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Hosting online conversations

Many of our clients are wondering if it is possible to continue developing teams and having meaningful discussions with employees. We have put together this simple guide for facilitators that need to host online conversations.

Your Presence as a Facilitator

Your presence as a facilitator has a direct influence in the session that you design and create. Using your presence requires that you pay attention to what is going on in the room. The experienca a group has is influenced by the normal social dynamics of any interaction, plus, the information that is being presented.  

It is always helpful to reflect in advance on: 

  • What are the issues your team is facing? 
  • What have been the biggest learnings during this process? 
  • What help do you need to better help your team? 
  • What patterns did we notice? 
    What were the things we didn’t discuss? 

Hosting meaningful online sessions

Being present during a session reuires some effort. First, take some time yourself to make sure you are ready to give this group your full attention.  Clear your mind and your desk to prepare for the session. Also, design the session in a way that allows the group to be fully present.  If possible, have 1 or 2 co-hosts that pay attention to the chat and to the group, that receive and select questions for you, and that help people with technical difficulties.  

Give people enough to connect and have breaks.  Share the agenda in advance. People are coping with many things at once. Try to not keep them busy for more than 45 minutes before they have a break. Keep in mind that the back-to-back meetings practice continues even in virtual settings.

-Arrive. Make time (a couple of minutes) for people to arrive and connect with you and with each other. You can put music or take a breath or two together to allow people to shift their attention from what happened just before the meeting to what is going to develop in this group.  

-Check in with everyone. Introductions are important and sometimes people are finally putting a face to a name. Begin the meeting hearing everyone’s voice. If this is a large gathering, maybe ask people to answer a simple question in the chat or just say one word that connects them with the purpose of the session.

-Remind them of the purpose. In large gatherings people may have different agendas, but if we recall the purpose of the group or of this particular session, it’s easier to align those agendas into something productive and meaningful.

-Online etiquette. Not everyone is familiar with technology. If you’re using Zoom, set-up the session so everyone is muted upon entry. Show them how to unmute themselves, how to raise their hand and how to use the chat. You can also show them this slide to help people familiarize with zoom features.

-Facilitate with intention. You should design the session and the invitation in a way that is easy for people to understand what you’re asking from them. You need to be clear on what they need to do at each step of the session. Participants don’t have many social cues to follow, so the facilitator has to be very clear on what they expect from participants. If you show slides, give them clear titles such as: Group Question, Share your insights, etc. Or you can just mention what the intent is before each topic: 
“Just for your information” or “I’d like to hear what you think about this”. 

-It’s about connection, not just information. If possible (and if you need people to provide you with feedback), send the slide deck in advance. If you want the group to engage in real conversation, show the slide for a couple of minutes, and go back to the gallery view (i.e., stop sharing) so people can see each other’s faces and better connect with the group. Consider the limitations of people joining by phone or using the zoom application on the phone. Slides that contain much information can be distracting, unreadable or totally missed by phone participants.

-Break out into smaller groups. If this is group larger than 12 people and it is important to have real conversations, break out in smaller groups (of no more than 5 people) to allow for dialogue. Give them at least 15 minutes in the small groups. Explain what the purpose of the conversation is, and the time they have to discuss it, share a powerful and generative question in advance (on a slide) and ask them to select a group member to be the host.

-Pay attention to air time. Some people forget to check how much time they take when they talk. Let them know in advance (if you are going to have an open mic) the time you’re allocating for this part, and how long they could take for themselves. Tell them that you will let them know (first visually with a postcard, or some other prop and then with a sound, either your voice or a bell, for example) that their time is up and they need to wrap up.

-Close with appreciation. Thank the participants for their time, inform them about next steps, how to reach out to you for more questions, and share a genuine interest for connecting with them again. If you have time for a check-out, ask them what they appreciated of the session, or how they are leaving the session. Again, maybe with a 1-word check-out that leaves the group with a positive note.

-If people are going to be co-hosts, help them be prepared. A simple guide like this one will help, but if you need additional help, we offer online sessions to help you and your team members learn how to design and host online conversations. Feel free to contact us!

There are different methodologies that can be applied online that generate meaningful dialogue. Here is a list of methodologies we use when designing online session.

Share with us your tips and ideas, or your questions on how to host online conversations!

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