Facilitating and Designing virtual engagements
Can you tell when an event is designed with the participants’ interests, time and experience in mind?
Meetings and events are opportunities to exchange information, to connect with others and co-create. If you only want to pass on information to someone, you can send an email or publish a blog, or even a book! An event should always be engaging and productive.
Facilitators encourage constructive participation in events. They consider the objectives of the engagement and the needs of participants, then design and manage processes to create and ‘hold space’ for the people in the room. During the event, the facilitator leads participants through these processes, ensuring that there is ample opportunity for individual and group contribution, reflection and participation.
When do I need a facilitator?
If you have more than 20 people participating in your event and you want them to be able to ask questions, discuss ideas and work together in real time it is critical to provide a facilitator.
The role of the facilitator in a virtual event is much the same as their role in a face-to-face event. In fact, now it may be even more important; they guide multiple people of variable levels of digital skill and comfort, through virtual ‘rooms’ where the usual human sense of proximity and expected action takes on new meaning.A Facilitator will design your process, help you to select the right tools, technologies and methods for your engagement; then facilitate a process at your meeting or event that generates the right outcomes and deliverables. Click To Tweet
Facilitators are experts in participation and productive interactions and COVID-19 has given many of us the chance to sharpen our virtual engagement skills.
Today’s post is part of our Virtual Engagement Series. It builds on the tips shared in the Making Virtual Events Engaging and our Enabling Participation in your Virtual Event posts.
So how do you ‘make-space’ in a virtual event?
You set the tone for participation before the event; in your invitation, communications with participants and at the welcome session. It is a great idea to share your agenda and let attendees know when, and how, they will be invited to participate.
At the start of your event, welcome people ‘into the room’. You can offer participants the opportunity to join before the start of the call for a ‘tech orientation’ because you cannot be certain that everyone is comfortable with the tools you are using. When you share your agenda you can include a simple user guide or visual cheat sheet for the platform that will be used. Invite engagement and participation with a sneak peek showing an opening slide, art, story, hold up template, or a relevant and inspiring quote or poem.
Balance content and process
Make sure there is space for participation in your program. Encourage participation by offering a variety of activities, but always remember to provide clear instructions so people know what they should be doing and feel confident about participating. Activity sheets can be useful but don’t give participants too much information at once because it can be overwhelming. Take the time to design clear and succinct guides, this will save time assisting in the session.
Use a variety of methods to allow for different personality types and learning styles. Consider developing personas and empathy maps for participants, and think about what they will be perceiving, feeling and seeing at different points on the agenda. Ask yourself if they will get what they need out of the event. Allow participants to choose their own adventure and make it easy for them to select the discussion groups and breakout rooms that interest them.
Shape your event
What is the process you want participants to go through? What kind of thinking and activities will you encourage during different items on the agenda? How will they feed into each other?
When you design the shape of your event and communicate it to participants it helps them know what to expect as they move through it with you. For example, many designers use a double diamond approach when exploring issues and designing solutions with others. The first diamond represents a wide or deep process where divergent thinking is encouraged, the second focuses the group and encourages convergent thinking that is action focused.
Theory U is another approach used by process designers and facilitators that is based around a shape – the U. During a U-shaped process participants move through issues, breaking down the cause of them, before brainstorming and sharing ideas to address them.
Allow some extra time so that you can adapt and respond. Let things to flow and emerge. Include time and processes for individual and group reflection and consider including open space in your program so that participants can offer emergent topics for discussion.
Allocate time for breaks. Make sure participants know when they will have a break, and stick to the times allocated for rest and return.
Give participants permission to walk away, stand up, and if necessary take calls. Let participants know when this is appropriate and how you would like them to handle it. Setting clear expectations at the start ensures their needs are met without disrupting the flow of your event. Remember that it virtual meetings they may need to be told exactly where the mute button is.
If you want to facilitate your own virtual events, participate in as many as possible! Learn from, and with, other people doing similar things. Remember this is a new standard meeting environment for almost everyone.
If you would like to see how we are employing these design and facilitation methods, join us at the 2020 ANZ EngageTech Forum on the 28th July.