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Engaging workshop participants using Microsoft Teams (MsTeams)

Engaging workshop participants using Microsoft Teams (MsTeams)

How do you make virtual events engaging using Microsoft Teams? This blog posts builds on previous blog post with ten tips for making virtual events engaging. It digs deeper into the use of a specific tool MsTeams, and what to consider when using it to design and facilitate virtual workshops for community and stakeholder engagement.

The lessons shared in this blog are the result of a workshop held on 4 June with 60 members of the Public Engagement Community of Practice (CoP) of the Victorian Government. The community is composed of public servant’s design and managing engagements for people, organisations and communities across Victoria. Many struggling with how to do that given COVID restrictions and our collective reluctance to meet and gather in-person.

The event was hosted and facilitated by Nina Fromhold, the coordinator of the Public Engagement Community of Practice. Amelia Loye, engage2’s managing director designed the workshop and delivered a keynote presentation, and engage2’s space maker Dane Murray set up and coordinated the virtual event.

We had one and half hours to:

  • share our knowledge about engagement technologies;
  • showcase what is possible using the (approved) tools available for engagement;
  • provide participants with an engaging experience.

That last objective was the most important to us because we wanted to ensure participants walked away with an appreciation of what it might be like for participants in their virtual and online engagements.

The CoP members have access to (and approval to use) both Microsoft Teams and the Engage Victoria Platform which uses The Hive, an online community engagement solution built by HarvestDP to deliver their engagements. This workshop was the third time the Victorian government had used The Hive tools live in a virtual workshop and MsTeams for a workshop style event with ‘breakouts’.

Engage Victoria was used to guide participants to different ‘breakout rooms’ and collect data from them during the workshop. Participants were sent a URL / website link with a ‘project’ web-page showing the six different room options so that participants could select the topic / room that interested them most – a bit like a world café but without a second or third round, or like an open space event or ‘normal conference’ where participants choose their own adventure. During the breakout sessions room facilitators, coordinators and participants also used Engage Victoria tools to engage participants online in real-time asking participants a series of questions using the audio and virtual engagement functions in MsTeams breakout room calls. Participants were then invited back to the ‘main room’ to report back. We toyed with showing the ‘outputs’ of these engagements using these tools when reporting back to the main room but decided it would be faster to invite our breakout facilitators to summarise key points instead. We also kept the engagement tools open for participants.

The integration of the two tools worked surprisingly well, and user experience was pretty smooth. We didn’t have any major hiccups but as designers, facilitators and collaborators we do have some lessons to share. Below is what we recommend engagement professionals consider when designing workshops using MsTeams to engage stakeholders and communities external to their organisation.

Tune into the recording of this workshop here:

Workshop design considerations:

  • If you send someone a link to MsTeams they can join a call without logging into or creating a Microsoft account. They will be asked to share a name which will be displayed in the participant list.
  • Different users will have a different user experience – using the application is different from opening it up in a web browser. For example, this affects whether you can raise your hand. If the user has not updated their software they will have a different experience to others that have updated. A mac user will have a different experience to a windows user difference. Consider this in your instructions.
  • Participants will only see nine (9) people on their screen in ‘gallery view’ if they have the app. Microsoft has said that they are increasing this number but this feature was not live at the time of authoring this blog posts. It is worth looking into these viewing options (as a participant, coordinator and speaker) before your event and planning around it. Seeing everyone in the workshop makes events much more ‘social’. It’s also important to be across this as a facilitator and coordinator so that you can orientate, provide instructions and support participants.  
  • You cannot see the names of participants even if you can see them, unless you run your mouse over their image.
  • The only way to see everyone on the call is to go to the participant’s button in the call menu. This will display the names of participants as a list, or if you hover over them a photo if they have one attached to their profile.
  • If you are recording you will only see four (4) people in the recording. You can not select who these people are. This can be a little uncomfortable for the people being recorded and there is no way to warn them.
  • The chat is called ‘Conversation’ when chatting within the video call. If a call participant is invited to your team
  • You cannot chat with specific people in the meeting while in a MsTeams call – you can only do this with people you invite to your team through the chat (not the conversation). 
  • The view for presenters is not user friendly. If you are screen sharing as a presenter you will not be able to see other participants. Consider using two screens.
  • Coordinators and hosts can mute you but everyone, speakers and participants and can (and need to) unmute yourself. It is really easy to forget that you are on mute and it’s embarrassing, but don’t worry it’s common so someone else will do it on the same call as you.
  • Multi-tasking is much harder on MsTeams, minimising the window and morning to other browsers or applications isn’t smooth. This is good for focus but not good if you need to access email or documents when you have a MsTeams video open on your screen.
  • You need links to different calls if you want to use breakout rooms but this is confusing for participants. Consider the user experience at each step of the workshop program / runsheet including transitions and the best time to give them a new link. Ideally one at a time.
  • When using breakouts on MsTeams you can / cannot randomly pair people up into groups.  
  • You cannot currently limit the number of people in the breakout rooms unless you only share links with the people you want in them. This has a huge impact on facilitation and participation methods you can use in breakouts. Imagine having 100 people on a call and 80 of them went to one breakout. It is not easy to manage the audio and participation of 80 people when you want to collect idea, input or enable audio questions during a 15-30min breakout session.
  • If you send a calendar invite to the event you will be sharing everyone’s contact details. Tools like Humanitix and Eventbrite allow participants to add the event to their calendar but they don’t do it automatically, and don’t send a link to the event unless you send it in your confirmation or ticket.
  • There is no timer / countdown function in MsTeams so your coordinator will need to visit each group to remind them to come back to the main room. Allow time for this.
  • If you want to use online engagement tech during your call, make sure that it updates in real-time without the need for participants to refresh their browser.
  • You can have up to 250 participants on MsTeams unless you have a live events license.

