These past 10 months have been fascinating in so many ways, and none more powerful than honing my craft of presenting group games & activities online.
Facilitating in a virtual context is NOT the same as facilitating a group which is standing before you in-person. While there are many similar skills and characteristics that are useful, the differences are what will cause your virtual programs to fail.
Here’s a quick checklist of 7 things of what to do and not to do when playing group games online.
1. Do Honour Choice
This is such a no-brainer, yet I am stunned at how often I hear presenters not offer choice in their sessions. For example, requiring attendees to switch on their videos. There are many reasons why some folks prefer not to turn on their video, and some of these you will never be able to change. For those reasons where the attendee is just not comfortable, honour their choice and offer alternatives to participation. I prefer always to give my groups a reason to switch on their videos (ie it’s my responsibility) rather than require it and perhaps raise the shackles of my group from the start.
2. Do Connect
Again, a no-brainer, but one of the most powerful reasons online programs (and meetings, for that matter) fail is because everything about the first few minutes (after they sign-in) says this is going to be boring. Or worse, I’m going to feel uncomfortable. Inviting people to connect (notice I said ‘invite’ and not force) as soon as they arrive is even more critical with online programs because your participants are located remotely, ie it’s so much easier for people to feel they are alone or disconnected and these feelings may quickly lead to disengagement. If your virtual program is designed to be fun and interactive, DO this from the very first minute you are live.
3. Do Start Unofficially
Okay, you’ve heard me bang on about this over and over, but it’s really important, especially for online programs. Reward those who turn up early and on-time, not those who are habitually late. You can never eliminate all lateness, but implementing a strategy that gives your group a reason to turn up on time is just as useful and rewarding for virtual programs as it is for in-person programs. Click here for more information about this powerful technology.
4. Don’t Screenshare the Whole Time
As a professional actor, I learned the craft of recording what’s called “a piece to camera,” ie those moments where the presenter speaks directly to the camera as if looking straight down the barrel. As much as possible, aim to present activities that invite your group to view you in full screen and not just a tiny video thumbnail as they are guided through a series of (often) static slides. There’s nothing wrong with using occasional slides as part playing group games online, but the key here is to limit them and change them up – do not use slides as your primary focus, rather look to the camera and imagine speaking directly to your group as if standing in front of them. Yes, I know directing your group’s attention to a particular web page to view an object (stopwatch, an image, a prop,) is cool, but mix it up a little. You will engage your group a lot more often if you hold up the prop to your camera for the group to see it, provided of course they can see it and read whatever you want them to focus on.
5. Do Use Breakouts / Chats / Polls
The power of your programming will be rapidly increased as soon as you invite your group to interact with breakout rooms, the chat room and online polls. It’s all about interaction and for all of the obvious reasons, it’s much harder for people to interact when they are not standing in the same room together. Do invite your group to interact with any one of these online technologies as often as possible. My rule of thumb, I need to engage my group at least once every 2 minutes, lest I risk them disengaging.
6. Do Pause & Reflect
Presenting anything online comes with one inherent built-in limitation – you can not see the full frame of every participant. That is, it is very difficult to judge the body language and full spectrum of emotions that your group may be feeling at any point in time. There is little you can do to fix this issue, so I strongly recommend that you regularly check in with your group to reflect on how they are going? Questions like, Are we on track, Are you feeling comfortable/having fun and Are you getting your needs met? are all useful starting points. Do a quick Fist to Five or thumbs up or down for some quick visuals, or invite folks to send a private note to you via the chatroom. And then, here’s the critical thing – be sure to correct your course to accommodate your groups’ needs.
7. Don’t Rush the End
Many inexperienced facilitators fail to allow time at the end of their programs for purposeful reflection and this is just as relevant for virtual presentations. Know in advance what experience or activity you expect to conclude with and allow sufficient time for it. Ideally, you will be armed with many more activities than you could ever imagine having time to present. If so, then keep an eye on your time and be sure to finish with ample time to present your intended concluding experience. Do not excuse your poor time management by lamenting that you have run out of time. A professional would never let this occur, so prepare accordingly.
With thanks to Chad Littlefield who inspired this post. He uploaded a wonderful video here that generously shares many more tips about the do’s and don’ts of online meetings.
Do you have some useful advice for playing group games online that you have learned, perhaps the hard way?