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Delivering an Online Workshop – Dos and Don’ts

“In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.” Albert Einstein

When I was first asked to convert a face-to-face workshop into an online event, I was not too keen, to say the least. Why?

I thought this format would upset the effectiveness of delivery, from learners’ perspective. I was also concerned about sitting for two days during the workshop.

Typically, I would have a chance to move around, put the participants in breakout exercises, play some games such as using Lego bricks, throwing balls, etc.

However, is it really possible to interact with my participants during online, synchronised learning in the same way I usually like to do it face-to-face? Here is some experience after delivering an online workshop on Employee Engagement and Change Management by Institute of Service Excellence at SMU…

delivering online workshop

Be Prepared and Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse

An organised, clean background suggests a systematic person whom I would trust to deliver a good job.

It does not matter which software you use. Just make sure you master the software before you start. And, this goes far beyond switching on software, sharing slides or videos and receiving the participants. If you intend to use break out rooms, rehearse it. If you wish to use a whiteboard or annotations, try it out. Get familiar with sharing the screen for different applications (PowerPoint, Excel, YouTube, etc.) and be prepared to explain that to your participants.

Take care of your background. After trying to use a nice picture as virtual background for the online workshop with the facilitator in front, the edges turned out blur and quite disturbing. At the end, we switched this feature off. Sometimes less is more. It may work for participants but not for the facilitator who is on full screen quite often.

And, during rehearsal and preparation, it would be good to have a second device – better in another room – to simulate participants’ view. Screen size matters. Some participants will have a 24″ or larger screen. If you rehearse only on your handphone with below 7″, you may not see, how your participants would see you and your background. Bad idea.

For our first online workshop on Monday/Tuesday, we rehearsed on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for a significant amount of time.

Each time, I got more familiar with the features of the system, and eventually I felt confident.

Know Your Participants

A facilitator who always addresses the participants with correctly pronounced name appears professional.

As an experienced facilitator, you might be able to appear in the training room five minutes before start and you can still do a good job – although I am usually ready to receive the participants at least 30 minutes before the workshop starts.

This approach does not work for online workshops with a new group of participants. Even before the introduction, you should know their profile, because you may not understand everything they say due to their hardware or settings. If you wish to start at 09:00h, invite them for 08:45h to iron out all hardware and software issues.

Beforehand, I spent some time in reading up about each of my participants’ profiles and their organisations. Social media helps a lot.

Make your delivery personal. When you introduce yourself, you may mention personal details like kids, hobbies and others. Our “Bridging Cards” usually add some spice.

I have started the workshop by sharing with the participants the background of my home-office. This has really relaxed the participants, virtually! Good hint from my beloved husband, my mentor, my best friend!

Be Crystal Clear in Your Instructions

A clear instruction for the team is a starting point for getting the desired outcome.

When you assign tasks to your participants or break-out teams during a face-to-face session, you can always check on the fly whether they understood your instruction.

You do not have this opportunity during the online workshop. Ensure that your instructions are totally unambiguous and easily understood. Keep in mind that you might not be the best judge for that. Have someone else read through all the instructions for breakout work.

Visit your participants in the break-out rooms at least once. A side effect might be that you get in touch with those participants who are rather shy to speak up in the larger group.

Engage Your Participants

You need to avoid sitting down for a whole day. Organise movement, games, fun.

When you would deliver a face-to-face event from 09:00h to 17:00h over a day, you would most likely structure your day in four sessions divided by three breaks, one lunch break and two tea breaks. Physical movement comes in in various forms. Organising break-out sessions and moving from table to table, from room to room gives opportunities for physical movement.

When experiencing online delivery, you cannot allow facilitator and participants sitting in front of the screen for the whole day. We would recommend each session not to be longer than 45ish minutes. It does not mean that you need to introduce a break every 45 minutes. It just means, you should try to break the pattern.

Why not injecting some Yoga moves? And, we added some knee bends to wake up. Anything is better than just sitting.

Assign some roles to participants like

  • News Caster who shares the latest news,
  • Motivator who injects jokes, fun to spice up the session,
  • Challenger who poses questions or additional perspectives to deepen everyone’s knowledge,
  • Summariser who is responsible to give a summary after each segment.

This way, you can give opportunity for the participants to speak and take charge of the online workshop experience. I was very glad that my participants were truly forthcoming in taking up the roles.

After Experiencing an Online Workshop

And, here is what participants said after their two-day full-time online workshop with the Institute of Service Excellence at SMU, conducted by COE:

Marina: “Virtual workshop is never easy, but your inaugural one was smooth!”

Zoe: “I love Amy for having us in a small as well as the large group. Of course, I love the course mates!”

Alicia: “Love the breakout rooms for discussion!”

Darien: “Engaging!”

Lynne: “Change is the only constant; Connection can be built virtually, too! All my “I”s rock!!!”

delivering online workshop

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Amy BC Tan

Amy is the Executive Director at the Centre of Organisational Effectiveness (COE Pte Ltd). She has more than 20 years of experience in human resource management and organisational development in various industries.

She has held senior leadership positions with Nokia, Aon, Ministry of Manpower and Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games Organising Committee. She has led the transformation of the HR functions and several organisational development initiatives for multiple organisations.

Amy is also trained in Creative Problem Solving and certified as Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, an accredited practitioner in executive coaching and psychological instruments such as MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator®), DiSC, Harrison Assessment and Belbin Team Roles.

Amy can be reached via

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