Over the past years, I have developed some principles and tactics that guide my online facilitation. Now and then I love to see what is emerging and make sense of my own ‘learning journey’. I am grateful to many sparring partners who accompanied me along this journey and who helped me notice and refine my art of facilitation.

The points below reflect my online facilitation style – my signature (a current discussion in the Never Done Before community led and inspired by Myriam Hadnes). I am a low-tech online facilitator. I love to keep it as easy and simple as possible for everyone to participate. My focus is interaction. I create the space and welcome participants as contributors, partners, and actors. The core is a conversation about issues that matter to those invited.

I hope my insights from practice are inspiring and helpful to you. I am aware that they are far from complete. If have not included the facilitation basics (for example: Know why you meet) as they are important in both realms, online and onsite. This list is about tactics in facilitating in an online environment. It could be a meeting, a workshop, a training, or a larger event.

You certainly have your valuable insights and tactics. Your list. It would be wonderful to hear about it – use the comment function below.

1-The right pace and rhythm

Each online meeting has its own pace and rhythm. Fast enough to keep everyone’s attention. Slow enough to think deeply together and explore an issue beyond the obvious. The pace needs to be right and adapted to the challenge at hand.

2-Each meeting tells a story

A story has at least three parts: the beginning, the middle with some tension and major happenings, and the end. Bake this basic arc of suspense into every meeting (also the short ones), never skip one part else the meeting will fall flat.

3-Pause with intention

Online is intense. For everyone involved. Online is so effective you can fall into the busyness trap. Pause intentionally during the meeting by building in some silent moments (eyes off the screen, individual thinking, journaling, doodling, drawing, etc.). Plan meetings consciously for having some pause in between.

4-Process is everything

Think process; each meeting is a mini process; a series of meetings is the larger process. If you get stuck in an event-thinking, you will miss out on the long run. Collaboration is a process. Always. By adopting a process lens, the variety of combinable options will multiply, and the more it is possible to go deeper, to involve, iterate, and experiment.

5-Facilitation is teamwork

Be a team. Facilitation is for two. Working the networked way (with partners, teammates, participants, etc.) and sharing tasks and responsibilities is rewarding and creates ownership. The process becomes stronger, more creative, and solid. As a facilitation team, you notice more, your sensing and listening radar is more susceptive which benefits the group process.

6- Keep it simple

At the core of each meeting are people in conversation. For this, you don’t need a lot. Keep it simple. Additional tools can be fancy and certainly sometimes helpful. Yet, they also can get in the way of human interaction, disturb, absorb, and distract. Make it easy and accessible for everyone to join and be involved. The art of facilitating online is to give people a sense of being humanly connected in the virtual environment supported by technology. 

7-Design meetings as conversation

Meetings are conversations. Depending on the purpose and issue to be discussed it could be one longer unhurried conversation or a sequence of smaller conversations. By designing for conversations, you create space for people to connect and learn from each other.

8-Facilitate for equity

Every single person in the group matters. Create and defend the meeting time as a special ‘world apart’ with its rules that allow equal participation. Never blame participants for not speaking up, blame the design, the organizational culture, and power dynamics, yourself.

9-Turn-taking is magic

Design the meeting in the way everyone has her/ his turn to talk and listen. Introduce a talking piece. Intensify turn-taking by splitting bigger groups into breakout rooms. Remix groups for cross-fertilization. The simple rule of turn-taking allows everyone to feel invited to engage, to be seen, heard, and respected.

10-Harvest together

Online invites for joint writing (chat, rich texts), it’s so easy and can be so rich. Giving some individual thinking and writing time after a conversation can be an amazing opportunity to put important learning into words. This is not only clarifying and helpful for each person, but it also creates a rich collective treasure and material to further digest and work with.

11-Be the guide

In an online environment, people might need a bit more guidance at the start. For example, why it is desirable (and not awkward) to switch on the webcam. With the invitation, provide the information needed to get ready and connect. Make it easy for everyone to join. Open the door before the meeting starts, welcome, and accommodate everyone as you would do in a physical room.

12-Perform a bit more

Your energy matters. It’s possible to spill a bit of your energy over the screen and grab everyone’s attention. Some warm words, a personal reflection, a poem, welcoming everyone personally by name. Use the tools you have, your voice, your facial expressions, your eyes, and ears. It’s subtle – no showing off, no clowns – just human and humble. A meeting is live. All you want is liveliness and energy.

Bonus – Don’t burn bridges

Collaboration evolves, and so do expectations and possibilities. Accept new challenges on the horizon (for example the hybrid challenge) as a creative one. Listen to those around you about why a new requirement might be important and cannot wait or be pushed back.

PS. For upcoming learning opportunities check: https://linktr.ee/nadiavonholzen