Virtual Facilitation 101: Essential Tools and Techniques | Monica Thakrar | Skillshare

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Virtual Facilitation 101: Essential Tools and Techniques

teacher avatar Monica Thakrar, Organizational Consultant and Coach

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

6 Lessons (29m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Basic Tools

    • 3. Pre-Meeting

    • 4. During the Meeting

    • 5. Make it Engaging

    • 6. Post Meeting and Conclusion

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About This Class

Are you having to lead meetings remotely and struggling to facilitate them effectively? Come and join this class to learn the basics of virtual facilitation, a skill which is not going away. Learn about basic technology tools needed. Then learn how to prepare for the meeting, what to do during a meeting and how to make it engaging, and finally what to do post meeting to make it most effective.

Meet Your Teacher

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Monica Thakrar

Organizational Consultant and Coach


Hello, I'm Monica. I am an organizational consultant and coach based in Washington DC. I have 18 years of experience working with medium and large scale corporate and government clients leading large scale change, teaching leadership classes focused on soft skills such as  emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, presentation skills, and mindfulness. I also am an executive coach helping leaders gain skills and grow in their leadership journey.  I am most passionate about helping leaders and organizations grow into their fullest potential. Sample clients include Marriott, NASA, MedStar, National Science Foundation, and Columbia University.

