A virtual meeting is when people around the world, regardless of their location, use video, audio, and text to link up online. Virtual meetings allow people to share information and data in real-time without being physically located together.https://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-a-virtual-meeting-technology-strategies-quiz.html
Going all virtual
Working with CRR UK
Through June and July, I had some insight into how group course facilitation can be done remotely and professionally at the same time. During hosting the technical space of the zoom calls for the Intelligence course organised by CRR UK I enjoyed collaborating with the leaders and assistants to deliver great customer experience for the participants.
In-person versus remote
If I could choose between in-person and virtual meetings, I would always pick an in-person one. Although I have a strong bias towards this option, I always appreciated the freedom of connecting with people all over the world virtually. The secret ingredient was that we all wanted to achieve something together. Until I had the option to prefer the in-person events, I had never thought it through why the virtual ones work less for me.
Then, this June when I felt that I need to perfectly host a virtual course, I realised that it can be at least two times more effort to make this work when things go online. This might mean double doses of energy, passion, preparation or focus. People need to be equally more well-rested as it can be twice as more tiring too.
Screen-on and Screen-off
I saw how much dedication went into organising and orchestrating the course for the participants. Without passion, you cannot do this very well for long. That is just my personal opinion. Quality might demand a lot of practice and even more preparation. If you a virtual facilitator, I am suspecting you need to organise your screen-off time to recover. It is also better to accept that virtual connection is different than a physical one.
Below I collected some of my learning, and what helped me to become an effective virtual technical host as much as possible. Some things worked, some failed. As a result, I optimised how to take care of the technical smoothness of the call. I hope it is useful for someone who goes through a similar journey.
The preparation is essential, as a technical host, you are the first one to join and the last one to leave just in the same way if you host an in-person event. The following items could be useful for you to consider.
- Knowledge and Awareness of the course material, participants and timeline.
- Timer – On your laptop, phone, watch, depending on what works for you best.
- Alliances with the course leaders and assistants, including the vision, roles and responsibilities.
- Inventories such as post-it notes and sharpies – To make quick notes to yourself.
- Multiple screens or more than one devices. This helps to balance the multi-lines of communication and many streams of facilitation activities.
- Change communication – Agree on how people will be notified if there is a turn of events.
- Focus – Find a way to engage yourself and pay attention to keep yourself alert.
- Resting – You need to take care of your very basic physiological needs; check e.g. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
- Allow yourself to fail and learn from it. Document this, even if it is a tiny discovery, you will benefit from catching it the next time.
During the session
The meat of the session is when all the participants joined.
- Follow up with participants if they fall out. When they join back in, explain what happened, give them some comfort. If you are lucky to have some helpers on the course, ask them to catch up with the participants if necessary.
- Adjusting the time schedule, where post-its might help.
- Communication with leaders on changes.
- Technical readiness of materials to show on your screen.
- Prepare breakout rooms in advance based on the type of activity if there is such functionality on the video conferencing tool. This might mean randomly or manually selected groups.
- Always think ahead – Have a plan and some alternatives ready in your head, the fewer surprises there are, the sharper your response will be.
- Notice what needs your attention and prioritise. These can come from participants, leaders, assistants or the organiser of the course.
- Follow the priority order of the activities, where post-its might help.
Handling the unexpected
It is going to happen, you know it will. Therefore, it is good to have some plan B, back-up options and some acceptance on your side that things can and will change unexpectedly. I am listing just a couple of examples to be mindful of.
- Technical difficulties – Anyone can lose connection so there must be some back-up hosts on the call or outside of the call whatever seems feasible in your case.
- Life happens – It is good to be able to act on the live feedback received fast, even if they seem hard to address. Thinking outside of the box and being flexible could help.
After each session, you gain more knowledge about how it can be done better in the future. Therefore, it is worth spending some time with the leaders and assistants to share experience and plan for the next round. These observations will be a crucial element of continuous orchestration. Have fun while doing it!