Most of the tips for in-person facilitation apply to online facilitation as well. The only real difference is that you will play a more intentional role in managing the process. Lacking the nonverbal cues or ability to “feel the room,” participants will be operating with less information and may under/over share as a result. Your goal is to fill in for these blind spots by proactively offering guidance, encouraging participation, and coordinating logistics.

Offer Guidance

  • Serve as the group’s conscience. You are the eyes, ears, and heart of the discussion. If some people are participating too much, you can help them (and everyone else) by addressing it. Similarly, if you notice that people want to shift gears or further explore a topic, you can help them to do that as well.
    • “We’d love to hear from some people who haven’t had the chance to share yet.”
    • “For those of us who have had the chance to speak, let’s take a moment to listen. And for those who have been listening, please feel free to speak.”
    • “It seems like we need to take a bit more time to process this, so let’s keep going.”

  • Provide structure. When you have multiple people who want to speak, put them in order and tell them their place in the line-up, ideally with those who have already shared at the end. If the discussion has digressed, summarize and refocus on the topic.
    • “We will go to you first, Amy, and then Kristina followed by Alexis.”
    • “This has been a great discussion about dynamics in Alumni Relations, but I’d like us to get back to the larger issue of gender bias in our profession.”
    • “I’m noticing the time. Let’s go back to the original question.”

  • Give them space. For high-risk sharing, create a journal prompt so they have a moment to reflect on their own. To increase the sense of safety and intimacy, use breakout rooms and then debrief in the larger group with a head/heart/hand.

Encourage Participation

  • Get them talking right away. People do not truly enter a room until they speak. With this in mind, it’s important to begin every session with an ice-breaker or team builder. The round robin format is best because it saves time, eliminates awkwardness, and gives people permission to ad lib. Just be sure to give people the option to pass or circle back later.

  • Call on them. For low-risk sharing, it’s okay and usually even welcomed to invite specific people to speak. This is especially helpful in a Zoom meeting where people can’t sense who is going to speak when. Give them the ability to opt out or make the question as low-risk as possible.
    • “I see Amy nodding her head. Do you have anything you’d be willing to share?”
    • “Amy, what is the first thing that comes to mind for you?”

  • Wait them out. If people aren’t talking, count to 10 and then try again. Sometimes it’s helpful to share that you’re going to count to 10, just to make sure people have time to think before they speak. When all else fails, answer the question yourself and then ask if they agree/disagree.
    • “Impostor Syndrome comes up for me whenever I have to do a presentation in front of my peers. Does that come up for anyone else?”

Coordinate Logistics

  • Watch the clock. It’s easy to lose track of time in an online environment. Tell participants how much time they have for each task, whether it’s a group discussion, journal entry, or breakout room. Mark the half-way point and use it to reinforce the intended outcome, and always give a two-minute time warning.
    • “We have 10 minutes for the 3 B’s, so that gives everyone about 2 minutes to share.”
    • “We’re about half-way through the activity and I want to be sure we give everyone the chance to share their 3 B’s.”
    • “We have a couple of minutes to finish things up.”

  • Park the cars. During a discussion, participants may share ideas that cause the equivalent of a traffic jam or car accident. While it’s important to acknowledge everyone’s ideas, you certainly don’t need to give them the right of way. Use proactive techniques to redirect the discussion.
    • “That’s an interesting point. What would be the pros and cons of this?”
    • “Are there any other thoughts on this?”
    • “Great idea. Let’s put a pin in it and come back to it later.”
    • “How about we talk about this off line after the session?”

Manage Difficult Situations

  • Offer care and support. Personal experiences with oppression can be very intense to share and witness. For sharing by participants that touch upon tough personal stories, you might say something like, “Thank you for trusting us with your story. That was very brave.”  For those who are listening, you might say, “That was a very brave story to share. Let’s take a moment to honor this. Please feel free to put something in the chat if you’d like.”
  • Manage problematic statements. On rare occasions, a participant may say something that is rude, contentious, or racist/sexist/etc. You can refer back to the Amplify Aspirations or say something like:
    • Did you mean to say (insert what they said)?
    • Can you help me understand why you said that?
    • Beneath this statement, I hear the value of (insert a value that you share with this person), and for me, this is how (insert value) shows up in a different way.
    • This doesn’t sound like you, is everything ok?
    • Does anyone else want to comment?
  • Redirect long-winded responses. With only 45 minutes for the breakout session, it’s important to ensure everyone has the opportunity to participate. If you notice that someone is speaking too long, try one of the following:
    • Interrupt with a time check, “Oh my! Looks like we only have a few minutes left. Let’s get to the next question/person.” 
    • Agree with what they’re saying and begin talking over them to take back the conversation, “I can totally understand that, and what I’d like to further explore is…” 
    • Identify another speaker who looks engaged and invite them to speak, “Sam, you look like you find this conversation interesting – what do you think?”  
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