Funny weird techy things to note:

  • Everyone in the call will hear a ding sound when someone posts to the wall. You can disable this but the organiser needs to do it ahead of time by going to Settings > Notifications > Other > Notification sounds > Off
  • If you are not a part of the organisation (or team?) hosting the event you cannot add photos and GIFs to the chat.
  • When you click a URL / website link to another meeting, some users go on hold to enter the new video conference and some open up 2 video conferences at once, so need to be careful with sound bleed between open video conferences.  
  • Screen Share doesn’t always allow Powerpoint presentations to be shared.
  • You can mute all but doing so also mutes the speaker and they would need to unmute themselves. The other option is asking people to mute on arrival. In larger events, it is difficult to continually scroll through the list of people to check if anyone is unmuted as it only shows about 25 participants on the list at once.
  • Everyone who enters a breakout room / call in MsTeams gets added to the list of attendees in that breakout and can see the whole conversations (call chat) history for all time. So, the links are single use or for teams, not for ongoing use with external stakeholders and communities (public sharing).
  • Only participants from the organisation can record calls.
  • You can join as many calls as you like at the same time, so you can be in the ‘main room’ and also in a breakout at the same time. This can affect the audio on calls but makes it easier for participants to rejoin the call. If a coordinator stays in the main room they can mute you / all participants, but this limits the support they can provide to participants stuck in the room / struggling to move to breakouts using the chat function.

Some ‘hacks’ we used to improve user experience and enable greater participation:  

  • Set up an ‘online directory’ with an agenda, instructions and links to breakout rooms and (virtual) online engagement and collaboration tools beforehand. 
  • If you want to run online engagement activities while on a call, suggest participants split their screens and have MsTeams open on one side of their monitor and a web-browser open on the other side.
  • If you are organising, or the coordinator of a MsTeams workshop and you are using a Mac computer, you are better off using the web browser version because you can mute all. If you use the application this does not work.
  • Make sure someone stays in the main room to support movement out of the room and into breakout groups but mute all. If a participant opens up a second call in a new browser window the sound in one call will affect the other call.
  • Provide participants with the option to text or call (by phone) the coordinator if you have problems. If you do this, you may need two coordinators: one to provide tech support for participants, and one for facilitators.
  • Use two computers when presenting. Sign in as two participants. Make sure you mute and turn off the speakers of one computer participating. This will allow you to present from one computer and see participants and how they see you on the second computer.

Virtual facilitation tips:  

  • Always have a coordinator on your call. Make sure they understand their role at all times and are across all details in the runsheet.
  • Transitions are the most important part of the event. Design them into your runsheet. Allow time. Provide clear instructions in multiple ways, as simply and in as brief a format as possible – verbally, in the chat, a slide or document using the share screen function or an image or ‘activity sheet’ shared in the chat. If your event has more than one transition this can be confusing – don’t even try to do it beforehand or all at once. Just provide instructions as required or think about hosting an orientation session at the start of your event. 
  • You can offer three ways to ask questions on Ms Teams: 
    • Raise hand 
    • Add to chat 
    • Breakout into groups then come back with a question per group 
    • Have coordinator ready to help you with the order, just in case you can’t stay on top of the number of questions 
  • When using breakouts – make sure participants clearly understand their options by:
    • Inviting breakout facilitators or hosts to offer lighting pitches.
    • Describe them verbally before the breakout session – during the call or beforehand.

If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to reach out or email Amelia Loye. We’ll do everyhting we can to help you with your online engagements.

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