Effective and Engaging Virtual Workshops

The current restrictions on social distancing and working environments might make you think running a workshop is impossible!  Well, it isn’t!  With the right set up and team, an online workshop can be just as productive, effective and engaging as a face to face workshop.

We can help you deliver team engagement, brainstorming and idea management with a combination of carefully chosen technology tools and our experienced facilitation team.

Top Tips for Optimising Online Workshops.

The last few weeks have taught us many things.  One big lesson we’ve learnt is that it is possible to conduct productive, effective and engaging workshops online.

Here’s our top tips for optimising online workshops.

#1: Choose The Right Technology Platform

A great face-to-face workshop provides your team with the freedom to chat, learn, interact, explore, think and create – without constrictions or constraints.  It’s hard to replicate this freedom from constraints online.  It’s hard, but not impossible.

Virtual whiteboards provide a fluid creative space for your team to play – and can easily integrate with Teams and Zoom.

#2: Recruit A Small, Committed Team

Choosing the right team is critical to success online.  Whilst workshops for 15-25 are a possibility face-to-face, they can be impossibly unwieldy online.  We have discovered that smaller online teams are frequently most creative and most productive.

Micro-workshops with teams of just 5-7 often produce the best results.  If you want to engage more people – just repeat the workshops session!

#3: Test Technology Extensively In Advance

Prior to a virtual workshop, all attendees should test the technology and make sure they are comfortable with the key features they will need to personally use.  These features will be different for the facilitator, technology coordinator and participants.

A workshop will lose all impetus if the first 20 minutes are spent downloading software or trying to get a screen share to work!

#4: Stick To ‘Regular’ Workshop Rules

Before the online workshop, set clear objectives, allocate sub teams and send a pre-read. During the workshop, use an agenda, initiate introductions, recap objectives, align on expectations and roles, set ground rules, take breaks, and clearly outline next steps and timings after each agenda item.

Unlike a regular workshop our advice would be to split the hours across a number of days – maybe 3 x 3hr sessions rather than one full day meeting.

#5: Define Clearly Every Participants’ Role

Take a few moments before the workshop starts to introduce everyone and outline what each participants’ contribution should be. What is the most critical skill you have? What is it you want to contribute?  What is it you want to take away at the end of the day?

Ask all delegates to think about these questions before the workshop so they are ready to introduce themselves and explain their input and desired outcomes.

#6: Use Your Screens Effectively

To make delegates feel like they’re actively involved, use video conferencing rather than teleconference dial-ins. Technology such as MS Teams and Zoom will help to energise the conversation and to keep participants individually engaged.  It’s also important to ensure faces are visible.  Video conferences are more effective when delegates can see each other’s facial expressions and body language.

Ask people to carefully position their webcam and use gallery view to help to recreate the intimacy of an in-person workshop.

#7: Maximise Input, But Minimise Presentation Time

If contributors make long presentations delegates will disengage and lose focus.  Workshops should ensure all delegates are active and involved. Background information should be provided as pre-read.  If a presentation is necessary, use screen sharing, so attendees can follow the flow and message.

However, our advice would be to prioritise conversation to maximise the time people are engaging with each other.

#8: Use Energisers and Engagement Activities

It’s important to use every activity to reinforce relationships when people may be feeling detached from the team.  Try an online quiz with apps like Kahoot or a quick poll on a pertinent question from Pigeonhole Live to monitor team energy and gain feedback.

Encourage people to a bring a little of themselves to the table and acknowledge the reality of working from a remote location or shared family home.

#9: Always Have An Experienced Facilitator

It’s harder to manage a virtual discussion than an in-person one. It is essential to assign one individual to guide the workshop, allowing the other delegates to focus on the content.   It is also useful to have a second person who is very familiar with the technology platform and can handle any tech issues as they arise.

The facilitator can use quick polls to gauge the energy levels of the team and ensure everyone is heard.

#10: Ensure All Delegates Get a Chance to Contribute

Avoiding ‘talk-over’ is a key responsibility of the facilitator.  The facilitator should periodically call on individuals to speak, even by virtually going around the table to ensure everyone has had a chance to input their ideas.

Some video platforms allow attendees to ‘raise a hand’ if they want to input. This can help a facilitator allocate ‘air-time’ and reach a consensus view.

#11: Facilitate Breakout Sessions With Smaller Teams

Contributions and outputs will be greater if delegates are sent into virtual breakout teams to work on specific tasks.  Within MS Teams separate ‘channels’ can be set up for sub teams to meet in and in Zoom breakout spaces can be created.

Small teams can be allocated a specific task and asked to report back to the full team by a given time.

#12: Capture Real-Time Feedback and Votes.

Idea management tools can be a great resource as they can be integrated into online meeting platforms and virtual whiteboards to encourage sharing and engagement with ideas.  They help capture, collate and rate ideas as the team generate them.  Sub-teams can work offline within the ideation tools, and then feedback to the wider team and capture their builds as the ideas develop and evolve.

Ideas can be evolved and progressed through the ideation process within the ideation tool.

We’re Happy To Help!

We hope you find these tips useful.

If you’d like to get a better feel for what is possible when you choose the right workshop platform and partner – check out this link

If you would like our help planning, setting up or facilitating an online workshop, just drop us a line.

Let's Talk?

Hopefully we’ve given you a taste of what’s possible – now, let’s explore how we can help you deliver …

If you’d like us to help you get in touch today, give us a call on +44 1491 411272, or connect with David or Joanna via LinkedIn