If it is part of your job to bring people together to collaborate, exchange and learn online, you are the online facilitator. You don’t necessarily have to call you so but temporarily or accidentally you step into the role of the online facilitator.
It can seem a brave, bold and scary step at the start to be the online facilitator .
And even with practice, we can assure you, we – Corinne and Nadia – feel at times nervous and tense.
Facilitation is a question of confidence.
But not only.
So what does it take to facilitate online?
As a facilitator, you take care of many aspects, your main work is in the preparation process. There are some helpers in the form of guiding principles, resources and underlying maps for the design and preparation process, handy toolboxes and technology. In the end, yes, it is true, it’s about you being the facilitator.
These many aspects of online facilitation are reflected in our concept of Bringing your Online Meetings & Workshops Alive.
Let’s dive into the different aspects.
Being the facilitator
Being the facilitator is about skills, performance and practice.
Facilitation skills are life skills that can be learned by everyone who is ready to adopt a facilitative mindset, is open and curious about people and collaboration processes.
- Listening and being present in a conversation, at work or privately.
- Being aware of how a group works together and how a process unfolds.
- Paying attention to how participation is distributed, how groups are configured and how (online) spaces are arranged.
- Structuring a process for interaction.
- Creating and sustaining an inclusive and inviting space that feels psychologically safe.
Being the facilitator means you ‘stand there’ or rather sit there in the online room (see the facilitation classic ‘Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There. Ten Principles for Leading Meetings That Matter’, Marvin Weisbord, and Sandra Janoff). A bit ‘naked’ we hear Vic Mc Waters and Johnnie Moore saying. When all preparation is done and the meeting or workshop starts, one can indeed feel a bit ‘naked’. It is the moment of performance. You step into the role, a bit nervous eventually, certainly courageous.
Most importantly, be yourself. Be authentic. Develop your style and use your talents.
Online, we find, it’s even more crucial to send out all your energy and good vibes through that small display window of the webcam to your group.
You need to be there.
It needs practice.
With practice comes ease.
Start as a co-facilitator, buddy up with a more experienced workshop leader. Start small and build it up. Look for safe spaces and opportunities to gain practice.
Yet at some stage you need to start. Just do it. Dare to practice and learn. People are often more supportive and understanding than we think in moments of nervousness.
Our most important personal credo is: Bringing meetings and workshops online = bringing people in interaction online.
Bringing meetings and workshops online = bringing people in interaction online.
A group of authors around Matt Barnaby and Judy Rees recently published the Online Collaboration Manifesto. The manifesto makes a call for five aspirations for “better ways of convening online to achieve meaningful results.”
- People and relationships over technology and tools
- Transparently-planned, participative processes over centralised control
- Blended forms of engagement (sync, async, video, writing, etc.) over single-mode
- Iteration that leads to positive change over one-and-done approaches
- Fun over formality
Online Collaboration Manifesto
We signed it. We share these values. We believe in people, processes, engagement, iteration and fun.
Preparation and design
A meeting needs a plan. Together with the organizing team (yes facilitation is a team sport) you think through the online collaboration processes. You start with clarifying the purpose and design a process that fits your purpose and invites participants in an active and engaging role.
- Create a common understanding on the planned workshop process: It is suggested not to jump immediately to the agenda with some building blocks, but to first address some basic questions. Make sure that you develop a shared clarity on the purpose and the expected results as well as who should be participating and why?
- Sketch out the possible process flow. Visualise the possibilities of how the process could flow, consider the various options of online and offline, synchronous and asynchronous activities. Draft the process visually.
- Developing design options for each workshop session: At this early stage, you brainstorm for possible activities (with unconventional ideas welcomed) and develop a rough first working agenda with some design options. A more detailed agenda/ script is developed later.
Excerpt from the Online Process Shaper
Structure brings online meetings alive. Approach your online meeting with a plan. Dare to be creative. How can you structure the discussion and interaction? Ask the right questions and play with rhythm and pace. Tools and methods support you in reaching your outcomes.
There are many toolboxes available. Our favorite is Liberating Structures because the interaction structures are a real game changer in online collaboration. They invite everyone to contribute, ask all to speak to the point and give the conversation a rhythm.
Build your own personal repertoire of participation formats and methodologies. Use toolboxes for inspiration. Apply those that help you and the group to explore an issue and make progress.
This is easier than you think. Do your homework. Learn to handle your platform. It’s a bit like learning to ride a bike. It’s difficult to learn from theory, you just have to practice till you master it.
Make use of the tutorials provided by Zoom, MS Teams, Webex and other video conferencing platforms.Test with friends and colleagues and practice in smaller groups or buddy up as co-facilitator.
In our practice we do not use many fancy tools. Handling the meeting platform and a simple tool for joint writing and visualisation is enough. Don’t over complicate your life. Be creative. Our favorite tool in online workshops? Paper and pen!
Your facilitation practice needs an energy booster?
Are you an accidental facilitator? Or do you feel your facilitation and process muscles are a bit rusty and you could do with an update?
Invest and bring your online meetings and workshops alive. Our workshop concept of Bringing Your Online Workshops Alive is based on years of experiences working with groups, influenced by different ‘schools’ of facilitation and methodological approaches (Liberating Structures, Art of Hosting, the circle practice, Theory U, diamond of participation, Deep Democracy etc.). We find inspiration in exchanges with peers.
What we have learnt, discovered, and tested is packed into our 6-week workshops series. In each of the 5 workshops we touch upon one or several key aspects of online facilitation.
This series of 5 live and facilitated online workshops is about YOU bringing YOUR online workshops alive. We want to boost your confidence and creativity. Let us show you how much fun online collaboration can be. It would be wonderful to have you with us. You can find out more about the upcoming workshop series here.
- Keeping up attention in online meetings – stop blaming – start caring
- Facilitating breakout rooms takes more than pressing the magic button
- Bring a process online because the experience of time is different online.
Engage & keep engagement high. A joint exploration on the art of facilitating engagement in online meetings and workshops. June 9 from 13:30 – 15:30 CEST. Join us if you agree that people meet to engage and that you – as workshop leader and facilitator – want to facilitate engagement so that the voice of each single participant can be heard.
Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash