified the first time I saw myself looking to the top left (eye roll) every time someone spoke – just because of where they were placed on the screen!

his is a tense time and online meetings restrict our natural inclination to connect as individuals. A little levity goes a long way. Allow time for a little banter and a bit of a laugh. If you can end the break out rooms on something light hearted participants will come back to the main room refreshed and uplifted.

Like all workshops, design them with and for your audience, and then adapt as the workshop unfolds. During lockdown, this might mean that participants need to duck out and care for a child, or open the door for that new monitor delivery. Using the chat for a “be right back” is a helpful approach to avoid interrupting the workshop flow. If they had to leave for a while, consider a subtle re-orientation (recap) shortly after they return. 

3. Orient your audience 

Virtual workshops require a new type of ‘housekeeping’. Let people know they can use the chat to send questions (or not). If your audience is not familiar with the tools, give them a quick run through and an opportunity to play with their settings in the break. Request they mute their lines if there is background noise.

Keep the agenda visible. In a physical workshop, you’d usually have a copy of the agenda to-hand or on the wall. In a virtual meeting, it’s helpful to cover the agenda at the start, and to build some staging into any presentation so the audience knows where they are and where they are going.

So, why not ensure you and your team have created a space for wellness. Perhaps as a team you discuss and agree on some home/work boundaries around break times or meeting times. 

4. Have an alert co-pilot

A co-pilot can make a workshop appear seamless. Switching back and forth between various online engagement tools while sharing your screen and leading a discussion can be tricky. A co-pilot can help with updating live presentation content and adjusting content based on audience feedback. They can also help individual participants with technical issues. Remember to assign them as “co-host” and give them the level of control they need to provide effective support.

Do a run through with your co-pilot. If you’re running an important workshop and want it to go really well, test everything. Test the technology, run through the tools.

5. Design a great workshop

Apply all the usual things that make a workshop great. Set a collaborative tone. Build a well-structured, but flexible agenda, with plenty of interaction. Set out with clearly defined outcomes that you all work towards. Make sure there is enough time at the end to reflect and capture next steps.