Creating Fabulous Online Workshops

- Remote Working

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Nagesh Sharma a Management 3.0 Facilitator, tells us more about the secret sauce of creating fabulous online workshops. This article is for you if you are about to facilitate any kind of workshop for clients or colleagues in a virtual environment.

This is part II of a series, read on here for Top 20 Tips For How to Lead a Virtual Class like a Pro

What does a workshop look like?

During the prep session with the class participants they have already become familiar with the video conferencing and whiteboard tools. We use Zoom for video conferencing and Mural for whiteboard and collaborative exercises.

Typically, the 2-day in person session is spread across three virtual days so that the participants don’t get exhausted sitting in front of their machines for hours. A day would typically consist of 4-5 hours with a 10-15 min break every 60-90 minutes, depending on the energy levels of the participants.

There is an optional followup session for questions and clarifications on the application of the practices and concepts learned during the virtual class.

All my in person classes follow the same format: 6 Trumps and a 4c’s map from: “Training from the back of the room”.

I always try and keep my virtual classes as close as possible to the Face-to-Face experience, so let’s look through the design of a virtual class. Firstly, it’s important to note:

Link learners to learners and learners to the topic

The First ‘C’: Connections

#1: Adapt connections for a virtual setting. This is no different to a physical class, except participants, instead of moving and posting on flip charts, will be moving into breakout rooms and posting their ideas on mural/whiteboards

Some of the popular ways of connecting in a physical class are table talk, data hunt, think & write and standing survey. I’ve adapted table talks to zoom breakout talks and data hunt to review other teams’ findings and sharing within the group.

Think & write as you would think and post on a Mural. We don’t have to use all of the ideas, if we can leverage 1-2 tools, that serves the purpose then its great.

#2: Effectively create and recreate breakout rooms: Breakout rooms are key in running a successful live virtual class. Having a Co-host is helpful with a larger audience. As a facilitator, visiting all the breakout rooms is a good tactic, as it gives your participants the feeling that you genuinely care for them. In case they have questions or clarifications, you can also help. Sometimes it can be tiring for the facilitator and hence have a co-facilitator is recommended

#3: Lead with questions: Before beginning a topic I ask questions that will take the participants through a discovery process.

For example:

  • What are the similarities between Scrum and a Rugby/Football game?
  • If we say Scrum is like Chess, what is common between them?
  • How can you help others get the most of these three days?

#4: Adapt Liberating Structures for virtual settings: Connection activities can be done using liberating structures to co-create more engagement(1-2-4-all or 1-2-all or 1-4-all) . For one minute they think and then I put them into breakout rooms where together they can discuss and post their stickies on the Mural or whiteboard. Post breakout we will typically have a small debrief.

#5: Using props: All these conversations are guided by a timer. Time box is much more important in a virtual class. I use the inbuilt mural timer as well as a physical timer. Once the time box expires I will ring the small bell.

Stay tuned, we will continue delving into the 4C’s approach in the third part of this series, coming soon!

As I said, all my in person classes follow the same format: 6 Trumps and a 4c’s map from: “Training from the back of the room”.

I always try and keep my virtual classes as close as possible to the Face-to-Face experience. So let’s continue with how we can do that.

In addition to the importance of having a great technical set up for online workshops, is the need to focus on self care.

Practicing self care during facilitation of an online workshop

#1: I keep a picture of my family in front of my desk, as they give me a lot of strength and motivation.

#2: I keep a few of my favorite books on the desk, that I can have a quick look.

#3: I put a small basket with some snacks and a water bottle on the desk, to ensure I don’t forget small bites and hydration.

The Second ‘C’: Teach Content in small chunks

#1: Pause and read the room: Unlike in an in person class, where I provide participants with a squishy ball to throw if I am continuously talking for more than 15 minutes, in a virtual setting as a facilitator, I need to be extra careful not to talk too much. A few things I do to ensure that I talk in small chunks and talk less, is constantly remind myself with a self-talk that says: “pause and read the room”.

If I see people taking notes or nodding their heads or making lots of eye contact, it’s an indication that people are getting it. However, if I see big question marks on their faces or they look puzzled or their webcams are turned off then it’s an indication that they are losing engagement.

I also have a talking stick to remind me to pause and read the room.

#2: Ask questions based on reading the room: Whenever I am teaching a topic in the online class or sharing a key concept similar to the physical class, I ask participants to raise their hands physically or give me a symbol. For example, if you agree with me then unmute yourself and say “I”. If you want me to proceed, then show me a thumbs up or show me a thumbs down. If my pace is okay show me a thumbs up.

And based on the just in time feedback I will adapt my delivery style and pace. Zoom has some great options for these indications, you just need to enable them.

Follow each teaching block with a 2-3 min revision/review: Unlike the in-person class where the review techniques are a standing quiz, one sentence summaries, pair-share or pass the question. I adapted pair-share and short summaries often leveraging zoom breakout rooms. Also, sometimes participants are asked to go through the flip charts and then teach back to the class in a two minute time box

The Third ‘C’: Concrete Practice

Have learners practice active skills or content review. Use Visual facilitation techniques for concrete practice. I am a big fan of visual facilitation especially Flipchart art. I leveraged both drawing using an iPad and Apple Pencil as well as Flipcharts.

However, my participants appreciated Flipchart over the iPad. Of course, you need a camera to point towards the Flipchart and you can ask the participants to pin the screen. Its pretty engaging that way, and I was able to retain the focus of my participants. You can adopt concrete practices like discussions about the application of the content review worksheets/content. The key is to engage not a few, but all learners in the active review of major concepts.

The Fourth ‘C’: Conclusion

Give learners time to summarise and evaluate what they have learned. This is a crucial step for participants. Activities that invite participants to create verbal summaries or post-it notes on Mural of what they’ve learned are more successful.

Another way is when we create Product Owner Skills of Traits Flipcharts in Mural using Stickies. Once they’ve added stickies, I ask participants:

“If you were to convert this into a radar chart with themes on a scale of 1 to 5, where would you rate yourself ?”

I see smiling faces with a self-realization and I say, if your self-assessment is three or below, then you have work to do. What can be done within your influence and control to take the smallest step towards growth.


Agility is not predicting the future; It is an opportunistic discovery, said Gunther Verheyen.

The world is complex with more unknowns than knowns and best way to navigate through the complexity is to embrace empiricism and inspect and adapt through transparency.

We all are experimenting daily in this pandemic and learning from it. Despite our best efforts, there are things that might go wrong, as there are many variables that are not in our control and can’t be predicted.

I don’t treat my virtual classes any different than the in person ones, as I deliver them with the same intent of delivering value to my customers. Though I agree that face to face allows us to have a more human connection and the ability to build long term relationships, delivering the class with the genuine interest of helping the participants, asking for feedback frequently from them as well as from co-facilitator(s) and adapting based on the feedback, has been very helpful so far.

Photo credit Marvin Meyer via Unsplash

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