Facilitating online: How to do it effectively?

by Participation Factory

The lockdown era has forced many public sector organizations and institutions to adapt quickly and to find new ways of delivering services online and operating in an environment many of us were not used to. And facilitation of meetings and working groups of various sizes is one of the most important competences not only of a manager, but also of representatives of cities, districts and other state-run administrations. That is why we bring you some tips on how to ensure that effective data collection, proposal development, trust building, and joint planning are conducted even during meetings in the online space.

Ensure expert knowledge of the chosen tool: Make sure you have sufficient know-how of the tool you choose for online facilitation. Try to rehearse beforehand and do it over and over to get familiar with it. Ideally, send instructions on how to use it along with the invitation to the invitees, and don’t forget to explain everything sufficiently at the beginning of the meeting as well. If you expect more people to join, have a technical assistant on hand to help with moderation.

Be prepared if things go wrong: Remote facilitation can have many variables and challenges that it is good to be prepared for. Always have alternative solutions on hand for problematic situations such as: bored, distracted or confused participants, inconvenient timing, technical issues or even poor Wi-Fi connection. Create a checklist of all possible unwanted scenarios and their solutions to avoid stress on the spot.

Keep the energy up and integrate equally: Do not forget that all participants should be involved equally. Relying on lengthy and vague presentations is useless and risky too. Rather, use facts with stories, share key information, and interesting insights. Be creative and ask people to turn on their cameras as well as the microphone when calling out and encourage everyone to contribute in their own way even though they do not always self-refer. Remind them to use other additional communication options such as chats.

Be flexible: Facilitating online can be unpredictable, since everyone is located in a different environment and the outcome is dependent on individual participation. Don’t be afraid of situations where everything doesn’t go according to the original plan. Try to go with the flow and adapt to the given situation while following the arranged timeline and aiming at desired outcomes.

Be a positive leader! You may be unsure if you can lead clearly enough in the online space and not be tempted to be passive so as not to appear too ‘bossy’. As a facilitator, however, you have a role to lead, and you can do that even in such impersonal circumstances. Remember to be opinion-neutral and don’t be afraid to take responsibility for the flow of the meeting. Clearly articulate the rules of the meeting at the outset, and if the group goes off track later, step in and politely point it out. Maintain a positive and supportive tone of voice and try to keep a cool head. If the situation calls for it, mute the disruptive participant or, in the worst case, exclude them from the discussion.

As with other skills, online facilitation requires practice. Even with sufficient preparation, don’t put unnecessary pressure on you and give yourself plenty of opportunities to practice.

If you are planning an online meeting and want to get support in preparation for it or looking for a team that can handle it for you, reach out to us via info@participationfactory.com