Virtual Facilitation: Part 1, What you say, How you say it.

I’ve been facilitating since the start of my career and using virtual tools since 2003. Over the last year however, with multiple organizations and project, I’ve logged well over 100 hours of virtual facilitation. The topics have varied wildly from soft skills, sales, technical training and L&D upskilling.

I really enjoy being an instructor. It was my bread and butter for a long time and I’ve been lucky enough to train quite a few virtual instructors over the years. It’s a very different medium but there are certainly many similarities to traditional, brick and mortar facilitation.

From a best practice perspective, there are a few things I would suggest to make a world of difference in an environment where you lose the visual element of your learners seeing you, or you’re seeing them and their reactions. Depending on the study, numbers range from 80 to over 90% of communication being non-verbal. This means there is an uphill battle to drive a positive learning experience for virtual, blind, learning sessions! So here are a few tips to help drive success! The tips aren’t virtual classroom and certainly could be applied to traditional sessions, but it’s so much more important to lean into them when instructing in a remote environment.

How you say it!

1. Strong verbal control. This one is the same, contextually, as a traditional facilitator skillset. Clarity and tone, energy, pronunciation and speed being key critical factors to keep in mind. These are elements learned via practice and candid feedback. These can be coached into a new facilitator and there are many presentation tools, programs or organizations around that can help!

2. A genuine style. Every presenter has their own way. There isn’t a right or wrong presenter style any more than there is a right and wrong to a comedian’s delivery approach, as long as it’s genuine. Always, always be yourself in how you deliver a session. Participants can tell if you are trying too hard, attempt to use humour and are not funny, or deliver in a serious tone if that’s just not you. Being genuine in your approach has a two-fold benefit. First it provides consistency between sessions. Learners will become acclimated to your style and know what to expect. It will keep them coming back as a radio show brings back avid followers. Secondly you will be more relaxed. Once you get over the hump of delivering to a faceless audience and receiving no visual feedback, it becomes easier to judge the groups reactions by the other interactive channels. I always encourage participants to at any time provide feedback using emoticons or chat. Make it the “you” show. It’s makes a difference.

3. Humour. Tying into the last element for many folks, if you relax your participants, they will enjoy the session much more! Injecting humour into a course instills trust, makes you that much more of a real person and lowers the formality of a session. The key to any great facilitator is to engage the audience. Formality can restrict an engagement. You already will have your hands full trying to keep your learners involved, keeping things light can certainly help!

I tend to really lean on this. It’s tough at first because you can’t see any rolling eyes in disgust or adoration from the masses. You have to try to balance it and be session appropriate while engaging individuals in a safe, but entertaining way. It can be as easy as making a little fun of yourself when you make a mistake to a humourous story or scenario.

What you say!

4. Prepare war stories! The very best facilitators come to the table with experience to share. I raises both your credibility while providing an interesting, real-life scenario others can relate to.

5 Keep it light! Every session might have technical issues. In a virtual session, its much harder to triage these are you are not local. It’s CRITICAL that if you hit a roadblock, you try to clear it quickly. I think that a minute is pretty much the limit. After that you will lose others. If the challenge is something like audio or chat functionality, lightly suggest another method of communicating with the session and that you’d be happy to support them later. NEVER argue with the client. (Which I have seen in sessions believe it or not).

6. Know each topic cold. This doesn’t mean memorize it. Scripts are fantastic visual aids for a facilitator to ensure consistency between sessions, but knowing the topic very well allows you to deviate abit, provide colour commentary and you can be abit more narrative rather than a content presenter. I like that way more! Also, if you don’t have anything to say about a bullet than what is on the slide or in the book, research it! All my facilitator guides have little notes for myself for each topic around a survey I saw, an article or scenario or useful little info byte. Desperately important.

7. Enjoy yourself!!! Participants can tell! Bring your passion and energy to the table. If you don’t love the topic, find something you like or find interesting about it.

Next article I’ll dig further into this and start specifically into how to engage virtual learners and keep them interested and involved!

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