edmonds facilitation

Online facilitation in the Zoom era

By Damien Edmonds – 5 minute read.

Due to our imposed isolation during COVID-19, I’ve started a personal journey into online facilitation.

With each new day, I dress professionally from the waist up and crack an awkward smile into my webcam as new people join our virtual meeting.

Following research into the many video conferencing tools currently available, I’ve been using Zoom. Along with the hundreds of millions of people flocking to it over the past few months, I’ve found Zoom’s gallery of participants to be truly engaging.

But to keep my meeting participants engaged — that is, immersed and involved — I’ve found Zoom’s polling, breakout room, and screen-sharing features to be most effective.

  • Polling allows you to engage participants without them having to speak up.
  • Breakout sessions give participants more ownership — they can speak up without a facilitator.
  • Screen sharing is where the real magic occurs: I’ve seen firsthand how online participants obtain a tangible sense of progress when they share something that they feel passionately about and then receive real-time feedback.

I’m also currently investigating a further 40 apps that assist with various aspects of day-to-day digital workflow, such as:

  • collecting and brainstorming ideas
  • daily check-ins (ie. more than just a status report)
  • obtaining community feedback
  • project management, collaboration and communication
  • world café meetings for large-groups dialogue, and
  • speed-networking.

These online methods can dovetail with traditional face-to-face workshop interactions, enriching the way we connect and collaborate at work. Here are four takeaways on my experience with online facilitation so far:

1. Make it human
Our new world is confronting. As a result, we’re all affected in different ways. Check-in with your participants: how are they feeling, or coping? Acknowledging and validating these feelings allows a more productive virtual meeting.

While time consuming, introduction sessions upfront are also valuable for maximising participant engagement. In a session just this week, we had to produce an object from our home that we appreciated at this time. It’s meaningful to connect to one another as people, not just as images on a screen.

2. Get to know a few apps and their screen layouts
Ask your teams about relevant software options: what functionality or security do they offer? How many users do they offer vs cost per user? Do they integrate with the technology you’re already using? Most importantly, are they designed for humans?

Aside from failing fast, one of the best pieces of advice I’ve received is to trial new software by ‘trying to break it’. (My inner child is all for this approach!)

3. Keep it simple
Simplify the view: Choose an uncluttered background (whether real or virtual) and make sure your clothing doesn’t ‘buzz’ on screen (watch out for stripes and plaid).

Agendas: Whatever timeframe you decide on, ensure your agenda has clear outcomes and purpose for your participants.

Housekeeping: Be clear with your group rules at the start. Muted microphones are a must to keep background noise to a minimum.

Support: If you have a larger group (10+), consider having a second person to help you monitor the functionality of your meeting. You don’t want to lose their attention while you juggle the agenda and technical troubles.

4. Internet speed
We’re relying on the internet, so check your download and upload speeds at home vs. the office, or at various times of the day when others might also be online. By way of comparison, I have NBN at home and — at time of writing this — my download speed was 94Mbps and upload speed was 38Mbps.

So, in true virtual fashion, perhaps you might share your experience with today’s blog — thumb up or down?