Hosting a virtual workshop, conversation or meeting with your hub and/or local stakeholders? You've come to the right place! This toolkit contains tips and tricks on how to set intentions, test technologies, develop an agenda and cultivate your facilitation approach to fulfill those intentions, when leading a virtual session.
1. Intention Setting
In a virtual session, non-verbal communication cues and physical tools are not available, so its vital to sharpen your virtual facilitation skills to be able to read the energy of participants and keep them engaged.
Its even more important to be intentional about the atmosphere you want to create for participants, as well as the objectives you want to achieve. Your objectives could range from advancing a long-term plan for your hub, strengthening a hub project or desired outcomes for participants, like building new relationships and trust between hub members for future collaboration. First, here's some helpful terminology:
- Objectives refer to the ultimate result that the work performed during the session will contribute to, and often only gets achieved long after the session. Objectives tend to be described as verbs.
- Desired outcomes refer to the specific, tangible products of the session. There isn't a one-to-one relationship between objectives and desired outcomes; you can have one outcome covering multiple objectives, and multiple outcomes covering one objective. Outcomes tend to be described as nouns.
- Design principles refer to a framework within which you operate. This structure is made up of rules, guidelines and considerations that should be taken into account when delivering your virtual session.
When developing the above intentions for your session, it may help to ask yourself: What is the context? What am I trying to achieve? Who will this serve? What impact do I hope to achieve? While each facilitator is free to set their own intentions, here's a few examples that you could follow for your next virtual session:
- Objectives: build the basis for a strong hub, create space to hear from each hub member about the current challenges they face, develop joint ideas for how we can support one another, etc.
- Desired outcomes: list of current challenges, principles for working together, clear next steps, etc.
- Design principles: fun, interactive, collaborative, visually engaging, etc.
When you invite participants to your virtual session, include the objectives and desired outcomes. It will help to manage expectations and will give you a frame to navigate within.
Shortly before the start of the session, you may also wish to reflect on your personal intentions for the session: How do I want to show up for the participants? How can I be most present with them? What should I pay attention to? What is my current state of being that I bring into this session? This might flow nicely into an exercise around intention setting for all participants at the start of the session. For more information on this, please see the section on "Design Your Agenda" below.
2. Testing Technology
If you're using Zoom for your virtual session, ensure you and your participants are familiar with the platform and its functions beforehand. You can watch and share introductory materials and videos in your invitation. You may also wish to send the following guidelines to all participants for a smooth start:
- Join the session with your own individual computer or the app on your phone and turn your camera on
- Joining via computer also allows you to work on joint documents and other tools, which is preferred
- Test Zoom beforehand if you're using it for the first time
- Find a quiet place and use a headset for the call, keep yourself on mute if you're not speaking
- Join the session a couple of minutes earlier to ensure an on-time start
- Set all other media to the side, turn off all notifications and be truly present
- Turn on your camera, but if you need to move to a different place during the call, turn off your camera
- Use a journal to take notes so that you don't need to type and can stay on the Zoom screen
Use the Cheat Sheet of Zoom functionalities and try using Breakout Rooms.
You may also wish to use other tools for joint group activities, such as a Google document or Mural. Google docs allow you to work collaboratively in a text document, and Mural is a digital workspace for visual collaboration with an interactive whiteboard that allows you to work creatively on idea generation.
3. Design Your Agenda
Time spent with your hub is precious, therefore, always start and end your sessions on time. If you have a small group (4-8 participants) and depending on desired outcomes, 60 minutes might be sufficient. Otherwise, aim for 90 minutes. This will allow as many participants as possible to contribute.
As you sit down to develop your agenda, think about a high-level flow with some basic building blocks, including: check-ins, framing, get the work done, share, next steps and check-outs. Try to build a different agenda for every session and bring in slight variations to keep it fresh. You might also ask for input at the end of your session about what participants would like to talk about next time.
Check-ins (10-15 minutes): Allow participants to arrive into the session and be fully present with each other. this can nicely turn into a pattern than you may wish to repeat at the start of all your sessions.
- If you have a small group (less than 10 people): Ask participants a question and invite them briefly to share their answer one by one, nominating the person who will speak after them. For example: Why is it important for you to be here today? What are your expectations for the session? Or something fun: If you were a weather system, what would be your report today? Be sure everyone has the chance to speak.
