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Virtual Facilitation Techniques that will take a novice to pro in 5 minutes

Updated: Jun 17, 2020

by Nosimilo Ramela

With many organisations having to move to online learning, some have found themselves in the position of their own staff having to teach/facilitate virtually. This is a wonderful method transference of skills, reducing costs on already strained learning budgets and growing your staff’s skills (think re-skilling of the facilitator here). Take a look at these techniques from one of our favourite masterminds, Nosimilo Ramela

Technology: The facilitator should be very aware of the technology they will be using. Having a facilitator fumble over the technology that are in his/her control reduces trust with the participants. Facilitators must plan their lessons in advance and include the technological use, for example – I will be discussing a topic whilst placing all participants on mute and thereafter unmute all for a discussion. Obviously, issues may arise and the facilitator must remain calm and try to communicate this to the participants how they are rectifying on their side. Testing out and doing a trial run is the best way to minimise the tech gremlins.

Time Management: The facilitator must try at all costs to adhere to the time limit. Many people are balancing a number of home scenarios and the time that is scheduled must be maintained. If there is a case where a facilitator can see that the time is going to go over, he/she can address this and ensure the key topics are covered whilst others that would like to discuss further may do so in a one on one session. This is also to protect the energy of the facilitator. Teaching online is demanding causing “zoom fatigue” for the very people that need to be at their best energy and awareness for the best outcome for participants.

Refurnishing content: Create a lesson plan guideline for your participants(see below an example of what this should like). This would include an overview of your outcomes, resources and info for the next lesson so they can begin preparing mentally. You can upload online or send to the participants for them to read and use as a guideline to go through the content. This helps direct their understanding and expectations through the medium of written instruction.

Lesson Plan Example
Download PDF • 120KB

Material: A good way to keep participants engaged, feeling connected to the work and the facilitator is by adding voice-overs to PowerPoint presentations. These should not be longer than 6-8minutes otherwise concentration spans get lost and therefore the key learnings. It’s also less strenuous to record and forces facilitators to keep it simple and confined. This allows for maximum retention and understanding. You also do not need to feel confined to electronic mediums, you can still use the old favourite whiteboard if you have one and direct your camera to it when breaking down a concept. There are wonderful electronic whiteboards as well, but use these with caution and only once you have a fair bit of experience with it. Test it with your content and concepts before using it in a class.

Online meetings: Schedule online Zoom/MS Teams group sessions where participants can engage with facilitators beyond the content delivery. In order for these to be valuable and constructive use the lesson plan (mentioned above) to design the lessons, send it to participants beforehand, allow them to tackle the lesson on their own first, participants should note what they are struggling with and use the meeting to clear these blockages. The facilitator should use the discussion element included in the lesson plan to guide a discussion and unpack the tasks of the lesson within a structure. This helps people who use the medium of verbal communication to engage with the facilitator and also those struggling with specific areas to clarify “face to face”.

Individual tasks: These are a useful way to test the knowledge of participants and also to force them to engage with the material and apply it. Ask participants to share their completed tasks with the facilitator, the facilitator can then use these to give feedback to graduates as a group and where needed directly to individual participants. This can also be used as a relevant guide for facilitators to package material that speaks directly to areas that are difficult to grasp, or needs further exploration.

One-on-one sessions: Schedule one-on-one sessions where possible between individual participants and facilitators. Facilitators should set consultation days and times and communicate these with participants. They should then book a set time where they can consult with facilitators. The participants should be advised to have questions or specific talking points prepared for the session which should be between 15 and 20 minutes max. Facilitators should do about an hour and half of consultation so about 3 – 4 participants max a day. These consultations can be via email, WhatsApp if permitted by the company or through Zoom/MS teams depending on availability of data and network resources.

Awareness of personality over video: Facilitators could check in with those that are quieter during the question part of the video sessions. When facilitators are checking in for understanding, and some are quieter - they can ask a few individuals directly. Example, "Sandra, are you comfortable?", "Sabelo, do you have any questions" This will encourage quieter personalities to voice their questions freely and feel more comfortable with the process of online learning as they may fall into the background a bit. The one-on-one sessions may assist the participants to open up and be more vocal about where they could be struggling and to have positive check-in and interactions with them.

Feedback: After consultation and or task submission a facilitator should send participants a one-pager with responses to repeated questions so participants don’t continue to ask the facilitator the same question and they can move on to other topics and also learn from their colleagues questions.

Multimedia use: Links to industry/topic relevant videos and other visual aids and or relevant case studies are a good way to keep participants stimulated and encouraged while learning. These again should be short and precise to accommodate resource limitations.

Voice notes: Facilitators can also send voice notes explaining certain things to participants and or giving feedback. This helps communicate in a more personal manner, whilst allowing the facilitator time management – as the communication is not “live”.

Overall, you want to remain engaged and look at how the group is responding to both the content and the facilitation. Facilitators who adapt their methods as they go with various groups have more chances at transferring knowledge effectively.

Nosimilo Ramela aka Milo, writes for Sivuka. Driven, hard-working, fun, curious and WOKE are a few words to describe this student of life. She is a strategist, content expert and media and marketing professional. She is a lecturer at the University of Johannesburg and at Boston Media House focusing on media management, strategy and communication. She completed an Executive Masters in Business Administration at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS). In October 2019 she joined Harvard Business School as part fulfilment of her studies at GIBS and future studies towards a PHD in strategy. Her 13 year’s of experience is vast, having worked at Flow Communications as a content strategist consulting for clients including, UN Women SA, EU, IDC, Hollard, Gauteng Tourism, Mango Airlines, Nelson Mandela Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Business Leadership South Africa to name a few. She was also selected to represent South Africa at the 2007 Oxfam International Youth Partnership Programme – a youth development and training programme held in Australia. She has also worked at the Mail & Guardian as a reporter covering political issues, health and general news.

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