Updated: Aug 26
You’ve taken workshop after workshop. You’ve watched countless YouTube videos. You’ve joined every Slack channel you can get your thumbs on. And when it comes to facilitating with online tools, you still feel unprepared.
What might be coming up for you is fear, and if it is, GOOD! Own it. Think about a time when you felt truly confident in whatever it was that you were doing. What enabled the confidence?
Pause for reflection.
Confidence comes with experience. Facilitating online is new, and until you find your groove, be prepared to feel unprepared. If you have been facilitating or leading meetings for a long time, you probably haven’t felt this way in while. Know that it is natural, and that you are not alone.
While you wait for that magic moment of confidence to kick in, here are a few tips to help you “fake it ‘til you make it.” These are a few essential tips most don’t teach in online facilitation workshops that when followed, will help you show up confident, even if you don’t feel that way… yet!
Choose a tool that’s right for your participants and your design.
Just because you learned a new tool, doesn’t mean you have to use it. Move beyond the temptation to use Mural, just because you’re excited about it. We love Mural. It’s great. It’s the answer to life, love and all things holy, and it’s not right for all meetings.
Mural (and Miro) take time to feel comfortable with, both as a facilitator and as a participant. We’re not saying don’t use it, we’re saying use it with intention. Start with your design and your participants in mind.
Ask yourself these questions:
Will my participants be in the right mindset to learn something new?
Do my participants need to contribute thoughts or ideas during the meeting?
Do I have fewer than 50 participants?
Do I have a second facilitator to support me in Mural?
If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” or “not sure,” consider using a different tool, for instance, Google Docs. Facilitators often don’t realize how much Google Docs can accomplish.
Unique Benefits of Google Docs:
Low barrier to entry. It looks like Microsoft Word, which most people have used.
The final product is easy to read and already transcribed in report format.
Google tends to be overall very reliable.
You can still make it pretty by changing the background color and adding images and icons.
And because we want you to have a leg up, here is a template you can copy and modify for your sessions. Please copy this template before modifying!
Design better meetings, in person or online.
If you are proceeding with Mural, here are some ways to think about where it fits in your facilitation process.
Before you design...
Identify the meeting outcomes. For more on identifying outcomes, check out this Facilitation Playbook from The Ringel Group.
Design an outline of your session. We love Session Lab. It helps us quickly layout our designs and modify the times and durations of activities.
Build a “run of show.” Add only the detail you need in order to know how you will flow from one activity to another. Later in this article, we will offer a few voice tracks for your run of show.
Now that we have our outcomes, outline and run of show, create a materials list. If we were meeting in person, that list might include:
Flipcharts with key questions on them
Agenda slide or flipchart
Ground rules slide or flipchart
Parking lot slide or flipchart
For each item you listed in your materials, consider how you might do that online. In your Mural board or Google Document, have a space for everything. Create a space for the agenda, ground rules, questions, etc.
PRO TIP: If you're using Mural, the only design tip you need to remember is that we tend to read left to right and bottom to top. Arrange each part of your board using this logic, so that you and the participants can easily navigate.
And because we want you to have a leg up, here is a Mural board you can use as a model. Please note, in order to prevent this template from being compromised, we have locked all of the elements. You will need to recreate the template.
Introducing participants to a new tool.
There’s beauty in transitions. When I taught ballet, I always told my students, “Anyone can learn how to do an amazing pirouette or big leap, but the dancers you want to watch create beauty in the transitions.” I once watched Paloma Herrera perform in La Bayadere at the Lincoln Center in New York City. Before she even did her variation, the audience applauded, as she presented her foot. The moment was so beautiful, even though she was simply entering the stage.
Transitions are everything. Most online meetings begin in a web conferencing platform (i.e. Zoom) with perhaps a shared screen of a slide that includes a welcome message. Later, there is a transition to a tool, such as Mural or a Google Document, where the participants will collaborate. There may be more transitions throughout the session when participants need to go back to Zoom to type something into the chat or view a shared screen.
The biggest opportunity to lose participants is during these transitions. You can prepare participants to manage transitions by doing a few things before and a few things during the session.
Before the session, send a communication that will help participants prepare for their experience. And because we want you to have a leg up, here is an email template that has helped us craft easy to understand guidance very quickly.
Now that your participants are prepared, there are likely to be fewer issues as you make transitions during the session. A well-choreographed transition in advance of the meeting will make entering into a new online space easier for participants and help them focus on the task at hand.
During the session, start with teaching participants a bit of “Monitor Feng Shui. " In other words, how to “split their screen,” so that they can see their browser on one side and the web conferencing tool on the other. This enables participants to have “face time” while collaborating in Mural or a Google Document. Use the image below as a reference and the following resource links, depending on your operating system.
If Zoom is maximized, participants will need to click the “ESC” key or Mac equivalent in order to “restore” the Zoom screen and manipulate it.
Share the links above in Chat to help participants change their screen ratio.
Cue participants to change the screen sizes the same way they might change the size of an image in a Power Point document.
Next, share your screen and demo the tool. Each tool is different, but in general, we teach two basic skills for every tool: (1) how to navigate and (2) how to add content. For Mural, we show:
How to navigate using your mouse and/or the transparent mini-map.
