Engaging Online Facilitation


For many facilitators, COVID-19 necessitated the need to quickly develop a new skill set – online facilitation. Our comfortable and engaging world of face to face facilitation was forced to go behind a screen with the need to achieve the same or better outcomes.

After exploring many resources to try to uncover the most compelling style of online facilitation, I quickly discovered that there is no magical solution to online facilitation, but a process of trial and error.

The first task and important task is to understand the tool or technology platform you are using, and how to engage and your audience as best you can utilising the functionality within each technology platform. Breakout rooms, whiteboards, chat function have quickly become our substitute for group discussion and role playing/experiential learning.

Once you discover the new resources within your technology platforms, you need to discover the best way to incorporate these channels to deliver engaging facilitation and delivery.

How do I facilitate – just because you are behind a screen doesn’t mean you cannot stand up. Play with the position of your monitor or device/laptop to make sure you are in the centre of the screen and visible. You may need to alleviate your screen if need be. Stand up and facilitate and engage with the group as you would in a training room, and make sure you have good lighting. This will make sure you are in the right mindset and energised.

Online Discussion and Chat – how great is the chat function! Using the chat function to increase participant engagement through Q&A’s, online discussion and questions, and as a facilitator draw upon the discussion in the chat function to engage your group to talk from behind the screen. Having a person manage the chat function for you during facilitation is a great tool to help provide tech support but also address some ongoing questions and create further online forum discussions.

Turning on the camera – asking your participants to keep their cameras on is a must! You want to see how engaged your participants are and to read their body language and expressions to understand their ability to grasp your content and their level of engagement.

The Whiteboard – the inbuild whiteboard within zoom, Teams etc. may not always suit your needs. Look for other engaging ways of making your session as interactive as possible. Photos and images can create discussion, utilising flip chart paper behind you with clear and bold prewritten notes or to write on as you facilitate can be an effective tool, or you can draw images and diagrams beforehand and share your screen. Make sure your view shows you, and your flip chart paper in one screen and that all is visible! Images and photos create great icebreaker options and provide the opportunity for reflective practice and engagement.

Utilising messenger and chat groups – before your session why not set up a chat group through a communication app, and start your discussion and engagement with the group. This creates the opportunity for your participants to come to your session already engaged, and ready to participate.

Online and blended facilitation is our new world and an opportunity to engage in a different way of learning. Learning to embrace your tools and to experiment with new solutions can only enhance your learners experience. If you are unsure let your group know you are trialling some new tools and would like their feedback. Embrace a new learning experience and style of facilitation, as it helps grow you as a leader and heightens your presence as a facilitator. #onlinefacilitation #covid19 #embracecoaching

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Melbourne, Australia