- If you have a medium or large group (10+ people): Ask a question to your participants and invite them to use the chat feature to answer. For instance, you may ask them to type in the chat an emoji that describes their mood in that moment or what word describes how they are entering the call. As participants type their answers, you can read them out loud to make sure they feel acknowledged.
- You could also try a guided meditation or the counting game. For the latter, ask participants to take turns counting up; they need to start at the beginning with if two (or more) participants say the same number twice. You can do one round with eyes open, and another with eyes closed. Its a great exercise to create group coherence, and its fun! There are many other great examples on Mural too.
Framing (10 minutes): Give a clear framing for the virtual session. Prepare 1-2 slides to share the following:
- Objectives and desired outcomes (Why are we here today?)
- Overall flow and agenda (What is going to happen today?)
- Principles for being with one another (What are our ground rules?)
- Meeting etiquette (see the graphic below). For example: Give space for everyone to speak; be hard on our ideas but not hard on each other; listen to understand, and don't listen to speak; etc.)
Get the work done (20-30 minutes): Depending on the objectives and desired outcomes of your session, you can run different formats to get the work done. If you are using another tool, make sure that you explain its functionalities up front. Here's an example of one approach to advance a piece of work:
- Individual reflection (5-10 minutes): If you want input from everyone on a specific topic, start with individual reflections. Pose your question(s) and ask everyone to write down their answers into the Zoom chat box, a Google doc or Mural. You can play music during the individual brainstorming time.
- Reading exercise (5 minutes): Have everyone read the different comments and ask 2-3 participants to summarize what they see in a concise manner.
- Discussion (10-15 minutes): Run a group discussion to drive out key elements.:
- You can also prepare a document that you share and ask everyone to give comments in the chat. Note that you should keep presentation time to a minimum to prioritize collaborative discussion.
- You can also invite participants to use the chat feature to ask questions, make comments, share concerns, etc. and engage with other participants via the private messaging if needed. Yet bear in mind that this might also be distracting and might keep you from focusing on the group when facilitating.
- If you can't build break-out groups given limitations of your Zoom account, you can also invite participants to form pairs and invite them to use the private chat function for the duration of your exercise. This way they can work together and exchange ideas in writing. The topics that the pairs work on can be different, so that you use parallel processing of ideas and advance the work faster.
- You can also consider running a fishbowl discussion with a selected group of participants (4-5 max) about a specific topic. All other participants listen and journal about what they hear. Later your invite those that listened in to reflect back and share ideas to advance the collective knowledge of the group.
- Don't forget to also throw in an energizing activity from time to time – for example, ask people to stand up and stretch, or give them a short 5-minute break to breathe some fresh air.
Share and Next Steps (10-15 minutes): Build in enough time for sharing the work with one another, and to facilitate a discussion in which all voices are heard. Note down next steps for everyone to see, either by sharing your screen as you type them, or by writing them into the chat feature in Zoom directly. Be aware that you will need to save the chat before you close the call, otherwise the conversation will be lost.
You may also wish to appoint a note-taker or a graphic-facilitator to capture and share the conversation.
Check-outs (5-10 minutes): It is important to do a joint closing and not leave the call right after you complete the work. Recognize the contributions of participants and let them share reflections on their experience during the session. This helps to build a routine which you can return to every session.
- If you have a small group (less than 10 people): Ask participants a question and invite them briefly to share their answer one by one, nominating the person who will speak after them. For example: How are you leaving this session? What landed for you that you take away with you? If you were a weather system, what would be your report now after the session? Be sure everyone has the chance to speak.
- If you have a medium or large group (10+ people): Ask a question to your participants and invite them to use the chat feature to answer. For instance, you may ask them to share their biggest takeaway from the session or what they enjoyed most about today's activities. As participants type their answers, you can read them out loud to make sure they feel acknowledged.
Finally, thank participants for joining the session and recognize the time, energy, and contributions they made to the session. You may wish to also get input from participants about what they want to talk about during the next session. Once done, spend another 30 mins after the call to write up a short thank you email with a description of next steps and send it out right away. This helps to keep up the momentum.
