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Our virtual facilitation guide

As we transition our courses to a virtual format, we wanted to share some of the principles our team are using to ensure successful facilitation

Take frequent process checks to ensure buy-in to each learning objective. Don’t assume that silence means agreement, particularly in the virtual world.

We have broken down virtual facilitation into four areas:


- Technology

- Preparation of participants

- Preparation of facilitators

- Course delivery


1. Technology


  • Before the meeting, distribute a list of technology tools that will be used. Provide a “check-in” session prior to the actual meeting so that participants can test their technology.
  • Encourage participants to prepare and provide them with access to learning materials in case they’re unfamiliar with the technology.
  • Specifically call out anything that needs to be installed or loaded in advance, so you’re not waiting for people to download plug-ins or do battle with their firewalls while you’re trying to start the session.
  • Have a fallback plan that outlines how the meeting will go forward without some individuals or some communication channels. Establish a re-start procedure in case of total failure.
  • Learn the platform features you are using. One cause of unexpected events is a facilitator who does not know the platform tools well enough to run a virtual session.
  • Use a window on the computer screen to show the meeting agenda and mark it up with check marks to show progress.
  • Make use of software features to maintain a list of who is online. If your meeting software doesn’t provide that automatically, maintain a list on the screen yourself.


2. Preparation of Participants


  • Make the pre-course plan very explicit and provide more details than you normally would for a face to face course.
  • Ask participants to upload photos and short biographies before the course starts. Distribute them to the participants. [Could be used as a starting activity and you can use the information to make sure it’s not the classic ‘creeping death’. Tell us one thing about you that is surprising? Give us one word that describes your area of greatest development or strength (latter is much easier than former). Ask bizarre questions – if you were a piece of furniture what would you be and why? If you were a colour what would you be and why?]
  • Share technology tips with participants before the course. Ask them to use headsets and avoid using speakerphones for clear audio connections. Advise them to use wired connections when possible to minimise wireless connectivity issues.
  • Make sure they understand the ‘why’ from their perspective. Perhaps one of the questions on the pre-course questionnaire could be what is your personal objective? and keep asking them if they are achieving their personal goal.


3. Preparation of Facilitators


  • Design frequent activities or interactions that require participants to be engaged in other words make sure the simulation is supported by you making it interactive.
  • Have some ‘questions or polls’ ready to go beforehand so you can use them as ‘fillers’ when you are forced into a hiatus.
  • Make sure you are very familiar with the course content and flow and be prepared to diverge and then come back to the main theme


4. Course delivery


Virtual groups still go through all the same Tuckman Model stages of development as face to face groups: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning.


Unfortunately, they tend to go through those stages more slowly. To help with that:


  • Engage in distributed breaks – leave the audio and video up during breaks. This encourages informal discussions that can help break down barriers between virtual team members.
  • Tightly structure your decision-making process. Remember open-ended questions like, “What do you all think we should do?” aren’t going to work well in a virtual session. Short polls or votes can work better, and use chat boxes for open-ended questions.
  • Take frequent process checks to ensure buy-in to each learning objective. Don’t assume that silence means agreement, particularly in the virtual world.
  • Make transitions between topics and activities explicit so that participants don’t get lost.
  • Look around the ‘room’ and pick out people who have a puzzled look on their face like you can in a face to face simulation.
  • Pro-actively seek out and provide feedback for virtual participants. Prompt for verbal responses individually, or use enabling software features like polling and chatting.
  • Take frequent process checks. Make sure that remote participants know where you are in the simulation, and that they are in agreement with how the course is proceeding.
  • Use participants’ names frequently when facilitating. Get Participants to ‘wear’ a visible name tag for participants on video and wear one yourself (role modelling expected behaviour)
  • Remember Pose Pause Pounce so everyone prepares an answer to your question.
  • Keep all avenues of communication open. Some participants will prefer to chat or use whiteboard tools to communicate. Leave these options open and encourage their use. When you do get feedback, acknowledge it just as if it were stated aloud. This is simple differentiation and ensures you are working to help your learners overcome their personal barriers to learning.
  • Use the information provided by the participants. Make a point of strongly connecting the feedback and contributions to the content.
  • Do not get caught in the trap of complaining about virtual classroom problems. This can be very distracting and will turn off participants who were already not inclined to enjoy the experience. Minimise the tech-talk and keep on track.
  • Think about how you might stop people talking over each other. Set the ground rules. When speaking leave a pause between each sentence. Participants start by saying their name which should be short enough to allow the speaker to pause and allow the person to speak. Do a ‘round robin’ once in a while especially if some people have not spoken.


We hope you found this useful!


We'll be adding to this as the weeks / months go by. We have been asked for a "post-course" guide too so we'll let everyone know when this gets updated.



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