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1. Introduction: So how many virtual meetings have you attended that you would say we're truly effective. And how many would you say were not so much, if not downright terrible. You know what I mean? Everyone is in the meeting but cameras are off because everyone is multitasking, doing an e-mail on the side, not really paying attention, bored to death as one person drones on and on and on. And no one can really participate because of the limitations of the virtual platform. Or maybe you're the one speaking and you're wondering whether anyone has actually really listening or paying attention or picking up on anything that you're saying. We'd love to complain about these virtual meetings we're doing these days. But one thing is certain virtual meetings are here to stay. Clearly when it's not an option to meet together in person. Virtual meetings are only option, but even when we have the option of meeting together in person, we will still need to utilize technology to connect with other colleagues who work remotely or partners who are located around the globe in any meeting, but especially virtual meetings, a facilitator can help the meeting to be more engaging, interactive, and overall more effective. Hello, I'm Monica sacra. I'm a leadership trainer and executive coach and I've been facilitating meetings for over 20 years. I've been leading sessions for teams and groups, guiding them to learn, grow, and effectively get the results they're looking for from their meetings. I am partnering on this course, the fundamentals of virtual facilitation with my wonderful colleague John Reardon has also been facilitating effective meetings for many years. A facilitator helps the team set an agenda and prepare for the meeting, guides the meeting content and process to support engagement and ensures that useful summary notes and action items are captured and distributed in a timely fashion. In this course, we're offering basic skills and techniques for those who want to facilitate effective virtual meetings within their own organization. This isn't a professional facilitation skills training per se. Rather, this course is for senior leaders, supervisors, team leads, project managers, and really any staff member who wants to help make your organizations virtual meetings more effective. There are two specific objectives we'll address in this course. First, we'll review the role and responsibilities of a facilitator before, during, and after the virtual meeting. And second, will provide tips on simple techniques and use of technology to facilitate simple meetings effectively will frame the application of the tools and techniques around the most common types of meetings, such as a one-hour staff meeting, uh, to our all hands or weekly tag up. When it comes to using various virtual meeting platforms and tech tools, we provided links to various how twos and the resource selection at the end of the workbook. 2. Basic Tools: Before we even get into your role and responsibilities as a facilitator, let's touch briefly on the essential tools you'll need to do a great job in the virtual context. First and foremost, you've gotta have good internet connection. You won't be able to facilitate effectively if you're the one dropping in and out of the meeting. If your wireless signals unsteady, then try to plug directly into the network to ensure consistency and strong connection. Make sure you turn off other applications and free up as much bandwidth as possible during the meeting. In order to facilitate, you obviously need a camera. There's no need to over-complicate things. Whatever camera you have on your laptop or computer is probably fine to start, the key point is this, don't just leave your cameras sitting on the desk pointing up at your face. This means your colleagues, we'll be looking right up your nose and get a great view of the ceiling above you. You want to have your camera at eye level. This means putting your laptop or computer up high enough so you're looking directly into the lens. You can use a sturdy stack of books, a cardboard box, or go ahead and purchase an inexpensive adjustable base like this super handy collapsible platform. It costs about $40 and it's a great investment. Make sure you position yourself at the right distance from your cameras so others can see your full face and shoulders and even your hands when you're speaking, which is greatly helpful when it comes to personalizing communication. A virtual background can come in handy if you don't have a decent backdrop, but don't use something distracting or your colleagues will be checking out your virtual background instead of listening to what's going on in the meeting. Of course, use those fun virtual backgrounds for birthday parties, virtual happy hours or other team-building events, but that's a different topic. Choose a simple virtual background that makes you look professional. Another critical tool is lighting. Just a few basic do's and don'ts. Don't have a bright light directly behind you, a window or a lamp or a skylight. That'll mean your colleagues see your silhouette rather than seeing your face, which is great if you're in a witness protection program, but not if you're trying to facilitate a discussion and don't put a spotlight directly on your face with nothing but darkness behind you. That's another sure way to creep out your colleagues. Do ensure that there's sufficient lighting on your face while your background is appropriately lit, you can simply put yourself in front of a window if there's natural light or use a desk lamp, you can upgrade to a relatively inexpensive ring light that includes a dimmer switch to adjust the brightness level for daytime, evening or night. When it comes to sound, chances are whatever microphone is in your computer's probably fine. Ask a colleague for feedback to let you know how it sounds. If it's not good, try a headset. This can help give greater clarity to your voice and also greatly diminishes background noise, which is another key point. Make sure you are in his quiet and environment as possible. And if there is background noise, which of course could happen unexpectedly, be ready to use the mute function so others don't have to hear the banging or barking or crying or whatever's going on around you. There's a self-assessment activity on page four in the workbook, or you can assess your current comfort level as you get ready to learn more about facilitating virtual meetings. How do you feel about managing the technology? Do you hate it or do you love it? Are you comfortable being on camera or mortified looking at yourself the entire time during a virtual meeting. Do you have any experience guiding others or are you new to virtual facilitation? And do you have the basic tools you need to do a great job? At the end of the workbook on page 20, there's a set of links for the tools we've mentioned. Go ahead and get what you need. Alright, ready to facilitate. Let's get started. 