How to double click to add a sticky-note; how to add text; and how to move it around.
If we have a large Mural board, we may also show how to navigate and use the Outline mode.
For Google Docs, we show:
How to navigate using the Outline view and/or clicking on the Facilitator's image/icon.
How to click “Enter/Return” a few times in order to add content to a table, without typing over each other.
We might also offer guidance about what to do if the tool slows down. Generally a “refresh” of the browser will work wonders.
Now for the applause-worthy transition.
Use this voice track:
“Now that I’ve demonstrated a few of the skills you need, we’re going to get you in here to practice. In a moment, I will stop my screen share and [I/TECH HOST] will put a link into the Chat. Please click that link and join me in [TOOL]. Once you are here, please navigate to the Sandbox, and practice the skills you just learned. Again, the skills to practice are [X, Y and Z], and if you forget they are written in [LOCATION].”
Then slow down. If you’re using Mural, start “summoning” participants to the Sandbox as quickly as you see them join. If you have a tech host, they might take on this task. Watch and wait for people to get lost. Some people will begin working on the Sandbox tasks, giving you and/or your tech host the chance to help those who have challenges.
For a tech-savvy group, this transition might take only a couple of minutes. For a less tech-savvy group, this transition might take 10 or even 15 minutes. Give yourself time and say a few times, “Please type in the Chat or go off mute, and let us know if you are having any challenges or if anything I said was unclear.”
At the same time, notice what’s happening in the Sandbox, and encourage people to do the next practice task on the list.
“If you have finished adding a sticky note, practice navigating the board.”
When it is truly time to move on to the activity, ask your tech host to work one-on-one with anyone who may still be having challenges.
QUICK FIXES IN MURAL: The top challenges and quick fixes for Mural are:
Browser issues: Chrome typically works better than Firefox.
Lag: Click refresh.
Using a phone or iPad: Ask participants to use their computer.
Using the Mural app: We recommend the web version
Getting prompted to “Login”: Be sure you are sending the “visitor link,” and if it still doesn’t work, ask the participant to close their browser and click the link again.
Entering on the wrong part of the board: Use “Summon” or “Ask to be Followed.” You can also use the Outline feature to send them a direct link to the section of the board they should be looking at.
If all else fails, this is why you have a tech host (or hosts). Ask your tech host to accommodate the challenged participant by typing their comments for them. It’s important to grow this skill, as it is important not only for the technically challenged but also for those with a physical limitation or handi-cap.
PRO-TIP: It’s a good idea to have a Google Document ready to go as a back-up, just in case Mural decides to update their program right before your event starts. It happens to the best of us.
A few more tips…
Cue participants where to look.
When too much is happening on stage, the audience doesn’t know where to look. They need cues. Good virtual facilitators incorporate cues into their voice track.
“I’m going to talk about _______, and I need you to look at _______.”
“John is going to speak to us about _______, and you don’t need to be looking at anything except the video.”
“I’m going to demonstrate how to do _______, and I need you to watch my video for a moment. Be sure that you are in speaker view for this.”
“When we get into this next section, you will need to find _______.”
The blanks above may include a task, a slide, a part of a Mural board, a page in a Google Document, or a specific person’s video feed.
Humanize the experience.
Use language to create connection between online and in person meetings.
“Mural is like the flip charts we would use in person. When I say go, find a flip chart to work on.”
“We’re going to do a round of introductions. Please take a seat by typing your name in the sticky note.”
“In person, we would be sitting at tables. In Google Docs, we also work in tables…” Pause for laughter.
As we mentioned earlier, confidence comes with experience. Here are a few ways to gain confidence.
Choose a low-stakes meeting to practice with. It can even be a family phone call or even something you volunteer for. Tell the person or group that you’d like to use this as an opportunity to practice a virtual tool or process that is new for you. Use the guidance from this article to help you design a process and choose a tool to support the conversation.
Do a dry-run. Offer a free or low cost version of the process you’re planning in another trusted space, such as an online community of practice. For example, we are members of the Meetup.com group NOVA Scribes. Whenever we want to practice a new process online, we offer it as a NOVA Scribes workshop and treat it as our opportunity to gather feedback before the stakes are higher. Consider offering a version of the workshop you are planning to members of your favorite Facebook group. Be sure to modify the content to meet their needs.
Have a disaster rehearsal. This is a concept I learned from my high-school theatre teacher Mr. Smith. Before every show, we had one dress rehearsal where Mr. Smith would purposefully try to do as many things as he could to interrupt the show. The purpose was to give us an opportunity to figure out how to work together and continue the show despite limitations and distractions. For example, he would ask the lighting crew to turn off the lights or ask the props crew to “lose” a prop. It was a valuable learning experience and also a ton of fun.
Over time, the cast would provide their own interruptions. There’s nothing that says team-building like Mercutio lying on the floor yelling “snakes,” while you’re trying to grieve his death. These rehearsals proved quite effective.
Practice how you would handle the following “disaster scenarios” and remember the phrase, “The show must go on.”
Participants messing up the template.
Participant unable to access the link.
Add your own.
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