We’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Brittni Bowering, a workshop designer, facilitator, and event host. We talked about the challenges of remote workshop facilitation, which things we should definitely avoid and which things are essential to energize the participants and make them want to come back for more! Check out Brittni’s top tips and advice on what to do and what to avoid when facilitating a remote workshop.
About Brittni Bowering
Brittni Bowering is a workshop designer, facilitator, trainer and event host. She works with companies like Twitter, Lufthansa and Procter & Gamble, helping their teams work more effectively together through the power of workshops and facilitation. Brittni believes that people who enjoy their work are more motivated to do great things, so having fun is her top priority!
What is the Facilitator’s Role During the Remote Workshop?
Brittni: Sometimes it’s difficult to pin down a solid response to this question. But I would say that it’s about guiding a group of people through a series of exercises, in order to solve a specific challenge. The role of the facilitator is to do that in a way that the participants enjoy themselves, and that the outcome is achieved. My ideal scenario is that my team leaves feeling much more excited about their work – which happens quite often!
Now, in a remote workshop, there’s a lot more to consider. Unfortunately, you are no longer just a facilitator – you have to be an IT department too! You need the proper technical equipment, some additional tools and some kind of digital whiteboard.
As a facilitator, you need to take care of all of that, all the while also thinking about your participants. It’s a lot!
What I think is often a missed opportunity, is the idea that it really is your role to be managing the feelings and emotions of people as they’re going through the exercises. I like to think about how my participants might be feeling at all stages at the workshop.
At the beginning of the workshop, I know there are some people who might be feeling a bit frustrated that they’re being pulled out of their regular work day. What am I going to do to combat that feeling? Maybe I’m going to thank them for taking the time to be here, to make sure they’re aware of how important it is that they’re a part of this workshop.
Halfway through the workshop, you might think that by now people are feeling a little bit unmotivated. What are you going to do to pep them up? It’s your job to bring back the energy and get everyone engaged again!
At the end of the workshop people might be feeling tired. How am I going to leave my workshop with a bang? How am I going to make sure people remember this experience?
There are a lot of things to consider as a facilitator, especially remotely. Being a great facilitator is about creating a memorable experience with your participants. This way, they not only get a lot done, but they leave feeling excited about their work again!
What are the Biggest Challenges of Remote Facilitation?
Brittni: It’s kind of twofold. The first one is definitely going to be technology in terms of figuring out what’s going to work for your participants and what works for you. You don’t want to have to onboard people onto several tools for a two-hour, three-hour workshop.
What you’re lacking with remote workshops is the ability to change course. When you’re in the room with people and things aren’t working, it’s very easy to say, ‘we’re not going to do that, we’re going to work on this board instead’, or, ‘this marker isn’t working, I’ll just grab another one.’
There are so many things that you can recover from, in person. When we’re remote, it’s much harder. You need to practice the tech you’re using, you need to do run-throughs and you definitely need to plan that things are going to take a lot longer.
The second thing is energy. During the pandemic, when everything was remote, we were all feeling exhausted, and everybody was wondering, ‘what is that about? I used to be able to be in meetings all day and not feel as drained at the end of the day!’
The reason that we feel tired is that when we’re remote, we’re not getting the same energy back from people. In person, when you see someone and you engage with them, you’re giving energy, but you’re getting energy back because through body language and eye contact. Whereas online, we just don’t get that. That’s the biggest challenge, creating those moments where we can feel engaged with each other to the point where we actually forget we were online at all. That takes creativity but it is possible!
In person, it’s much easier to have a laugh and have a quick chat over lunch or before the workshop starts. You can already start to see everybody and feel the energy in the room. When we’re remote, we have to intentionally build that into our session.
Which Tools Shouldn’t You Forget, During the Remote Workshop?
1. Your favorite digital whiteboard
One thing you have to have is a digital whiteboard. Somewhere where everybody can collaborate together, see each other’s ideas, go through rounds of voting, that’s key.