3. Pre-Meeting: As you're preparing for a meeting, it is important to determine why it is that you are having the meeting. What is the purpose of it? They are four different types of meetings that we will focus on in this course. The first type is information sharing. This is a meeting where someone is giving a presentation or sharing data, insights or practical information. This is typically a one-way sharing of content with time for questions and answers to get clarity on the information. The second type is relationship building. In this type of meeting, we are working to build up the team and enhance the teams relationships. This could entail team-building activities such as icebreakers, a lot of interactivity, some small group activity so people couldn't share more and a waste to make things a bit more fun. The third type is brainstorming ideas. In this type of meeting, you're trying to gather information from the participants in order to expand your way of thinking or get insights from a broader set of stakeholders. In this type of meeting, he would solicit input and then perhaps whittle things down to the best solution. The fourth type of meeting is decision-making. For this type of meeting, you're trying to come to some sort of conclusion on a topic. After reviewing or sharing information and giving recommendations on a path forward, the intent is to then open it up and come to some sort of consensus or final decision on a weight for seed. They are links to resources that will help you with the techniques for each of these types of meetings. We also have a 20 to course where we offer more techniques for each of these types of sessions. Once you've defined the purpose for the meeting, in order to run an effective virtual meeting, doing some pre-work is necessary in order to be prepared for whatever type of meeting the first step is setting up an agenda so that you're clear on exactly how the session will run. An agenda for the meeting should contain what is going to be covered in the meeting, who will be speaking or presenting different portions of the session, as well as the timing for each segment. While this is effective for any well-run meeting, for virtual meetings, this especially allows for some discipline and ensuring everybody's on the same page about what's going to be covered. Since in-person interactions, discussions at the water cooler or management by walking around does not take place in the virtual environment. This step is even more critical and agenda should be sent out at least a couple of days prior to the meeting so that participants can review it and so they can prepare for anything that needs to be done prior to attending. In addition to sending out the agenda, prepare and distribute any pre-reading or pre-work that needs to be completed prior to the meeting. It's always challenging for team members to review materials in advance. So make it clear as to what level of preparation is expected. Try to ensure that anything that can be done outside the virtual meeting is done outside the meeting. No one wants to sit in on a long meeting while someone reads a report that could have been distributed in advance or reviews data that should have been sent out ahead of time. Encouraged presenters to distribute the basic information in advance and ask participants to come prepared to ask questions and engage in discussion about the content prior to attending the meeting, assigning roles can be really helpful. It's also a way to get people engaged in the session by rotating assignments for how people participate in the meeting. Basic roles can include the facilitator, a lead for putting together an icebreaker, a note-taker, including summarizing action items, a timekeeper, and tech support. By rotating these roles, the burden does not fall in any one person each time. And it also helps to ensure that people stay engaged. Keep a schedule for how roles will rotate or asked for volunteers in advance for each meeting. A tech support lead can take responsibility for recording the meeting and handling any tech issues if they arise during the session. This is great help in allowing you to focus on facilitating the meeting rather than handling the technology. By having these roles assigned, you can make sure the meeting starts and stops on time. Keynotes are documented, action items are summarized and that the meeting is run as effectively as possible. There's a pre-meeting checklists on page seven for you to use as you prepare. You can print this list and use it or create your own. And there's a sample agenda on page 8, just to give you an idea of what a concise but effective agenda can look like. To practice, read the scenario on page 9 in the workbook and use the sample agenda as a reference to draft an agenda for that meeting. And take this back to your team. If your team isn't in the habit of defining an agenda for regular meetings, you might want to offer to assist. You'll add value before the meeting even begins. The preparation for a virtual meeting is an important aspect of making the meeting a success. Work with the right colleagues to define the purpose for the meeting, develop a clear agenda, and assign the roles so everything's in place when the meeting begins, invest the time and effort in advance. You'll be glad you did. 4. During the Meeting: Facilitating a virtual meeting requires different skills than conducting an in-person session. With an in-person meeting, people can arrive and chit chat with each other and connect or discuss something work-related and resolve it quickly. With virtual meetings, you need to create a bit more space for those things to happen organically. So how can you do that? Well, to start, make video use mandatory with the video on, people can make eye contact each other and connect more easily. It also replicates the in-person experience as best as possible in a virtual format. Of course, at time someone might have to take care of a child or take a quick break. So allowing for the video to be off is acceptable. But in general, if the technology is supportive than ensure that the videos are on for everyone in the meeting. You'll want to clearly communicate this expectation in advance so people are not caught off guard when you ask them to turn on their cameras. Also, you will want to build in a little time and the beginning of the meeting, about two to three minutes for idle chitchat. Opened the meeting up a bit early so that people can connect. It's often a good idea to start the virtual meeting with some type of check-in. This'll get your participants engaged right from the start and set the tone for the rest of the meeting. It could be as quick and simple as a one word check-in. How was your weekend, How are you feeling today? Or what's the most important thing on your mind at the moment? Or if you've built time into the agenda, you can ask each person to speak for one minute on how they're doing personally or professionally. The key point is this, by allowing everyone to contribute to a check-in right off the bat, you get immediate engagement and opportunity for connection. And you demonstrate that this will not just be a passive meeting, that you'll be asking everyone to speak up and jump in. An icebreaker activities a bit more intentional and a little more substantial. You can do something light and fun, or you can be more insightful and reflective depending on the purpose of the meeting and the culture