4. Facilitation Approach
Facilitation is often a team approach. Depending on the size of your participant groups, it is always good to be at least a team of two when you have more than 25 participants (and plan to host breakout discussions). Consider assigning the following roles when hosting your next virtual session:
- Main facilitator: This person is in charge of the overall flow of the session and the facilitation of its activities, as well as welcoming participants, setting the frame, handing over to their co-facilitators, wrapping up the call, clarifying next steps, etc. When they're not facilitating, the facilitator can also share insights and observations to help participants work through a collective process easily.
- Co-facilitator: This person (or persons) facilitates specific parts of the agenda and will be called upon by the main facilitator. The main facilitator should brief them carefully and request any slides they wish to use, so they can share them with the technology host to ensure everything is in place. When they are not facilitating, the co-facilitator can also share insights and observations to help participants work through a collective process easily. Sometimes co-facilitators also facilitate breakout discussions.
- Technology host: This person is responsible for the meeting’s technical elements, including breakout rooms, polls, slides, murals, etc. They'll also answer incoming questions in the chat and check-in with participants via the private chat function to provide one-on-one support without distracting others.
- Energy keeper: This person pays special attention to the mood of the group and their energy levels. This role can also be filled by a participant. If they noticing the energy drops, they can intervene. For example: “I notice our energy has dropped and I wonder if we need a quick energizer or break?.”
- Harvester: This person documents the essential insights and decisions that emerge from the group process. They make sure to capture learnings in a meaningful way so that it can be shared with participants during the call (e.g. to recap the process made so far), as well as distributed after the call.
There is nothing wrong with sharing at the start of your virtual session that you might be nervous and don´t have extensive experience with facilitation. In fact, you being vulnerable in front of the participants allows them to be vulnerable too, which helps to create an open, collaborative and authentic space going forward.
As facilitator, you should focus on three main elements in your approach: space, people and process.
- Space facilitation: Consider the settings and environment of your virtual session. Though you have limited control in the virtual realm, you can ask participants to join the call from a quiet or inspiring place (of course, with a strong and reliable Internet connection). Music and sounds from nature can also help set the tone and encourage concentration. Finally, breaks are important as people are easily distracted online. If possible, encourage participants to take walks together and show where they're calling from. Even in the virtual space "everything speaks". A 3-minute breather can also achieve a lot.
- People facilitation: Consider three elements – emotions, relationships, and involvement. When you're not present in person, it may be difficult to understand participants' emotions and what they're experiencing during the session. So it’s even more important to find other ways to get a pulse on the group. For example, try more frequent “mini check-ins” (thumbs up / down) during the virtual session.
- When it comes to relationships, the atmosphere might be quite different depending on whether your participants know each other or are total strangers. In any case, it’s important to state from the start a few rules you’d like everyone to respect when it comes to interacting. For example: encourage a safe space, active listening, openness and vulnerability – see setting ground rule in “Design Your Agenda”).
- Finally, though it is a bit more difficult to enact, its important to involve your participants as much as possible. Use the chat to gather their questions, remarks, or comments, and ask them to raise their hands to answer certain questions. Don’t forget you're creating a space for them to connect, learn, and collaborate, rather than a space for you to listen to the sound of your own voice!
- Process facilitation: Consider three elements– information, operations, and energy. As a virtual facilitator, it is essential that you provide the group with clear and concise information, at the right time and in the right format. For instance, make sure your participants know how to join the virtual session and if they need to prepare anything in advance. Introduce the session flow at the start and share tips on how to use the platform you’ve chosen for the session. Be clear on next steps and the follow-up process at the end of the session (see Share and Next Steps in “Design Your Agenda”).
- For operations, make sure that your virtual session runs smoothly and your prepared. Ask yourself: Do you have all the necessary technical equipment and materials for your activities?
- You’re also responsible for managing the group’s energy. While each participant is responsible and accountable for their own engagement in the virtual session (something you should remind them of in the ground rules), you can do a lot as a virtual facilitator to maximize their learning experience.
- The best thing you can do is to plan the design of your session well in advance and potentially with the support of others. You may wish to co-design and co-facilitate with other Global Shapers, changing this each time, to ensure a meaningful and productive experience. Finally, remember to keep flexible and adapt your activities if you sense the group needs something different from what you had planned for.
The most important point of all, is to have fun! Be open to learn more about yourself as you embark onto the path of facilitating virtual sessions.