It seems that face-to-face workshops are a thing of the past, at least for the foreseeable future. While I miss the dynamics of working “live” and in real time with groups of people, I am committed to helping people easily participate when they are in virtual workshops. Over the past few months, I’ve learned a few lessons about how to make that happen (I’ve primarily used Zoom for workshops and meetings, but the lessons hold true for other platforms too). If you are designing a workshop, and your goal is to make it as interactive as possible, here are some things to think about as you prepare:
- Choose the right tools: Zoom has several tools that can be used to mimic face-to-face, participant-centered techniques. When well-paced, using a combination of tools, like breakout groups, round robins, annotating whiteboards, slides, Google Docs or spreadsheets, and polls, helps keep participants engaged.
- Pacing is important: If you think people’s attention spans are short when they are in the same room, they’re even shorter when online. As you design your workshop, think in 5 – 10-minute segments. Long PowerPoint presentations are out. Instead, try shorter presentations (4 – 5 minutes) punctuated by a poll, brainstorm, or a round robin to help gauge what participants think about the topic. You can always go back to a presentation, but breaking up the screen monotony is one way to keep people’s attention.
- Use a producer: Each one of the tools mentioned above requires someone to manage it. Having a producer allows facilitators to focus on the participants’ contributions; a good producer makes the online technology look seamless and keeps people focused on the workshop content. Here’s a sample job description for a Zoom producer.
- Develop (and use) a “run-of-show”: A “run-of-show” is like a facilitator’s guide, but it’s focused on the minute-by-minute running of the workshop. I’ve used Google Sheets to good advantage — all organizers, facilitators, and the producer can see and make up-to-the minute changes to the timing, sequence, content, and tech tools for each of the workshop segments. Here’s a sample run-of-show for a recent workshop.
- Rehearse: Once you have a sense of the flow and tools that you’ll use during the workshop, plan to rehearse at least once or twice. Have the producer and facilitators run a session as if it were live, and give everyone a chance to see how their sessions will look and how they should pace themselves.
- Rehearse again: A final rehearsal is always good practice. This is a chance to make sure that presenters have a good Zoom set-up, are well-lit and can be clearly heard. There are many helpful tips on how to dress for an online meeting and how to adjust lighting for Zoom meetings. The final rehearsal also helps everyone get accustomed to lag times in uploading documents or presentations and sharing screens. Alert facilitators that they may need to fill silence with a few words, so everyone needs to be on their toes!
Last word: Allow enough time to design! A face-to-face workshop takes about two hours of design time for each one hour of contact time (if the majority of the content is clear). For a virtual workshop, I allow at least twice that much design time, especially when working with clients who are not accustomed to using online tools.
This is the first blog of the “Switching to Zoom? Tips for maximizing interaction in your Zoom(work)shops” blog series by Beth Gragg. Make sure you have a LeaderNet account to be notified of the next blog!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ms. Beth Gragg is pivoting from face-to-face workshopping to designing and facilitating virtual learning opportunities for NGOs and not-for-profit organizations addressing social justice and international public health issues around the world. She is excited about using online tools to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard, and is the author of Tools from the Field: Participant-Centered Techniques for More Effective Training. She holds an advanced degree in international administration and adult education and is fluent in English and Spanish.