of the team. And whenever possible, invite participants to show and tell the raised the level of engagement. Light icebreakers would include topics like what is your dream vacation destination? And show us a picture if you have one or what historical figure would you most like to have dinner with and why. A bit more substantial icebreaker might be who is someone who has impacted your life in a positive way or read a quote that you find inspiring. Alternatively, try something physical. Let's do the stop activity. Stop what you're doing. Take three deep breaths. Observe how you're feeling. Notice if there are distractions and put them away. And now let's proceed intentionally with this meeting. The possibilities are endless. Remember tried different activities at different times and look for ways to increase interaction by asking participants to show something, type something into the chat box or do something physical. Remember as the facilitator, it's your job to ensure that everyone keeps to the allotted time. You can hold up your phone to show a countdown clock or hold up a sign to tell them ten seconds remaining or time's up. It might feel a bit awkward, but that's a critical part of your job as a facilitator. There are links to lists of virtual icebreakers in the resources section of the workbook, have a look and find the activities that you feel comfortable facilitating that will also strengthen the interaction amongst the group. After the icebreakers are quick check-in, set the ground rules for the meeting. These ground rules can include keeping the video on unless it's necessary to turn it off, keeping yourself muted unless speaking and using the chat function to or raise hand function to participate in the meeting. It might also be things like participate, listen, and respect each other's opinions. All of these are ground rules. I can provide some ways for a virtual meeting to be run most effectively, as discussed in the pre-work section, instead of having each person go round and provide a verbal update of what they did that week. Those emailed out to the group prior to the meeting. So that the in-person experience can focus much more on presenting information, sharing, relationship building, brainstorming, or decision-making. Leave topics and issues that need to be discussed or collaborated upon for the meeting time. Use the big bulk of the time to have those discussions and make sure to facilitate them. This means keeping the discussion to the time indicated in the agenda for that topic. It also means that people go off topic to document that as a parking lot item and go back to the original topic at hand. And finally, it means allowing enough time on the agenda to finish the conversation or adding in more time in the next meeting's agenda to finish it up. There's nothing worse than coming away from a meeting wondering, did we decide anything and is anything actually going to happen as a result of all that time and discussion? As the facilitator, you should ensure that someone is taking notes during the session. You could choose to do this yourself, but it can be very helpful to identify someone else to take this role. Use whatever documentation platform you're comfortable with, Word or Google Doc, a shared document and Teams, etc. Whoever's taking the notes, the key point is to ensure that they focus in on the most important aspects of the conversation. We'll categorize these in three headings, discussion summary, decisions and action items. The discussion summary can be a bit tricky. How much is too much and how much is too little? We suggest you keep the summary notes simple. If desired, you can easily record a virtual meeting so that participants or those who weren't able to attend can review the entire discussion in detail if they like. As such, there's no reason to try to capture every point raised by every participant. That's what the recording will be for. Decisions and action items should be clearly noted and confirmed before the meeting is adjourned. The statement of decision and summary of the rationale should be reasonably clear, along with a summary of dissenting opinions. Specific wording can be hammered out later. Don't get into a word-smithing exercise that really should involve only a few people. Action items should be clearly documented along with who's responsible for each action and the date for completion. By capturing useful notes, everyone can come away from the meeting, whether virtual or in-person, with a clear record of the discussion, decisions and actions. Review the list of check-ins and icebreaker ideas on page 11, and then match the ones that would be the best fit for the various scenarios on page 12. Consider the purpose for the meeting, their relationships among the participants, and the intended tone for the meeting. Is it intended to be more serious or more fun? When you feel that into the list for each scenario on page 12, click on the link to the answer key at the bottom of the page and will share with you how we've allocated activities and why. Develop a list of great check-ins and icebreakers for yourself that you feel good about using with your team or others for whom you'll facilitate. Remember to get people engaged right off the bat during the meeting using video check-ins and icebreakers. And the content, which is interactive rather than basic report outs, is the most effective way to keep virtual meetings running smoothly. Also, documenting what is most important from the meeting will allow for clarity from the beginning. 5. Make it Engaging: One thing should be very clear. You can't just run a virtual meeting the same way you would have run it in an in-person context. As challenging as it can be to make a meeting engaging, even when everyone's sitting around the same table in the same room. The challenge is even greater when it comes to virtual meetings. There are two areas where engagement is valuable, connection and content. Meetings are not only the opportunity to discuss the subject matter at hand, but they're also an important opportunity for making connections and building trust for virtual teams. This is particularly critical. Remember there's no hallway conversation or coffee break discussion going on in the break room. These virtual meetings may well be the only time when distributed colleagues actually see one another. You don't need to turn a business meeting into a team-building activity. Those are two distinct purposes, but you can easily build in simple opportunities for engagement and connection, even while having an efficient business conversation will offer several tips and techniques that you can use for either purpose, whether to help build connection among team members or create engagement around the business content at hand. One of the simplest opportunities for interaction and engagement is the chat function. With chat, you can invite participants to ask questions, offer resources to the group, and contribute ideas. You should also use the chat function periodically to stimulate specific engagement. For example, one word that reflects what you think about this plan. One specific idea regarding X. One resource that you found valuable that others can use, such as