Easy ways to improve your live online facilitation and delivery

“I did it!” If that was your reaction to facilitating live online when the pandemic first put paid to face-to-face, you’re not alone. The end of March 2020 saw countless learning professionals scramble to convert their classroom-based sessions to a live online format.

Many celebrated simply making the switch. But those who’ve enjoyed real success have gone a step further. They’ve honed their design and facilitation skills, and are reaping the benefits.

They are the ones known for providing live online sessions that engage and encourage participation. The ones who can read and react to digital body language, and handle dominant attendees.

If you’d like to join their ranks, here’s where to start.

Encourage Participation

The key here is frequent interaction. I call it the ‘3-5 minute recommendation’. Get the interactivity going early in your session and keep it rolling with a new element every three to five minutes.

You’ve got a smorgasbord of tools at your fingertips to make this happen. For instance, your participants can respond with annotation tools on a slide; on a whiteboard; in a chat window; on a poll; with an emoticon; with a hand-up icon; over the microphone; in a breakout room… the list goes on. 

To build momentum, you could start with a closed question that elicits a yes/no response via the feedback icons (green tick/red X or smileys etc). Next, ask everyone to add more in chat. Then pick out a few people to discuss the topic on audio.

It’s similar to the way you’d do things face-to-face, but just needs a bit of forethought live online. Choose the tools you’re most confident with (could you deal with any technical issues that arise?), run through how to use them at the very beginning of your session, and be clear with your instructions when telling your participants how to respond.

Learn to decode digital body language

Using these tools will also help you to decode ‘digital body language’. The term comes from marketing but we can, and should, apply it to L&D. As Lori Niles-Hofmann, author of Data-Driven Learning Design, explains: “Every drop-off, click, or share is a learner shouting their likes and dislikes. These actions are the eye-rolls, smiles and arms crossed from the classroom, simply in digital format.”

Tune in to your participants and the way they respond. Are they slow to answer? If it’s not a technical issue, you’ll need to change the energy and get people actively engaged again.

Deal with dominant attendees

While some participants need a nudge to join in, others may try to control the session or go off-topic. It’s important not to alienate anyone, so do acknowledge and thank them for contributing, just don’t always react to their comments.

If your system allows it (such as Adobe Connect) ask your participants to choose a text colour so you can easily spot everyone’s input and filter accordingly.

Where possible use other ways to get people to write their answers, such as whiteboard swim lanes (a table), to keep the focus on the topic.

And if someone does go off at a tangent, acknowledge it and refocus with a few words such as: “Bob, thanks for the comment about X. Today we are focusing on Y, so with that in mind, how can we…”.

Over to you

With the ATD reporting that “learning how to engage virtual audiences is a must”, live online delivery has reached a tipping point. Now is the time for all facilitators to demonstrate the ambition we so desperately want to see in our learners.

If 2020 was the year you overcame the obstacles and transitioned to virtual, 2021 could be the year you take it up a notch.

To learn more about enhancing your live online delivery and facilitation, be sure to register for my upcoming eLN webinar. And for more support, drop by my website at Lightbulb Moment.

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Jo Cook

Jo Cook

Through my company Lightbulb Moment I specialise in training learning professionals about virtual classroom and webinar design and delivery, and have done since 2013. My passion is in helping and supporting teams, professionals and organisations embrace the benefits of the live online learning technology and my background includes: further and higher education; the charity sector; small and large organisations, including CNN News and Bupa International. Find out more about me: www.lightbulbmoment.online and follow @LightbulbJo on Twitter