• Richard Bartlett

Technical Facilitation: the Geek’s Guide to Flawless Choreography in Online Meetings

laptop with headphones

In our team at The Hum, we have about 30 years combined experience in group facilitation. In the past year of working entirely online, we’ve been learning how to translate our facilitation skills into the digital environment. In this article I’m going to share our approach. It’ll be a long list of tips, some bigger concepts, and a couple of super helpful tools you can take with you and use right away.

#1: Never host alone

This is an idea we picked up from the Art of Hosting community - “never host alone”. That means we always have at least two people sharing the facilitation role, so there’s always at least one person who is fully present and paying attention to the group, even when one of us needs to fix a technical issue (oh no my wireless keyboard just died!) or to give one of the participants troubleshooting support.

For any workshop, we usually have one person who is dedicated to “technical hosting” and at least one who is hosting the people. This article explains my approach to technical hosting (we'll follow up with Part 2 to explain more about the "people hosting").

Detailed runsheets

We prep for a workshop by writing a detailed runsheet. You can find an example sheet here (just make a copy if you want to edit it). We use Google Sheets because it’s collaborative, meaning all the hosts can access & edit it simultaneously and we have a single source of truth.

Screenshot showing the runsheet

There’s a lot of information here, so I’ll explain it column-by-column.

  • Section: a workshop is broken up into multiple sections, each with their own format. E.g. a section could be a presentation, or an interactive group process.

  • Host: who is looking after the “people” facilitation

  • Tech: who is looking after the “technical” facilitation

  • Method/tech needs: reminders for the tech host, e.g. “prepare breakout rooms for groups of 3 people with a 10-minute timer”

  • Purpose: what is the objective of this section

  • Content: reminders for the people-host, e.g. “explain the key concepts and then stop for questions”

  • Notes to share on chat: whenever there’s an interactive exercise, we explain the instructions verbally, and also paste the text into the group chat. If you’re using Zoom or BigBlueButton (excellent open source videocall platform), participants can refer back to the instructions in the chat, even when they are out in their breakout rooms. This makes it a lot easier for people to understand the instructions, even if they were distracted for a minute, or if they’re not fluent in the primary language of the group. We use emojis to make the notice easy to find in the stream of everyone’s comments, and we make the instructions as concise as possible. (We picked up this tip from a great digital facilitation training from Aprendix.)

  • Estimated Duration