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Facilitation Best Practices From Virtual Facilitators

We’re working and learning from home longer than expected. For many of us, our kids have returned to a very different type of classroom from last year, with at least some mixture of virtual. And at work, we’re leading meetings and delivering learning for larger audiences, which puts a strain on our virtual capabilities.

As a learning professional, you may have suddenly found yourself leading virtual sessions. Your role becomes even more important as a facilitator, as you strive to create meaningful engagement.

We put together the following best practices and checklists for virtual facilitation based on our experience. Whether you’re new or a veteran virtual trainer, keep these things in mind to deliver engaging virtual training.

Tips for Fluid Virtual Facilitation

Virtual is much different than in-person. When you’re face-to-face with someone, body language is easier to communicate, people are more willing to ask and answer questions, and topics are easier to discuss.

Keep a few key things in mind to create a great energy in virtual:

  • Be more energetic than you would in person. Energy is easier to read when face-to-face, so effective virtual facilitators need to play up their energy levels.
  • Don’t fear silence. It’s okay to ask a question or make a point and wait a few seconds before continuing or until someone offers an answer.
  • Sound conversational. Don’t read directly from slides—talk naturally. If you’re reading from a script, practice reading through it out loud first.
  • Feedback in a virtual environment is more challenging. People can’t read body language, and you can’t see how people are responding. Prepare yourself mentally in case it’s difficult to get a feel for how your participants are responding.

Virtual Facilitation Checklist: Creating Connections and Driving Engagement

There are a few virtual faciliation best practices to help create connections between you and your participants:

  • Engage throughout by calling on people.
  • Use participants’ names.
  • Include interaction.
  • Ask standard questions, but also try new ways of questioning.
  • Collaborate rather than lecture.

In addition, use the following checklist to keep your participants engaged throughout your virtual sessions:

  • Connect with each individual as they come into the virtual room.
  • Encourage participants to chat their ideas, thoughts, and reactions with everyone as you are talking, and reinforce the chatter. Along the same lines, encourage participants to follow up with each other with private chats about specific ideas.
  • Peer pressure and peer support are integral to a successful virtual learning experience. When participants know they will be called on to collaborate with one another, they will be more engaged throughout the entire program. But warn them at the beginning that you may do this! And let them know they may say “Pass” if they prefer not to answer.
  • Use the participation buttons (raised hand, green check mark, red X, emoticons) whenever possible to solicit responses. For example, you could say, “If you agree with what you just heard, put up a green check mark. If you see it differently, use a red X.”
  • Call on folks, especially when you ask closed‐ended questions that warrant a “check” or an “X.” Then ask some open‐ended questions so they can elaborate and feel included.
  • Invite people to “raise their hand” to be called on; just don’t forget to erase the icon after the exchange is over.
  • Keep a running tab of who has spoken already so that you can call on those who haven’t yet responded.
  • Write down comments that people make; include their names next to the comments so that you can refer back to what people said.
  • If someone comes in late, send them a private chat to welcome them. You can even have some prewritten chat messages for similar situations ready to copy and paste into the chat function.
  • Personal stories matter even more virtually. Have crisp anecdotes to drive your points home. Data can get boring in a hurry.
  • Whatever you do, make it conversational and use humor, just as you would in an ILT… only VILT needs it even more.

Breakouts and Collaboration

When using breakouts, try to visit every group to check in and ensure that each group has some output to return to the main session with.

Don’t triage the breakout groups. The more people talk, the more opportunities there are for sharing and ideas.

Camera Use

Using the video camera makes it more personal and engaging for both the facilitator and the attendees depending on the content and number of participants. It is recommended for the facilitator to appear on camera at least in the beginning if not throughout the session if there are bandwidth issues. When using video, look directly at the camera when talking. It helps to give the impression that the facilitator is looking at the audience. It’s awkward at first and takes a little practice, but use peripheral vision to look at the audience.

By keeping these best practices in mind, your virtual facilitation should feel more fluid, and it will create more engaged participants. If you have a tip to add or have found something to be helpful that’s not on this list, please leave a comment. We’d love to hear about it!

About the Authors

Fran Colavita
Fran Colavita is a senior manager at GP Strategies, leading the instructor resource management teams and global associates network, which includes facilitators and producers.

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