How to get people to engage during remote facilitation
Whether it is in person or remote meetings, one of the most difficult things to do is keep people engaged and involved. With virtual meeting it is even more difficult because of technology limitations, challenge with reading people's emotions, supporting small group conversations, keeping focus etc.
Here are some tips to change that...
Make it safe:
It can be intimidating to step in an answer a question or make a comment. Sometimes virtual sessions are recorded and people don't want their comments to live forever.
As a facilitator, you can make it safe for people to participate by either not recording the session or telling participants they have a chance to review the video before it is published. Let them know that there are no right or wrong answers, only different perspectives based on our experience so far and to be open minded and curious to share and learn.
Frame for inviting participation:
How you ask matters. Asking "any questions?" vs. "what questions do you have?" or "can we hear 2 comments on what we just talked about" opens a greater space for contribution.
"Any questions?" has the tone of 'let me pause here in case anyone has any questions, otherwise, I would like to continue".
"What questions do you have?" has the tone of 'I expect you have some questions at this point, let's hear them."
Give people time to respond:
Remember it takes a few seconds for people to think about a response, another few seconds to decide to speak and another few seconds to unmute themselves before you hear them. Sometimes, they are also waiting to make sure they don't speak over someone else. With virtual meetings, those few seconds of silence can feel like an eternity but if you don't allow for that time, no one will speak.
As a facilitator, I had to count 5 long breaths before I concluded that no one had anything more to add. Another tip is to have a beverage handy and after asking for questions or comments, take a slow sip or two. Remember others are uncomfortable with silence too and often find something to say.
Default to staying off mute:
While everyone having their audio on can be disruptive especially if people are not mindful of the environment or surroundings they are calling from. However when the group is small, encourage them to be unmuted. This reduces the time for someone to find the unmute button
before they respond, or speak while muted, it also gives people the incentive to find an appropriate place to take the call where they can participate and remain focused. It also catches the liveliness of the chuckles, gasps, sighs that you miss with a virtual call.
If groups default to staying off mute, they can mute themselves if they need to cough, sneeze or mute a surrounding noise.
Of course for very large groups or presentations, the norms would be different.
Appreciate the silence:
Silence can be uncomfortable but embracing it can give participants the space to jump in and contribute like they would in a face-to-face meeting. It also allows us to slow own a bit and appreciate the space that has been created together. As a facilitator, you can also appreciate the calm and connection with silence.
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