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Reinventing myself as a Virtual Facilitator
by Sarah Wood

With workshop facilitation making up a significant chunk of my work, I thought I was in for a quietish year back in March – my calendar was suddenly cleared, trips to some of my clients based in regional Victoria were cancelled and my facilitator’s box of tricks was stored away…

But my quiet time did not last long in the end as one of my clients, realising that we were in for the long haul with COVID-19, requested that I proceed with the series of workshops that had been planned for their staff – but transferring these to the online environment.

I must admit the first few were tough – especially for me with little confidence and comfort with all-things-technology. I had to extensively rehearse – I kept creating Zoom meetings for myself, persuaded family members to help me test out break out rooms, created virtual backgrounds and practised sharing screens and annotating whiteboards. I sweated over being able to check the chat box, admit late participants as well as share my screen and talk to my slides simultaneously, all the time reminding myself that I had a growth mindset! The positive feedback, however, together with the engagement of participants (as much as you can sense engagement from faces on a screen!) helped grow my confidence and increasingly try out more and more online tricks and activities.

I then persuaded another client to give it a go – what was once a 4 hour ‘in the room’ workshop, I re-designed to 2 x 2-hour sessions with a break overnight for some homework. I transferred the templates I usually hung on the wall on large sheets of butchers’ paper into online documents which could be downloaded, completed and shared with participants during the sessions. After some tweaking from the initial pilot, my sponsors acknowledged we were achieving the desired outcomes – and in a more efficient way – as the completed online documents were dropped straight into the organisation’s system saving any write up of the butchers’ paper content.

This has opened up more opportunities than I would have had previously, the CEO admitting “given the prohibitive travel costs, I was always hesitant to ask you to run these workshops before, but having witnessed the success of the Zoom version, there are no boundaries and I want your workshop approach and planning methodologies used throughout the entire business!” Over the past 2 months I have ran workshops from my ‘home office’ in Melbourne for their branches in New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore,  NSW and SA – and another benefit – no jet lag!

This past week I have facilitated 8 online workshops which has been pretty exhausting, but I’m loving the connections with teams and the positive online vibes I feel from working in a collaborative ‘zoom’. Participants love the opportunity to discuss work issues in the break-out rooms (out of earshot of the pesky facilitator!) and seem to appreciate being involved in continuing to contribute to their organisation’s plans and business challenges.

What would be some of my tips?

  • Use the flipped classroom approach wherever possible – distribute pre-reading or produce online modules for participants to watch and absorb content beforehand. I use Vidversity to create interactive videos as pre-work for participants. This then enables the majority of the online sessions to be interactive when participants reinforce their learning through activities, quizzes or discussion (learn – do – share)
  • If possible, create a relationship with the participants before the workshop – give them a quick call or send out a brief survey
  • Keep sessions to a maximum of 2 hours with a short stretch break half-way through
  • Use the break-out rooms for small group discussions as much as possible – participants seem much more willing to contribute in the small group setting than in the plenary sessions
  • Integrate a polling platform such as Mentimeter to change up the visuals – even better with some music!
  • Use ‘Stampocracy’ for any consultative decisions (participants use the annotation tools to vote on the options)
  • Log in on your ‘phone as a participant so you can keep an eye on what participants are seeing without having to keep asking “can you see that?”

Would I rather be back in a room with my clients?

Absolutely! Being an extravert,  I get my fulfilment from having people around me,  but for now I am happy to continue with the next-best option – online facilitation. Moreover,  post pandemic I will have a hybrid of engaging facilitation offerings to suit existing and potential clients wherever they are based. This has to be a good outcome all round!

If you would like an interactive engaging online workshop or other forum for your teams, contact us now…