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Davidson is a certified professional trainer, business coach and management consultant.

Driven by passion, he is an engaging and versatile presenter with over 20 years of experience in the training industry. Over the course of his career, he has trained over 1,000 companies comprising start-ups, SMEs, MNCs, government agencies and others all over Southeast Asia.

Below are Articles and posts I have written over the years and published on Various media.

The Truth About Virtual Facilitation

 

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, I have heard a lot of friends complaining about how much more of their time is now taken up with online meetings. The biggest frustration is how unproductive and unorganized these meetings sometimes are, which led to many more unnecessary meetings. These meetings took up a lot of their precious working time which meant they had to work longer hours to catch up with their backlog. Undoubtedly, this added on to the stress they were already experiencing from the uncertainty of the pandemic.

It is wonderful that we can connect through a variety of brilliant, intuitive, and affordable online meeting tools, especially during times such as these. These tools, such as Zoom, MS Teams, and others, make it so easy, but a lack of creativity and engagement in these online sessions can render these tools ineffective.

To get the best results and deliver a great experience for participants, as facilitators, innovation in the design and management of these online sessions is paramount. That means all the way through, not just going for a quirky icebreaker before settling back into the ordinariness of a boring and uninspiring core.

Additionally, as facilitators, particular attention needs to be paid to the process elements of meetings if we want them to be effective. With its focus on asking rather than telling, and listening to build consensus, facilitation is the new leadership ideal, the core competency everybody needs. Managers and supervisors are often asked to facilitate rather than instruct or manage their meetings and training sessions.

Taking these facilitation skills on to a virtual platform is not as simple as just converting the face to face process to an online one. Although the benefits of virtual meetings are numerous, the challenges are equally many and unique to a virtual setting.

Challenge number one:

Technology: There are a plethora of virtual platforms available out there. Every day, new updates are being introduced to make these platforms better, easier, and safer to use. This can be both a good and a bad thing, even without the issues that we often face with network connectivity and bandwidth.

To work effectively with these platforms, familiarity and competency is key. The challenge comes from familiarisation with the many platform options with the diverse device options.

Technology is certainly a challenge, especially until you are comfortable with it, but it does not have to be a barrier. In fact, there are ways that technology can contribute to engagement and support the process by using the available features of the online platform.

 

Challenge number two:

Structure: Attention spans and the ability to recall is diminished in a virtual setting. This poses a challenge in terms of how a facilitator can make, what would normally be a 3-hour session into an impactful 90 minutes session.

Establishing and communicating clear expectations at the beginning can help participants be more focused on the outcome. Additionally, providing a detailed agenda in advance where everyone has clear responsibilities for the agenda items and for reporting meeting outcomes will ensure shared ownership, responsibility, and accountability for the virtual meetings’ success.

Making time to build rapport between and with the participants can also lead to a valuable outcome. Rapport building is the act of building trust and mutual understanding and if done well, can help communication and reduce problems.

 

Challenge number three:

Engagement: This is a big one and is the one challenge that if not addressed, can significantly reduce the impact and productivity of your online sessions.  As you move to virtual modes of collaboration and communication, group cohesion and intimacy usually decreases.

Promoting psychological safety in a virtual environment is not only important but necessary. Body language can be misinterpreted; silence can be a sign of ineffective facilitation, disengagement, or people feeling intimidated to share their thoughts. One way to encourage people to participate is to agree that silence is an agreement. As a facilitator, let people know that, if they do not say anything, the group will assume everyone agrees. Attaching meaning to the silence is helpful because the only way for participants to signal disagreement is by speaking up.

To ensure more productive discussions or brainstorming sessions, it is a good idea to divide people into smaller groups – ideally 5-7 people per group. Dividing larger groups into smaller virtual breakouts has the benefit of parallel processing; and because each group can see the problem from a different angle and/or find alternative solutions; this adds diversity in the thinking and solutions from the sessions. Have the groups share their findings and their solutions with each other to ensure overall learning.

The key to making virtual meetings work is having a skilled facilitator. Facilitating a virtual meeting is more complicated than running a regular meeting. It is easy to lose track of engagement, time, or people’s emotional state. It also requires additional skills and knowledge that are specific to a virtual platform.

If you are like me, and you are seeking for more tools and techniques to increase engagement in your virtual meetings, webinars, and workshops, and want to upgrade your facilitation skills, do check out my upcoming webinar on this topic. The details are in the poster below:

 

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