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My Top Ten (Joys of Virtual Facilitation)


In January of 2013, I naively set out to offer my first virtual facilitation training.  How hard can it be? Lots seem to be doing it.  What I did not realize is that many are offering teleseminars and webinars and these are NOT the same as virtual interactive trainings.  You see, webinars and teleseminars are still mostly people talking at you – offering good content while most “participants” are not participating at all really. Most are multi-tasking – i.e., doing other things as they listen to the webinar.

I did not want this. So I set out to do something different.  I wanted to produce the same results and feeling as an in-person facilitation if possible.   Note, not only as good as an in-person training but as good as an in-person facilitated session where the learners were not talked to but actively engaged in hands-on activities that greatly drew on their own experiences and wisdom in the topic.

I soon realized I could not do it alone. This was a huge undertaking.  Yet, 7 months later, with complete immersion in this, taking the best training, seeking out the best software platforms* and involving several masterful colleagues, I think we are getting close. We produced a very good result that in some ways is more involving and expansive than our in-person trainings.  At least, it has the possibility of going this way.  P.S. I am a person who never considered she had any technology interest or ability, and who loved and still loves doing face to face facilitations and trainings.

*We use Adobe Connect for meetings because of excellent break out room features, whiteboards, full emoticons, meeting persistence, recording features, and much more. My joys come from using all the features as opposed to only screen sharing and telephone connection.

What did we discover that has me raving about technology as the new way of facilitating and offering facilitation training?

Here is what I’d say so far about the joys of virtual facilitation or trainings – some are obvious, others are not.  All of these are based on my first hand experiences of immersing myself in developing, offering and participating in virtual meetings and training over the past 7 months.

  • #1: People from all over the globe are able to talk and exchange experience and ideas synchronously (at the same time and same place – in a virtual room).
  • #2: People learn and participate from a place of comfort & ease – no travel – fewer barriers to classism and ableism.  Virtually no travel and printing costs.
  • #3:  People learn to listen more acutely to each other. They learn to take turns and check in with each other and can show appreciation more instantaneously – using emoticons or typing in appreciative comments. We learn to be kinder to each other.
  • #4: We save the planet (sustainability).
  • #5: Facilitators learn to be more succinct and focused to keep people’s attention. Participants learn to be more succinct also.
  • #6: Facilitators find ways to optimize being on-line… like all “stepping away” to watch a relevant YouTube video for 2-5 minutes.
  • #7: No one is without resource material because you can provide links to the resources pages right in the virtual room for instant downloading.
  • #8: People get to easily mix and share ideas with total strangers by “plopping” them together into a breakout room in less than 2 seconds.  Participants get used to being randomly mixed up by the technology. It is easy for the facilitator to give the “you have 5 minutes left” simultaneously to every small group.
  • #9:  Report outs of results go quickly because facilitators can set up the room layout for showing break out room results even before they are written (sorry – you’d have to have done this to know what I am talking about).
  • #10: Each person can listen to their own music at their own volume when doing a reflection exercise. A customized learning experience!

Obviously, I have not talked about the down-sides, yet I am amazed at how jazzed I am about this new way of interacting. It is fun, creative and gets results faster than anything I’ve seen.  It actually is more humanizing than dehumanizing than I ever expected.

Where are you on the spectrum of getting onboard with offering or trying out a truly engaging virtual facilitation?

Now you have so many offerings – I don’t know what to take!

Many of you are telling us that now you don’t know where to start or which courses to take in your ongoing journey toward globally competent facilitator. Since we’ve been developing our virtual trainings, it is (a bit) like going to one of those huge self-serve grocery stores in North America and there are too many choices! So you walk out with nothing or items which you did not really need.   Oops – we too forgot to tell you how to navigate your way through the many choices we offer.

When you are thinking about taking new courses or mentoring, etc., it is good to ask yourself, “What set of competencies am I trying to build?”

Here are a few competencies you might want to consider from the international IAF and ToP certification programs (4th one slightly modified):

  • Manage positive client relationships
  • Create a participatory inclusive environment
  • Evoke the creativity of the group
  • Use  a range of facilitation methods and tools  effectively
  • Model a positive professional attitude
  • Orchestrate quality events
  • Produce effective results.

Soon, on our website we will have a chart you can compare and contrast for your learning needs and for what competencies are covered in each offering.  When it is ready, we’ll let you know.  Of course, we always welcome an email or call for you if you want to chat in person.

In short it looks like this for our offerings:

Just starting out?  I have little experience – want to learn on my own time at low cost – try Ingrid Ben’s Facilitation Core Skills e-learning course

Want better meetings? I have little experience – pressed for time – want to learn with others or on my own time – try our Meetings that Rock LIGHT or Meetings That Rock ESSENTIAL virtual online intensive course

Want more depth methods? I have some experience – have time and like to learn in-person – try our two day in person ToP Facilitation Methods course.

Want more tools/theory? I know some things – I like to learn on own time – try our eLearning modules.

Barbara MacKay

Barbara loves “everything facilitation”. She thinks BIG! She loves working with other facilitators around the globe to create transformational results for client groups. She loves teaching others how to do that. She loves presenting at global facilitator conferences. She loves certifying new professional facilitators. If you also love what process facilitation can do for the world, connect with her – virtually or in person. She believes facilitation processes, used well, will provide the roadmap to a more just and sustainable world.

1 Comment

  1. Elaine Phillips on January 28, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    This was great to read Barbara! I was presuming virtual facilitation was like the webinars you described, but now I can see the potential! Thanks!

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