2. Spice it up with some music
I also think music is super important for my workshops. There are certain things that you can do to make the remote experience feel not as drab. What I like to do is to add those little pieces of fun and flavor to get people excited.
When people enter my workshop, there’s always music playing and it’s exciting, fun. People come and think; ‘this is not a 3 hour-long meeting, this is actually something different!’ These things are super important when you’re remote.
3. Focus on your audio
I think that you need to think about your audio. Audio is always the number one. Camera is not as important as audio because people can still pay attention if they can’t see you very clearly. If they can’t hear you, you might as well not be there.
You could also consider investing in a good camera. It doesn’t have to be very expensive, but it still elevates the experience for people. It adds that little element of professionalism that reminds people that this is not just another Zoom call.
4. Fun REAL objects
I also like to incorporate physical things. I love my confetti gun (and so do my workshop participants!). If I’m running a workshop, and I’m having fun with people, I can say, ‘alright, let’s kick it off!’, and then I’ll shoot confetti at the screen.
Tools don’t always have to be super technical, it’s about incorporating some fun. As facilitators it’s important to incorporate tools that allow us to create an experience for people.
5. Send out an invitation
One other thing to think about is, ‘how can you set the tone right away with your group?.’ I like to send out a special invitation to my workshop, like Paperless Post, so that people know that this is a special event that they’ve been invited to. People feel a lot more appreciated, and they’re being brought to something that’s actually important.
What NOT to Do When Facilitating a Remote Workshop?
1. Keep them short
A remote workshop can’t be the same length as an in-person workshop. You might have to have a pre-session, or you might have to give people work to do in advance of your workshop.
I don’t know if there is a perfect length for a remote workshop. It depends on so many things. What I would say confidently, is that you’ll want to have a break every hour. Encourage people to stand up out of their desk, open a window or even go outside for a few minutes.
2. Assign pre-work
I always recommend that you do an onboarding call with everybody before the workshop, where you tell the people what the agenda is going to look like, what we’re going to achieve, and give them their pre-workshop homework. I think giving people an email where it’s written, ‘here’s what you need to do before you come to the workshop’ doesn’t really work. I’ve seen it backfire many times where people show up without having done what you asked them to do.
3. Expect everything to take a long time
Don’t expect things to happen quicker in a remote workshop. When I first started, I thought it would be much faster because we don’t waste the time it takes for everyone to sit down and have a coffee and get their things. In a remote workshop, there’s all kinds of other time wasters. People not being able to log onto the platform for example. I always account for 10 to 15 minutes at the beginning of a workshop for people joining, rejoining, because their camera’s not working, or they can’t hear anything. Always expect everything to take longer.
4. Create moments of connectedness
During in-person workshops, we do a lot of exercises where everybody is working on their own, it’s all very quiet, there’s a nice music moment. In remote workshops, instead of doing more of those exercises where everybody’s doing their own thing, we need to actually focus on bringing people back together, because we’re already feeling disconnected.
I like to plan for these insight moments, where at the end of an exercise everybody has 30 seconds to point out one thing that they found interesting about that exercise that we just did. This not only makes it more human, and less computer focused, but it also has this double benefit, where you get to remind your participants what you’ve just done, and how impactful it was.
What are Your Top Three Tips for Remote Workshop Facilitation?
1. Give yourself a lot of extra time.
Plan for less than you think you have time for, because you will always run over time. That’s the number one tip, less is more.
2. Make it human.
Incorporate icebreakers, let people interact with each other especially at the beginning of the workshop, so that everybody feels it’s a safe space, and they can actually contribute something.
3. Have some fun with it.
Incorporate music, maybe do a dance break after every exercise. Get a confetti gun! When people are laughing together, they’re relaxed, and when they’re relaxed, they’ll do their best work and they’ll be most engaged!
Great, thank you for all these tips Brittni! For anyone that would like to learn a bit more about Brittni, check her website https://www.hibrittni.com/. Brittni can design and facilitate your workshop or train you how to do it yourself!
And if you’re in need of a digital whiteboard, check out our whiteboards.io tool!