an article or a TED Talk. Finally, one thing you're looking forward to this weekend. It should be a response that can be entered quickly and concisely and can be read by others. Make sure you plan to save the chat function if it's valuable to the group. Here are a few quick tips and tricks to get people engaged in the meeting. First, as a lightning round, as a simple but effective technique you can use at nearly any point in a meeting. Let's get a quick one word reaction to that idea is an example, or in one sentence, what do you think it would take for this to work? Have people respond verbally in the chat and thereby get their engagement quickly. Another form of quick engagement is the consensus check. Rather than a general, What does everyone think of this that's met with an awkward silence. Simply tell everyone, Let's see where everyone stands on this idea. Thumbs up is I like this idea. Thumbs sideways as I'm not thrilled, but I can definitely live with it. And thumbs down is I'm not for it. This consensus check is perhaps the simplest of all techniques to help to come to some sort of decision. As simple as it might sound, asking questions of participants in the virtual context is not really that simple. On one hand, you don't want to throw out a question into the lithosphere. Does anyone have any input on that point? Only to be met by deafening silence. It's clumsy and awkward. On the other hand, it can be equally if not more uncomfortable to put people on the spot. So Joe, what do you think at that point? And as Joe jolts to attention and spills his coffee and tries to pretend he's been paying attention, healed fumble for an answer. Here's a really useful facilitation technique that I use all the time. Give them a heads up. Tell several participants that you're going to be calling on them at the end of this segment. So Joe, Abdulla and Sam, I'll be asking the three of you for your input on this point. After Sue speaks, once those individuals have offered their input, you can open it up to others. It's a great way to stimulate discussion without putting people on the spot abruptly. Finally build in time at the end of the meeting for a quick checkout. This can be as simple as a one word that summarizes how you're feeling right now. Or jot down any loose ends we need to be sure to track. As the facilitator, your job is to make sure it's brief. Don't let someone ramble on when you've asked for a concise input at the end of the meeting, please end on time. Do not let the meeting go pass the designated timeframe. Is your job to make sure the meeting starts on time and finishes time. People will not want to stay pass the designated timeframe. And if you need to interrupt someone or don't get to all the participants, that's okay. Just apologize and adjourn the meeting on time. Remember, as a facilitator, keep it simple. Focus on the outcome you're trying to achieve. Use the virtual tools to their capacity and make it interactive. Otherwise, follow the tips and tricks outlined here to have the most effective virtual meeting. On page 14 in the workbook, there are examples of how you might use each of these engagement techniques and the four types of meetings were focused on information sharing, relationship building, brainstorming, and decision-making. Review these examples to pick up ideas and how you can apply to techniques to your own meetings. Then on page 15, consider the real-life meetings you have coming up. How can you apply the various techniques we've discussed to these meetings? Try to use the techniques to serve the purpose of the meeting. Don't make it complicated. Start with what you feel you can handle and add more activities and techniques as you gain experience. If you're going to be in the role of facilitator, don't allow the meeting to become a meeting for meeting sick. In the virtual context, it's more critical than ever to ensure that you're facilitating the meeting in a manner that involves the participants and keeps them engaged and interested. Keep the objective clearly in mind. You want the participants to walk away confident that that was an interesting and effective meeting. 6. Post Meeting and Conclusion: Finally, let's talk about follow-through. The meeting isn't over when it ends. As a facilitator, you should take responsibility to follow through on the notes, action items, and or recording being sent out to everyone. Whether you are not, you took the notes or record the meeting yourself. Take responsibility to make sure that these resources are distributed to the participants in a timely fashion, while the topics are still fresh in everyone's mind. If it's necessary to separate out a set of more detailed notes that require review. That's fine. But don't hold all of the nodes until three weeks after the meeting. By then no one will remember that the meeting even happened. Similarly, it's important to distribute action items quickly, if not immediately following the meeting. There's nothing worse than getting a set of action items three days after the meeting. Only the see that half of them are past due. Encourage the group to identify someone who will be responsible for tracking the action items going forward. This will help ensure follow through and accountability for the actions that emerged from the meeting. Another important follow-up item is to solicit feedback after the meeting. A simple but helpful approach is the plus minus delta framework. First, what were the pluses? What worked well? Was the agenda sufficient where the time allocations appropriate, where the notes detailed enough. Next, ask what didn't work so well? Where can we make improvements? So the next meeting can be more effective. And delta stands for change. What new things Can we try? What changes or new techniques can we offer that might make the meeting more efficient and effective going forward? There are several activities for going deeper. On page 18. Go ahead and get the tools and equipment you need. Build up your team building toolkit, and most of all volunteer to facilitate for others so you can build up your experience. Nothing will give you more insight on how to facilitate than actually facilitating, offered to assist teams and a low-risk situation. So you can build up your skills and experience while helping them out. At the same time. There are lots of resources on page 19 and 20, including a link to the resources toolkit with samples and checklists for you to use. There are links to facilitation tips, engagement techniques, and how to tips for different platforms. This course has covered just the fundamentals of facilitating and effective virtual meeting and the basics of the use of technology. There's a lot here. So don't get in over your head that pick the pieces of this that you can most implement and began to practice them right away. There are additional resources in the workbook which will help you take these practices even further. In R2 02 course, there's additional more in-depth techniques on both the use of technology as well as how to use this platform to conduct a meeting based upon the four different purposes. Information sharing, relationship building, brainstorming, and decision-making. You won't want to miss it. Hi.