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Top three tips for successfully facilitating online meetings

With so many of us suddenly needing to run online meetings, in this episode we’re going to cover our top three tips for facilitating online meetings. Why’s this important? Because so many of us are experiencing what is officially now known as Zoom fatigue. Just this last week Zoom passed the milestone of having 300 million people using Zoom in one day! That’s a lot of competition for people’s eyes and ears, so we need to make sure our meetings are well run.

The first tip is that if you are already a facilitator, then you have already got experience facilitating traditional face-to-face meetings. You can use many of those tools from your existing toolkit, to help you facilitate online! In fact I’ve heard some people say that they consider web meetings to be face-to-face meetings, as you can still see each other’s faces! So perhaps it’s about our mindset. 

There may be some tweaks, but you can definitely facilitate online, if you’ve already facilitated in person! You can run a workshop, break people into small groups to discuss questions and ideas, do an ORID, or do a Think-Pair-Share online.  So relax, and give it a go… 

The second tip is that you’ll need to adjust the tools for the online environment. There are three things to remember here. The first is that the timing needs to be different when working online. In person, you usually work with time slots of 20 to 30 minutes, making sure that you have some different forms of interaction during that time. However, when it comes to the online environment, you have to drastically cut back the length of these time slots. People just cannot spend as long concentrating online. It’s more like 10 minute time slots, making sure there is interaction during that time.

The second thing to remember when adjusting tools for online, is that you’ll need to be more directive than you’d be in person. We are huge fans of using silence in person, but online, it is a bit different! We have all been on a video call when someone asks a question, there is a short silence and then three people all talk at once! Online you need to check in more directly with people. In a small group, simply go around and ask people by name if they have any questions or comments. In a larger group, ask questions and get people using the chat box or some other online tool for feedback.

The final thing to remember when adjusting facilitation tools for an online environment, is to make good use of online tools. Do you want to set up a flip chart online? Then get people to type into the chat box or into a shared Google doc. Want to do a sticky wall? Then use Jamboard! Want to check in on how people are doing in a larger meeting or over time in a smaller meeting? Then set up a poll! There are a huge number of online tools that can complement your facilitator toolkit. Use them!

The third tip we have is – practice, practice, practice! There is no substitute for practicing online. Just have a go. Take any small or large opportunity you have to facilitate online and then take the time to reflect about it afterwards and work out what you would add, remove, or change in some way. Attend other people’s online workshops and when you’re in a small breakout group, take on the role of facilitating. Practice, practice, practice! 

Another option is to get a couple of colleagues, find 30 minutes that works for you all and jump online. Practice running a short session, practice putting people into breakout rooms, practice doing a poll. Play with the platform you’re using and get used to it with some colleagues who will give you some constructive feedback and support. Then swap around so you get to experience it from the attendees’ perspective. Another great idea is to ask a colleague to be your co-host when you facilitate online the first couple of times. They can make sure people are muted, monitor the chat box and generally provide some support when needed. Just have a go! 

There you have our top three tips for facilitating online. Now we would like to hear yours! Add a comment below this blog post and tell us about your experiences, including any online tools you use, and how you’ve adapted your approaches so they work effectively in an online environment! We don’t want this to be just a one-way conversation – so please join in! 

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Google Jamboard is a free online sticky wall option: 

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David Jago
3 years ago

G’day folks — Excellent post as ever. A couple of thoughts from my (increasing) experience of online sessions in general and Zoom plus other tools specifically. Zoom is like the venue and other tools are like sticky walls, butchers paper, whiteboards and so on. Zoom is popular because it’s easy enough to use. Other platforms trade off some specific advantages for that ease of use. As you say, facilitation is facilitation: whether face-to-face or online or blended. The underlying dynamics of facilitation are unchanged. We just have to adapt the tools according to the situation. On tools. Linoit, Mural and… Read more »

Denise Bewsell
Denise Bewsell
3 years ago
Reply to  David Jago

Yes – thanks for the suggestions David! Always good to hear of other options.

Marie Vitelli
Marie Vitelli
3 years ago

Thank you for these tips & suggesting jamboard ( a new tool to me). A whole new world of virtual meets – which will possibly remain with us (to some extent) after the COVID pandemic subsides. I am still grasping how to change & bring forward a Zoom meeting slot & a few other Zoom features. Agree with Tip 3 – practice is needed for good facilitation.

Graham Harris
Graham Harris
3 years ago

Thanks Again Denise and John – can’t agree with you more about the need to practice and have a go. It is a brave new world but one I think will be with us all into the future to some extent. Thanks again.

Denise Bewsell
Denise Bewsell
3 years ago
Reply to  Graham Harris

Thanks Graham!

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