Online virtual workshops: how to create engagement, collaboration and deliver successful outcomes
Online meetings and workshops are the new norm yet despite the many benefits they bring, they often fail to create the same engagement, collaboration and success as their face-to-face equivalent.
In part, this is because methodically, online workshops are designed as if they were being delivered face-to-face – they are not being designed to create a fit for a digital experience. And, what makes a great face-to-face workshop is human connection, empathy, inclusion and relationship building – most of which is entirely overlooked in an online setting.
Furthermore, experiences are hindered by technology issues. There is low engagement from multitasking, poor conversations from a lack of collaboration, attention deficit from overpacked agendas and a lack of outcomes from too many people attending.
So how do we overcome these issues? Let’s look at what we can do before, during and after.
It starts with inviting the right people. Ask, does this person need to attend? What will they contribute and how will they benefit? If you can’t answer, they probably don’t need to be there.
Then prepare. It’s a given that you need to know how to use the tech and that it works but have you considered your participants? Can they dial in and does everything work if they dial in from mobile, Android or Apple based systems? Consider what platform to use. Is there a need for interaction, real time collaboration or ongoing and longitudinal engagement? If yes, Teams and Zoom probably are not the best bet. A platform such as The Green Room might be. Or you could go full metaverse and consider something like Zonevs.io by Phorix.
Consider how to create engagement before the workshop to set expectations, onboard and create buy-in so can spend more time generating solutions vs. explaining the purpose once on the actual workshop. Pre-tasks that involve reading, doing and listening all help but think of these tasks as part of the total time you will spend with participants vs. an optional extra.
The aim is for everyone to be part of the experience, to be actively taking part and inputting into the discussion. Face-to-face workshops provide an opportunity to network and chat so think how you’ll achieve this online and, how you will assess rapport and engagement.
Keep the energy up. Cut the introductions. Keep any activity short and sweet and never more than 15-minutes. Up the conversation and interaction and spend less time just talking endlessly at people. Use a range of approaches; presentations delivered through different functions and external speakers, a mix of individual, breakout (not too many!) and group sessions and consider how you will use tools that allow real time collaboration and in-the-moment research. A platform like One Pulse lets you ask a question to 1,000’s of people, and get answers back, in minutes.
Everyone’s opinion is valid. Yet, cultural, personality and seniority bias may prevent participants’ voices being heard. Make exercises individual or private if needed. Create empathy by listening, agreeing, praising liberally, and celebrating small contributions.
Less is more. Over-estimate how long things will take. Make sure any exercises will actually work online and aim to finish early. ‘I wish that meeting overran and had loads more exercises in’ said no one ever. It is better to do fewer things well so ask yourself, would it matter if we didn’t do it? More often than not, the answer is no.
Agreeing next steps and writing up are givens but consider keeping the platform open and be make sure to collect feedback from everyone.
In summary, online workshops are here to stay and yet it is clear they can deliver a less than optimal experience. To overcome this, we of course need to surmount the myriad of technical challenges that exist. And, we need to invite the right people and engage them before, during and after. We need to create fit for digital experiences and most importantly, we need to better create human connection.
Learnings are summarised from Day One’s BHBIA webinar on running online virtual workshops and we would be delighted to talk to you more about our thinking here and work with you to deliver more engaging experiences.
Ben Lorkin, Senior Director, Day One