There’s always been a valued role for facilitators to co-host meetings and workshops so leaders and all involved can participate more and worry less about the process. With COVID-19 thrusting many groups into the online space without warning, there is another important role – managing the technology. The complexity can make it useful to nominate a co-facilitator (co-host) for online sessions and agree to distribute the tasks – managing the time, agenda, ensuring participation and marking the group’s progress towards their desired outcomes.
All group sessions benefit from preparation and planning to ensure there is sufficient time and suitable activities to cover the agenda and move in the direction of the desired outcomes. Here are ten tips for co-facilitators to help run successful sessions in the online space:
- Prepare yourself: In order to make sure you can be seen and heard effectively, you’ll need to ensure your audio is working at a suitable level, without background noise and check your image and ensure that the lighting is shining on your face, not behind you. You may also choose to hide your image so you aren’t self-conscious.
- Prepare docs / audio / video for sharing: To prevent delays when screen sharing, do a quick pre-check that you have open all the documents you need to share and close all other files so that you won’t accidentally expose any personal / confidential docs.
To prepare audios / videos: Download audio and video clips to your desktops if possible as there are often buffering issues. Also check that the sound of the audio / video is playing through the online technology, not playing into your room and thus needing to be picked up by your computer audio.
- Prepare your questions and decisions: As well as an agenda, you will benefit from typing up questions and decisions so that a co-facilitator can easily cut and paste them into the online chat while the other is talking through. And it helps to signal to the group whether the items and activities of the session are intended to: connect, share information, generate possibilities or options, make decisions, agree actions and responsibilities, confirm status etc.
All meetings and workshops require some planning to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to participate. Depending on your technology you will want to generate specific engagement activities such as polls, Q&A, chat topics, breakout room groups, etc.
- Check-ins: With many people working from home and having family interruptions to cope with, it is beneficial to have a short or structured check-in, that allows everyone to express what is going on in their ‘work and life’ background. This can range from a word or phrase representing how each person is feeling, to a score from 1-10 in terms of the distractions they are facing / or how well they can concentrate.
- Ground rules: It’s good practice to set ground rules. Beyond the usual one person at a time; disagree with the statement but don’t attack the person; add, not detract from the suggestions – online-specific ground rules include:
- ask people to ‘mute’ themselves when not speaking, or gain agreement for the co-facilitator to “mute all” if the background noise is distracting. It is important to note that if the group is muted, speakers lose the auditory cues of acknowledgement, support or disagreement, so the co-facilitator will need to regularly scan the group faces for signs of agreement / concern / distress and remind those who are trying to speak while muted, or help them unmute.
- keep videos on, or agree when and how participants can turn off their videos
- ask the group to use chat for questions, interaction and feedback. This includes deciding whether to allow person-to-person chat, public chat, or only group-to-facilitator chat
- agree how the group can signal that they want to speak, e.g. ask them to physically put their hand up if they want to speak, or show them how to use functionality and have a co-facilitator monitor for requests to speak
- when and how to use advanced signals such as agreement, speed up, slow down, time for a break etc.
- gaining permission to record the session and confirming the uses of the recording and if recording, set it up to record automatically as the session starts
- Structured engagement: Online workshops can tend to be passive, as it isn’t easy for the facilitator to say “turn to the person beside you and discuss X”, so you will need structured alternatives and the co-facilitators will need to monitor these. Examples include:
- Reactions, e.g. asking for: Thumbs up / down / out
- Responses: e.g. type Yes, No, Not Sure in the chat box
- Feedback: e.g. asking the group to write a comment in the chat box, give other team members encouraging or constructive feedback
- Q&A: e.g. suggesting the group flag questions with a prefix such as Q
- Sharing references & resources e.g. suggest names, concepts and links to references be typed in the chat function and distributed as part of the session follow-up.
- Pre-allocate people to activities such as breakout rooms: Break out rooms give an opportunity for those who are quieter, or reflective to have a voice in smaller groups. Initially you may want to pre-allocate people to activities rather than try and do it on the fly. Instructions should to be typed up and distributed before you split the group into smaller groups, so the task / question / topic is clear. People often get distracted by the technology of moving into smaller groups and don’t hear the instructions clearly. Allow options – even within the smaller groups – for typing a response, as well as speaking, so that groups aren’t co-opted by the loudest / most confident voice.
- Small to large group feedback: When returning to the larger group, ask everyone to type in the chat box one insight / observation / thing they discussed, before asking for a representative to give feedback. This gives a wider summary of the smaller groups and the chat text can usually be captured and distributed.
CONFIRM & CLOSE
All meetings and workshops benefit from confirming what was discussed and decided, both at the end of each agenda item, as well as the end of the session. And capturing this visually as well as verbally enhances memory and retention.
- Checking for agreement: It’s not as simple as going around the room and asking for a nod of approval, so the co-facilitator needs to create a formula for ensuring everyone is heard. Online meeting functionality such as Polls and Chat can aid in decisions, especially capturing questions and concerns in chat, similar to sticky notes. Asking group members to vote ‘Yes, No, Not Sure Yet’ can allow you to keep moving and flag for follow-up.
- Close: As well as the usual end-of-meeting formalities, there are a few additional quirks of online meetings, such as leaving the meeting vs ending the meeting, and recording, saving recordings and saving chats, all of which must be done before ending the meeting.
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