Delivering online workshops, or the adventures of talking to a screen and still feeling connected to your audience

How to deliver collaborative online workshops, or how to stay concentrated while talking to a screen
May 11, 2020


Tired of hearing your neighbours complaining that you're constantly talking to a screen? Your Zoom background doesn't have enough flair? Put on your headphones, turn on your microphone and follow these tips to deliver the best workshop from the comfort of your home office.

The world has entered a new reality. Most of us have been locked inside our homes for over a month. But, alas, work still needs to be done. Meetings are still to be had, customers to be engaged with. And all of us — staring blankly at our cameras, or sideways, or from below, or definitely with your nose too close for comfort and most definitely wearing your pajama pants — facing the new normal of having to do everything you were doing before but from home.

As our lives are becoming more conference-call heavy, what can we do to improve the interactivity of our online workshops? How can we get that feeling of working together to achieve something, as we did in times of face-to-face communication? These are some of the burning questions the solution services team has been trying to answer for the past few months while working to bring new onboarding experiences to our enterprise customers. In this post, I'll share some of the experiences and lessons we've learned so far.

Anchor yourself

A remote workshop is more complicated to deliver than in-person ones. This is a fact. There's a layer of improvisation and pivoting that face-to-face interaction allows, which is simply not present when you're working across the screen; screen dissociation reduces our ability to respond spontaneously due to the lack of emotional connection. Therefore, make sure that you have something that anchors your interaction, such as a presentation, a whiteboard template or just a few title slides. Anything you can use as a tool for getting your objectives and questions across more easily is important. Make sure that you rehearse your workshop delivery ahead of time to learn how to deal with timing. If you’re hosting with a group, rehearsing helps everyone know ahead of time how to properly transition from topic to topic, or activity to activity.

Engage your audience before the workshop

Another great tool to maximize your audience's participation, is to give them homework ahead of the workshop. Either providing some material to read before the discussion, or a quick survey to get some insights into what your participants have done, or know, so far. Then make sure to touch base on everything you've sent ahead of time during your session, so that the participants feel acknowledged and that their time is valuable to you.

Embrace the tooling

Use everything, absolutely everything, that you have at your disposal. Presentation decks are not enough to have an exchange. Interactive whiteboards, shared Kanban boards, even collaborative games greatly increase the interactivity of your workshops. One of our colleagues even designed a content modeling card game we can play with our customers in an interactive whiteboard application. It helps participants learn content modeling best practices while creating your very own ice cream shop.

The tools available to collaborative online workshops

Accept limitations

Even with so many tools at our disposal, every interaction will have different limitations. Ranging from the inability to access tools, to things just plain not working during the workshop. Plan for problems by having alternative activities in place. In our case, the interactive whiteboard application we prefer has some limitations on the levels of access we can give to external guests. This requires some additional setup to make it work, which is not always accepted by our customers. To overcome this limitation, we're using a lo-fi version of an interactive whiteboard and collaborative screen annotation tool that's included in our preferred video conferencing tool.

Connectivity problems will arise

In a world where everybody is trying to work online, our internet connections may collapse. This is at least my own reality, and I'm pretty sure it's the same for many of you reading this article. Make sure you leave enough pauses, make frequent check-ins with your audience and account for some extra time to repeat yourselves. If you can, record your sessions and share with your audience afterwards. If anybody missed something due to connection issues, they can come back to your recording to recover what they missed.

Not every workshop will be perfect

I guess this is not a surprise for anybody, but our friend Murphy has a law that states "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong." This is especially true when working from home. Not every person will have the luxury of a quiet, private space with professional audio/video setups. The reality is that most people will probably have somebody jumping into the background, and some people will take the call from the kitchen, or couch, or (I've done this in the past) the closet. In these trying times, try to take everything with a bit of humour, use a virtual background so that people don't realize you're taking the call from bed and use headphones if other people are around. If you have children or pets, they are an amazing stress relief during long workshops!

Everybody on!

Last but not least: Everybody’s microphones and cameras on! Always! This might be the most important suggestion, even if it sounds like the opposite of what you might think is rational.

People on mute cause disruptions and often disconnect mentally. Hearing people yawn, laugh or comment about anything on the other end removes some of the cognitive barriers that the screen imposes. Keeping everything on also removes friction when interacting, because it allows people to directly speak up and provides a visual cue when people are engaged or disconnected.

Whatever your workshop needs, I hope you can level up your interactivity and have some fun in the process with these tips!

If you're interested in improving your Contentful knowledge and ensuring that your Contentful-based solutions are going to work, don't hesitate to contact us to help you level up your game.

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