The future of consulting and facilitation is here. Before COVID traveling to facilitate workshops was the norm. I would get on a plane up to 3 times a month to lead workshops on innovation, process improvement and business efficiency. However, the days of setting up coffee and organizing brightly colored sticky notes has been replaced by screens and virtual backgrounds. We still need to be able to connect, brainstorm, and find unique and actionable ways to problem solve. Natural connection and in person meetings still have a very important role for innovation and problem solving, but knowing how best to use the virtual tools available to us can enable us to have just as strong an impact. Ready to learn how?
- Plan Ahead — With any workshop, pre-planning is essential. Review your outline, send any pre-work, and make sure you have the most recent metrics and data. Making a prep list can be helpful. When planning go through and test your technology. Do a dry run of the meeting, setting up break-out rooms, and even having a second computer so you can view what your participants are viewing. You can send yourself a log-in and sign-in as a participant. It will help you avoid the, “can you see this?” conversation every time you share your screen. Once you have sent all invites, done a dry run, and checked all your prep items off your list, you will be able to be less distracted by details and more focused on the workshop itself.
- Cameras On! — When you send invites make sure all participants know they are encouraged to be on both audio and video during the workshop and that they will be asked directly to participate. There is an important shift towards interaction that happens when you can see and hear each other. If the team is not able to support audio and visual, do some trouble shooting to make sure that the majority of your participants will be able to view your screen and be on camera, or at least view your screen and be on audio.
- Use Interactive Screen Sharing — Interactive screen sharing acts as a subsite for the communal, and so well loved, white-board. Make sure the program you use allows participants to type in real time. This way folks can make suggestions, write out ideas, brainstorm, and choose among different options. Microsoft Teams allows for this type of screen sharing. You can also use Lucidchart, Miro, Stormboard, or Conceptboard. If those are not available to you, you can create a Googledoc or shared Microsoft Teams document, and send a link to allow for live feedback and interaction. Whichever you option chose, double check that it will work for all participants. The less sign-ins and accounts that need to be created, the better.
- Do an Ice-breaker — Ice breakers and introductions are important for building comradery. They allow everyone to get their name into the space, get comfortable speaking, and learn who everyone is on the call. You can ask an informative question such as, “what is an expectation you have for today” or “what is something you like about your job?” or be more relaxed with a “what is your favorite beverage” type of question. Whatever you choose keep the focus on something positive.
- Time limits — Keep your online workshops to 2 hours or less with a 15min break. Anything over this and it is hard to continue a high level of engagement.
- BONUS Record your session — This is one of the biggest benefits of virtual workshops. By recording your meetings, you are able to go back, review, reassess, and document with less stress. Make sure you ask all participants if they agree to be recorded before hand. You can make this recording available afterwards to all participants as well.
This new approach to workshops and facilitated meetings does have upsides. We are able to meet with ease, go back and re-watch sessions, and we can accommodate more folks with different schedules. At this point, I have led over 100 virtual workshops and we are able to see a high level of engagement. Innovation and learning are still happening. Following these steps helps enhance the prospect that you will have a productive and positive outcome for all participants.