For over a year now, our trainings, workshops or meetings have been held exclusively online. Here, at TechSoup Europe, we started this online transition like everyone else, by moving PowerPoint presentations to Zoom and interacting via the chatbox. 12 months of virtual events, software changes, and participation in hundreds of online meetings, however, have taken our events to a completely different level. Today we are sharing with you some useful ways of how to run an engaging online meeting, focusing on maintaining the most important element: audience engagement.
Choose your tools and customize your agenda. In the same way, as we carefully prepare physical space for an offline meeting, training, or conference, it is very important to choose an online platform for our event. You need to feel comfortable with the tool, know its capabilities and have it updated before the meeting (so that it doesn’t play a trick on you during the actual call… and believe me, it is very likely to happen :).
During longer training, we recommend using some additional tools to spice them up. Find the tools for collaboration tailored to your needs: sometimes a simple presentation and joint work in groups (e.g., discussion in “breakout rooms”, creating something together in Google Docs) plus an interactive element (e.g., a poll on Zoom, a quiz on Kahoot or Mentimeter, or collecting ideas on virtual posts on Ideaboardz) is enough. You can take your training to the next level with tools like Mural or Miro, though.
To keep up your audience’s attention online, we suggest reducing the program or spreading it out over several days.
Remember that you should plan a 10–15-minute break every 60-90 minutes, and if you’ve decided to go on a long haul and do a full-day workshop – schedule a decent amount of time for a lunch break in advance, so the participants know what time to prepare their lunch for.
Opening the session
In the beginning – warm up and familiarize the participants with the tools you’ll be using.
Remember that not everyone is technologically advanced. If you have a chance to demonstrate the different options for the tools you will be using and there are some more complicated items among them, use them during the warm-up and getting-to-know-each-other round. You will need to make sure everyone has a working microphone and webcam, knows how to change the screen view, use the chatbox, or use the “raise your hand” option.
Here are some suggestions for warm-up exercises:
- Emojis: we ask the participants to paste into the chat box three emoticons telling us who they are and how they feel. Then, one by one, you call on people to tell you why they chose their emojis. Here you will find all the possible smileys collected on one page.
- Usernames: change your username (e.g., on Zoom, using the “Rename” function) – give your name/organization name and a number that represents your energy level on a given day, marking it on a scale of 1-10. The person with the highest/lowest number starts, briefly tells everyone about themselves and calls up the person who is next in line according to the number they have selected, to respond. Everyone gets to know each other a bit this way and need to be mindful not to miss anyone from the group, plus we find out what the energy level of the group is.
- If you are going to use some other collaboration tools, warm-up and icebreaking is a good time to show how to use them. Take the Miro board, for example; here you can create a virtual table and ask the participants to write their names and their organizations’ names on virtual post-it notes and place them where they would normally want to “sit” at the table. The introductions begin with the first person willing to speak up and then the round goes to their left or right until everyone has introduced themselves.
During the session – make sure you maintain the right energy level
Even though you’ve planned your training brilliantly, make sure to include some short breaks and occasionally ask your participants questions via the chatbox or in a survey format to have them regain their focus. 2 hours of staring non-stop at a screen can make anybody’s thoughts wander and your group will also need to stretch their backs and move a little. Here are some proven ways how to boost energy within your group:
- “Colour your screen” by bringing various items in a particular color and placing them in front of your camera. The virtual world can be green or pink:
- “Zoom Pilates” – prepare a slide with several objects and a set of commands assigned to them. Show the objects one by one to the camera while the group does some stretching exercises 🙂
- “Shapes & Figures” – ask the participants to change into something using their bodies only. For example: “be a teapot” 🙂
At the end – collect feedback
You can end the meeting with typical feedback round, where each participant, in turn, expresses his/her opinion about the training. Unfortunately, after a few hours of a virtual meeting, your attention span as a trainer may also be strained. A simple way to ensure that no one is left out of the discussion is for the participants to use the “raise your hand” reaction option. The first person speaks up and at the end nominates the next participant to continue, and “puts down” his or her hand, so you can easily track how many people have not spoken yet by checking their reaction symbols.
Don’t have that much time to collect feedback? Or do you need written responses (which you can later use on social media or in a report)? As always, Mentimeter or sharing responses on a virtual whiteboard are some great ways to quickly let everybody know what everyone else in the group thinks.
Wrapping things up
After the meeting, send a follow-up email to your group. In addition to the evaluation survey, attach a recording/presentation/PDF of the materials you created on an external platform or share the notes you took together in the Google Doc.
If you would like to learn more about offline to online education transformation and how to convert your trainings from an offline to an online format, read our guide!
If you are interested in #tech4good activities, events, resources and communities, subscribe to TechSoup Europe newsletter!
This article is has been created in the frame of the Digital and Training Skills for the Social Sector’ project.
Fundacja TechSoup implements ‘Digital and Training Skills for the Social Sector’ project in the frame of Operational Programme Knowledge Education Development that is co-financed from European Social Fund.