Facilitator's guide to a productive digital workshop

We're all familiar with that unsatisfied feeling after a day full of digital meetings. You wake up, grab a coffee, open your laptop at your improvised desk/kitchen table, and then you fall from digital 'team meeting' to digital 'update' to digital 'recap session'. Before you know it's 5:30 pm and you close your laptop with a sigh and an unsatisfied feeling.

After our digital Design the Future event about 'Social potential' of society during and after the Corona Crisis, we got a lot of compliments from participants that they enjoyed working so effectively with each other. One of the participants said, "Finally, I felt that people worked efficiently and accomplished something tangible in a digital workshop".

That is why we want to share our tips and tricks with you guys so that more and more people can have productive and efficient digital workshops in an energizing way.

First and foremost to create a successful workshop, it is really important to empathize with the participant. How does he/she/they experience a digital meeting in general? What does he feel and think? Ask yourself which digital workshops, webinars, and meetings you liked and didn’t and why that was. What made them energizing or exhausting.

Hereby our practical tips and checklist:

Before the workshop

1) Test all programs and functions three times

Since most facilitators will use one, two, or even more programs (and actions) they haven't used before, it is important to test those actions and steps. First for yourself, then with a person who doesn't know how to use the program(s). After that, test it with the timing and new adjustments. Normally, facilitators tend to find their way out of every unforeseen situation. However, with technical issues, you cannot foresee how long you need to fix the problem. People will get annoyed much faster since they cannot talk to each other or help you with the issue.

2) Have a second pair of eyes and hands.

First of all workshops with participants above eight people or two groups, need a second pair of eyes and hands. It is the same as in real life. However, now you need them to read the comments in the chat, write down actions, questions, and/or check-in with the different groups.

Second, you need at least one person who has a full overview during the entire workshop, and another person who can fix the problems which definitely WILL pop up. Give that person unlimited access to accounts and information. For example, at least for one participant, a specific technical issue will appear but the rest has to go on.

3) Digital restrictions in facilitation roles

When you have a co-facilitator be aware that the various platforms and programs have different settings for host and co-hosts. Check out the differences for the program that you are using and divide the rolls accordingly. The official 'host' of the meeting doesn't need to be the main facilitator- if that is not handy for the digital capabilities and task division.

4) Have a default plan

Tell people at the beginning of the meeting what they should do when the workshop promptly ends or they get disconnected (just click again on the link in your preparation e-mail).

Here are some questions we answered for ourselves to do risk management:

  • What happens when the host of the meeting gets disconnected?

  • What happens if we get disconnected from the meeting/internet in the different stages of the meeting?

  • When is it good to resume the meeting when you are going for an alternative option?

  • Which alternatives are there? ( Instagram/Facebook lifestream; record a video; have a collective call and not using a video platform)

Have all phone and email addresses ready to contact them.

Have an 'emergency' message ready to send to everyone.

5) Simple preparation mail (7 Points) aka. ‘No one is reading the preparation e-mail’