The past six months have taught us a lot about facilitating large-scale virtual events, and we wanted to share what we’ve learned so far with all of you!
We’ve been hosting webinars and facilitating virtual volunteering at Taproot Foundation for years, but the sudden shift to 100%-virtual meant we had to adapt some of our programs very quickly. We asked Roots (that’s what we call ourselves here at Taproot) to share their top tips for event planning, virtual facilitation, and engagement in screen-to-screen meetings. Here’s what they had to say:
- “My Number 1 Tip: Stay loose and light! Video calls are hard for everyone involved and acknowledging the awkwardness of the whole situation makes it go better. Mistakes are going to happen, someone’s kids are going to walk through the background, people will start talking and forget to unmute themselves. Creating an understanding and supportive atmosphere makes virtual events more fun and more successful!” – Otis Booz, Senior Associate Consultant
- “Be clear about facilitation roles. Define who is going to lead what—but if there are multiple people in the meeting, split up the facilitator role so people hear different voices and feel different energies.” – Julia Chung, Senior Associate Consultant
- “Play around with the technology ahead of time. Set up a test meeting with a couple colleagues and experience what it’s like to be a participant. Have some fun trying out all the features—even ones you might not be planning to use, including screen sharing, breakout rooms, polls, reactions, and virtual backgrounds. This will help you to feel more comfortable with the technology, and it’s likely to spark some ideas for fun icebreakers or ways to create an interactive session.” – Lilia Hoberman, Senior Associate Consultant
- “Use that chat function at the onset to get people comfortable with posting, and provide clear instruction on how to use chat, be okay with awkward silence, and try to have high energy—it can be contagious, even in a virtual setting!” – Joe Mendrala, Consultant
- “Facilitate group brainstorming. Time and time again—whether it’s in a program kickoff/debrief or in individual project teams—the most successful virtual conversations are those that engage a diversity of personalities. Group brainstorming drives engagement, provides space for quieter voices, and ensures that participants feel that they’re co-owners of the activity/engagement.” – Kevin Burg, Associate Consultant
- “Take time to build rapport. With in-person events it’s easy to have casual conversations and make connections, but that can be hard to translate to a virtual setting. From a planning and facilitation perspective, making space for connection can look like dedicating time within your program agenda for casual conversation to happen. Facilitators using “set up” time creatively to spark discussion can go a long way in helping people open up and reply back throughout the event. Having a fun icebreaker question on a slide that participants can react to via chat or audio can set an upbeat tone for your event.” – Stephanie Kuei, Consultant
- “My number #1 tip is to expect everything to take a bit longer. When facilitating a virtual event or even just a meeting, it’s better to keep some extra time as buffer in your agenda. Building connections/relationships takes longer, technology issues pop up, and people need more frequent breaks to stay focused and energized.” – Andrew Mahoney, Senior Associate Consultant
We’ve all adjusted to living, working, and collaborating differently this year in order to keep each other as safe as possible. We hope our tips on virtual facilitation can make your work easier, more productive, and even more fun!
Is your nonprofit ready to start working with virtual pro bono? Check out our tips on how to manage virtual volunteers well.
Could a consultation with a skilled volunteer get your nonprofit off to a running start? Sign up for our (always-free) pro bono matchmaking platform Taproot Plus to get started.