20 tips for an online workshop

Our facilitation team

Having completed our (Graeme Stuart and Rob Duncan from Newcastle, and Selene Moonbeams and Jim Thom from Western Australia) first Basic AVP online workshop, here are some tips for facilitating interactive, experiential workshops online (via Zoom)

There are more tips, reflections and information in our other posts:

  1. Creating a safe space for a workshop on Zoom
  2. Reflections halfway into our first online AVP workshop
  3. More reflections from our first AVP online workshop
  4. Broken Squares online
  5. Agenda and resources from our first AVP online workshop

The Facilitation Team

  1. Until you are quite experienced with online workshops, we think it is particularly important to have teams that can work effectively together. While it is always important, in a normal workshop we can more easily work with other facilitators we find challenging. (They often have something to teach us.) In this new context—where we are having to experiment, develop new ways of doing activities, don’t have tried and tested agendas, and are having to spend a long time planning—there isn’t the time (or energy) to work as much on the team.
  2. There needs to be at least two facilitators (and for an AVP workshop we would suggest four) to share facilitation and technology, and in case anything goes wrong. By having four facilitators we could have three groups in breakout rooms, each with a facilitator. But if there are too many facilitators, it makes the group too big.
  3. When using technology for exercises (e.g., using breakout rooms) or taking notes (e.g., in a shared screen), it is important that the one facilitator looks after the technology or note-taking so that the main facilitator (for the exercise) can focus on the group and facilitating the activity.
  4. In creating a team, we suggest it helps to have:
    • Some quite experienced facilitators
    • At least two facilitators who are quite confident with technology generally and Zoom in particular
    • People who are excited by change and trying new things.
  5. You also need facilitators who have the time to devote to the workshop but who won’t expect too much planning and debriefing. As well as the 2 1/2 hours per session, for our workshops we spent two hours planning between each session, 30 minutes before the session and up to 30 minutes having a quick catch at the end of each session.  Later on, we didn’t always need that long, but certainly early on, we couldn’t have done it much quicker. But also, we didn’t want to spend any longer planning and debriefing (even though there was more we could have done.) All up went spent around 47 hours on Zoom (in addition to writing up agendas, preparing exercises etc).

Technology

  1. Really practice the technology. There were a couple of times when our use of technology let us down a bit (e.g., we had problems creating posters in the roleplays).
  2. Make sure participants are introduced to all the features of Zoom you use, particularly that they know how to leave a breakout room by themselves. (See Use of breakout rooms in Creating a safe space for a workshop on Zoom.)
  3. We made sure all the facilitators were co-host and, when planning the agenda, decided who needed to be host to create breakout rooms (because only the host can create breakout rooms).
  4. When taking notes (e.g., for brainstorms) use a Google Doc rather than the Zoom whiteboard (because on the whiteboard, we can’t edit the writing once it is entered and, for anybody besides the person who shared their screen, others can only see what is written once Enter is clicked).
  5. When sharing links to other webpages (e.g., for Broken Squares or to a Google Document) shortening the link because it makes it less confusing for some participants. For example, the full link to the agenda for our first Basic AVP online workshop is https://docs.google.com/document/d/1zTlCp6fXl8leVts8GpEfRGNa9GGa-JuibgnkjNAQRHw/edit?usp=sharing but the shortened link is only  https://bit.ly/AVPOnlineAgenda.  (I use a free bitly.com account, there are instructions here, but there are numerous other options).
  6. Have a facilitator the participants know they can contact by phone (or Whats App, FaceTime etc) if they are having technological (or other) issues.
  7. Make use of the Chat to share important information (e.g., reminders of the gathering questions, the agenda so they can refer to it whenever they want, links to other documents).
  8. When they are in breakout rooms, broadcast messages to remind them of instructions, give them warning of how much time is left and so on.

Caring for the group

For more see Creating a safe space for a workshop on Zoom.

  1. We thought it was important the we had everybody’s mobile number so that we could contact them if something went wrong. (E.g., after a fairly heavy session, we followed up with some of the participants to make sure they were OK, and we could ring someone if we could see they were having technological issues.)
  2. We always checked who was in breakout rooms together before creating them, particularly if there wasn’t going to be a facilitator in the room. For example, we wouldn’t want four men and one woman in a room.
  3. When creating breakout rooms, we did not send them automatically to the room which meant they needed to click “Join breakout room”. Breakout rooms can be set up so participants are automatically sent to them, but by requiring them to accept the invitation, they had more control and it was more in keeping with AVP’s philosophy of volunteering only yourself and having the right to pass.
  4. We always had a facilitator in the main room in case anybody needed support.
  5. We avoided automatically closing breakout rooms and waited until at least some people were back from each group before closing the rooms. This avoided people being abruptly removed in the middle of an important conversation and again gave them more control of the process and was more in keeping with AVP’s approach.
  6. Inviting people to add a number before their name helped with circle work (e.g., each person saying something in a gathering, or for some energisers). If there were 12 people, we asked them to choose a number between 1 and 12. If two people picked the same number, we asked them to try again. We made sure the facilitator who was doing the gathering (which starts the workshop with everybody saying who they are and answering a questions) was Number 1.
  7. We used problems with technology (and other challenges) as part of the experience by (what Jabberwocky Julei calls) Shining the Light, that is, drawing attention to things happening in the workshop and using them as part of the learning. (For an example see Point 5 under Facilitation in Reflections halfway into our first online AVP workshop.)

Please share any of your ideas, tips, questions or experiences in the comments below.

If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:

  1. Creating a safe space for a workshop on Zoom
  2. Reflections halfway into our first online AVP workshop
  3. More reflections from our first AVP online workshop
  4. Broken Squares online
  5. What are Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops?
  6. An interactive exercise exploring parenting styles

If you find any problems with the blog, (e.g., broken links or typos) I’d love to hear about them. You can either add a comment below or contact me via the Contact page.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), Facilitation & teaching and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to 20 tips for an online workshop

  1. Wow! This is filled with great things to consider. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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