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Virtual facilitation tips for The Five Behaviors®

Know your technology

Most of your own learning or even anxiety probably surrounds using the technology. Preparation and practice will improve your skills here.

Familiarize yourself with both the hosting platform (e.g., Zoom, Adobe Connect, Webex, etc.) as well as any "engagement technology" (e.g., Mentimeter, Slido, MURAL) you have the option of using. Find a partner to practice using your chosen tools with. (We've recently seen people posting to groups on social media asking for practice partners.)

Know your tools' maximum capacity and associated costs. What interactivity tools does it provide (e.g., chat, video sharing, polls, breakout rooms, whiteboards, etc.) and which will you be able to use?

What can you expect from your participants? How large is your group? Can you make any assumptions about their connectivity, their environment, and their familiarity with the tools you're using?

Design for learning and interaction

Begin by reviewing the learning objectives. What’s essential for learners to walk away with? What points must be covered in live, virtually delivered sessions? What can be done as independent work between sessions or as follow-up work if you’re doing only one session? Which modules from The Five Behaviors facilitation kit do you want to cover? What is the story you want to tell and how will you weave that story throughout the course?

Plan for how the learning will unfold. Will you need to break up your training into shorter modules than you've delivered in-person? Will you provide learners with note-taking handouts before the session(s)? Are there topics or assignments that can be completed as pre-work or between sessions? Consider assigning some of the questions posed in our Five Behaviors Journal as pre- or post-session work.

What level of relationship should be nurtured between participants and can you design for that? How will you and learners use the features of your platform to maintain engagement among learners and with you?

We recommend announcing that you’ll open your session 15 minutes early so people can come in and start learning the technology before you begin. If you'll be asking learners to contribute to a whiteboard, what opening question could you pose? (See Opening questions for team meetings for samples.)

Use your platform’s tools to direct attention. Keep learning interactive and vary the way you’re engaging learners. Take advantage of options like polls, surveys, and status check emojis (thumbs up/down), or use the chat feature to ask pre-planned discussion questions. Be ready to check in immediately with any learners who don’t respond, and ask if they have questions or technical issues.

Review any slide decks you're using. You might want to simplify them or increase font sizes for viewing on smaller screens. Will you be modifying scripts or activities from The Five Behaviors facilitation kit?

Make a plan for smaller group interaction. Breakout rooms can be a powerful tool for social learning. If your platform has this capability, you can put learners into breakouts for small-group discussion where they can work together as they would in-person. Give them clear, concrete instructions so that they understand what they’re expected to bring back to the large-group discussion.

Mix up the breakout groups. For example, if you put learners together by their DiSC® styles the first time you do a breakout, put dissimilar styles together for the next one. Plan breakout groups ahead of time, unless you’re using a randomizing feature available on some platforms.

Pop into the breakout rooms to provide guidance. As the facilitator, join each breakout room in progress to make sure learners are on task. You may want to ask a question, do some coaching, or prod the group to deepen its discussion.

Don’t have breakout room capabilities in your platform? Instead, organize shorter sessions with fewer people in each to allow learners to have rich, engaging discussions with one another.

Be prepared for facilitation challenges

Enlist a producer. Virtual facilitation often goes more smoothly with an additional person who can help with technological problems, monitor engagement, and communicate with learners during the session so you can concentrate on conveying the content. If you’re using a platform with more sophisticated tools, the assistant can also help you with polls, whiteboards, and timers.

Don’t have an assistant to partner with? If you don’t have an assistant to partner with and aren’t familiar with the platform you’re using, consider conducting smaller sessions and/or shorter sessions, or having a low-tech backup plan if advanced features (e.g., breakout rooms, whiteboards, polls) are not working. Also, consider advising participants at the beginning that if they drop off and are unable to reconnect, you will follow up with highlights of the session. You can also plan periodic breaks, which will allow you to connect with participants who are having difficulties.

Log in with a second device. This allows you to see what your learners are seeing. You won't have to ask if your video, poll, or other presentation is working; you'll be able to see it. And if your main device gets disconnected or fails in some way, you might still be able to interact from your second device. You might be able to use your phone to leave a chat message to your learners (and producer) telling them you're logging back in. Or that second device can become your alternative option for facilitation.

Prepare thoroughly. Familiarize yourself thoroughly with the technology, and think through how you’ll make sure learners are listening and learning. Decide how to handle questions and comments from learners during the session. Organize your materials carefully so you can find them immediately during the session.

Keep the learning personal. Remember to use names. A simple but powerful tip is to acknowledge each learner by name and respond to each of their questions and comments. Make their participation count.

Let learners see you. Appear on the camera when you give your introductory remarks (which you may want to script for maximum impact). Appear on camera before each break and at the end, to provide a personal and compelling wrap-up. If you don’t have access to video, put a headshot of you on the slide when you introduce yourself so learners have a face to put with your voice. Whenever you can, look directly at your students by looking directly into your camera.

Adjust your expectations. You won’t get the same kind of immediate feedback from learners—and it’s okay. You won’t be able to see the heads nodding, the smiles, the confused faces that you’re used to getting in the classroom. While this lack of visual cues can make it feel like the learners aren’t excited or engaged, it’s not necessarily a sign that things are going wrong. Just make sure you stay engaged with the learners and keep your energy high.

It takes some reimagining, extra planning, and a different type of preparation, but following these tips will help your virtual sessions be just as impactful as your classroom experiences.

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