The black swan of our days, in other words the corona virus pandemic, has forced an accelerated digital transformation upon organizations around the world. This has included working from home for many, but also either cancelling events and workshops or restructuring them to be organized digitally.
This sudden push for digital transformation has been challenging for many industries. To support NGOs in this process, the umbrella organization for Finnish Development NGOs – Fingo has organized a few online facilitation sessions to support NGOs in fostering the quick move from face to face to virtual. I attended one of these workshops on April 29th, together with 30 other people who attended the fully booked session on Zoom.
We all can benefit from virtual facilitation skills
Facilitation is one of the pillars of service design and organizing workshops. A good facilitator can lead successful co-creation sessions even with difficult groups or contentious tasks. Virtual facilitation brings the art of facilitation to the online sphere. Over night, virtual facilitation skills went from something service designers and professional facilitators need to know to something that everyone working from home would benefit from. Organizing virtual workshops and simply co-creating online within the workplace have become increasingly more common in our new reality.
The virtual facilitation session I participated in was a tips and tricks type of session, where specialists shared very concrete examples on facilitating online work. After attending the session, I feel more confident in both using different online facilitation tools and leading a co-creation session virtually.
Top three takeaways
1) Preparation, preparation, preparation! Preparing to facilitate an online event is even more important than preparing for a face-to-face event. Once you have chosen and created the tools you will use during the event, make sure to try them out. Also do a test run of the technology, divide breakout rooms and practice moving between these. It is a good idea to share some information and materials with the participants before the session, to create shared understanding of the technology and tools to be used during the event.
2) Schedule more time for the beginning. In addition to the regular warm ups and getting to know each other, virtual events require doing a technical check. You should also agree on how participants can ask questions, whether it is by writing in the chat or any other way. If you intend to use the chat, it would be useful to have a co-facilitator who could keep an eye on the chat while you are presenting. It is a good idea to have your camera on and make some time for casual chit chat, to help set the mood for the event.
3) Activating and engaging participants is more important than ever! Long monologues and uncertainty about the tools are sure ways of losing the focus of your participants. Make sure that everyone knows what is happening, do not assume and use the chat or polls to activate participants. You could also keep tabs on which of the participants have contributed to the discussion and address quiet participants directly by name.
With these simple tips and tricks, even a less experienced virtual facilitator can lead a successful online event. Personally, I will try these out already next week, will you?
Useful virtual facilitation resources:
Online facilitation tools catalogue
Virtual Facilitation Finland – Facebook group
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