2020 has forced us all to adapt quickly to the virtual world and we have all faced challenges moving from face to face to online work, teams, events and trainings. In this article, you will find a series of helpful steps that we have used over the last few months to effectively run programs online.
- Re-evaluate your content for virtual delivery
Take the time to really think about how your content needs to be updated to be equally effective online. Is the content clear and easy to understand? Is the content engaging enough or do you need to make changes to generate more interest and engagement? Are there parts of your content that will only work face to face and need to be amended to be effective virtually? Content needs to be rich and varied to keep people’s interest virtually.
Think about various ways you can encourage interaction. Try not to speak for more than 5 minutes without any participant engagement; ask questions, ask for introductions, use polls, chats, breakout rooms and other virtual tools.
- Select your program platform carefully
Once you’ve thought about how to modify your content effectively, make a list of all the features you might need from the online platform you will use. Will you be sharing slides? Would you like participants to be able to interact with each other? Do you want to use polls, whiteboards or other interactive features to keep participants engaged? Would you like to have small group discussions?
Make a list of all the activities you would like to have and features you need and be thorough about your research for the best platform. You can even select platforms that integrate with each other to use multiple features.
- Test your content and your platform before the session
Make sure to test your content, platform and any features you want to try with your team before the session. Ensure that you are all familiar with the software and how you would like to run the session.
Use only as much technology as you are comfortable with. While it’s good to try new ways to engage with people, be sure you know how to use the software you have selected to ensure a smooth session.
- Explain your expectations of participants before the session
Would you like participants to engage with each other? Would you like them to have their videos on and be able to use audio? If yes, explain this to them before the session starts so they are prepared.
We’ve found that for small sessions, having audio-visual capabilities for all participants enhances the quality of the session greatly.
- Always have a co-facilitator/co-host
We all know that things can always go wrong at events, workshops or other programs. This is also true in the virtual world where technology might not always work as it should or participants might not know how to use this technology.
Ensure that you always have a co-host who is able to assist with technical difficulties and is able to help launch the features you will be using during the session in case you are unable to do so for some reason. Your co-host can also track questions and inform you of any issues you might not be aware of.
- Explain the software to participants
All sessions should include a detailed explanation of the software for participants. They should know what to do if they have questions or if they are unable to hear/see the content. This technical introduction is extremely important.
Pause to explain any feature you are using again in the middle of the session as well.
- Don’t be afraid to call on people
Silence during interactive sessions is more uncomfortable when you are online and people are less likely to speak up in response to questions. If your sessions are small and interactive, don’t be afraid to call on people and ask their opinions. Remember, you’ve warned participants of this before the session and sometimes calling on specific people might be the only way to include them fully in the session.
- Get feedback about the technology
Participant feedback is important for the continual improvement of any program. Include questions about technology and challenges related to virtual content in your feedback form so you are able to think of new ways to keep your content engaging and ensure a smooth participant experience.
It can be quite intimidating when starting out and it may feel like your sessions are not as effective as they were face to face but with careful thought they can be. Remember to have fun and enjoy the process!