Five Principles for Virtual Facilitation
Whether it’s a teleconference, a webinar, or a group coaching program delivered by phone, virtual facilitation is becoming a ‘must-have’ skill for many coaches, trainers, managers, and consultants. Next time you are asked to facilitate a program by phone, consider the following five principles:
1. Less is more.
A major pitfall for trainers, coaches and other facilitators, live or virtual is that they try to include too much information. In a phone or based environment without the standard visual cues and immediate feedback, it may be more challenging to deliver content to the same breadth or depth. Rather than trying to “cram it in” consider what is ‘must have’ content for your call. What is essential, and what is a nice to have? If you want to get more information across, consider what you could assign as pre-reading, or field work after the call.
Ask yourself: What content is a ‘must have’ in your program? What is a nice to have? What pre-work or post-work could you create to enhance the learning experience?
2. Create opportunities for visual anchor points.
One of the challenges with virtual facilitation is keeping people on focus. Wherever possible, create opportunities for visual anchor points so people know where you are and can see where you are going, or what you are discussing. A visual anchor point may include: a short handout which is sent out pre-call, including main points, with space for people to take notes. It could also entail a more detailed PowerPoint slide which people follow, with, or without main points from your speaker’s notes.
Ask yourself: What visual anchor point would my group benefit from?
3. Reduce Barriers for Participation.
Barriers to participation do exist in the virtual domain. It may be due to differing technologies on the part of participants attending from different geographic locations, or lack of familiarity in how to use the technology. Keep it simple at first, provide opportunities for people to gradually get comfortable with the technology and all it offers. Ensure that you provide clear instructions on how to access the call, and what to do if troubles are encountered.
Ask yourself: What barriers may exist with this group? What do I need to put into place to maximize participation? What additional supports, such as Frequently Asked Questions, will support participation? What troubles might participants encounter and what are the solutions?
4. Creating a Supportive Learning Environment.
Part of a virtual facilitator’s main role is to create safety and connectivity within a group that cannot see each other. Creating ground rules, providing a clear agenda and talking about roles and expectations will be important from the onset of your program. Consider how you can create a sense of safety and connectivity. As a baseline, it is important for people to know what’s expected of them, where the call is going, and how they can ask questions.
Ask yourself: What do I need to consider and do to create a safe learning environment? What strategies and approaches can I use to boost connectivity within the group?
6. Engage people throughout the call.
Adult education practices point to the importance of engaging your audience every 8-10 minutes. In virtual domains this amount of time may shrink to 5 minutes. Ways to engage a group may involve pausing and asking the group a question, encouraging participants to write down their own response for follow-up, or if you have time, share briefly their response. You may also create a quiz which people can participate in using a handout if it’s a phone based program, or a poll if you are using a webinar platform.
Ask yourself: What strategies can I use to engage people throughout the call? What activities do I need to incorporate?
Next time you are facing a virtual facilitation opportunity, consider these five points to give your presentation more impact and boost involvement with your group.
Reprinted with the permission of Jennifer Britton, Founder of “Potentials Realized”, performance improvement specialist, and author of Effective Group Coaching (Wiley, 2010) and From One to Many: Best Practices for Team and Group Coaching (Jossey-Bass, 2013). Jennifer supports clients globally in the areas of leadership, coaching skills and teamwork through award-winning virtual and in-person programming.
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