How to Host
1. Start with the purpose
Be clear about the purpose of the session, why you’re there and what the session will cover. This will help manage people’s expectations about what the session will do and - just as important - what it won’t do.
You could share the results of a survey conducted in advance of the session, or ask people to share the one key thing they want to get out of the session when they introduce themselves.
2. Welcome with housekeeping
Welcome participants to your digital session with a quick practical run through, just as you would in a physical workshop. Instead of telling people where to find toilets and fire exits, take five minutes to run through the essential things people need to know to participate in the session.
Remind people when the session will end and when any breaks will take place. Always honour these timings.
Tell everyone at the start what will be shared with them at the end, so they can choose how they take notes (or don’t!).
3. Introduce the participants
Knowing who else is in the session helps participants to feel accountable to others for their engagement and appreciate the value of peer expertise in any breakout room discussions.
Model how you want people to introduce themselves by starting the introductions yourself. Be explicit that you want this to be quick. As the host, you may need to gently but firmly wrap up someone’s introduction if they’re talking for too long.
To help visually impaired people, you can ask your participants to give a short audio description of themselves in their introduction and to restate their name each time they speak.
It’s also helpful to ask people to state which pronoun they would prefer people used for them (she/he/they).
If your session has a very large number of people on it, there are alternative ways to let everyone know who is in the room together. You could:
Refer everyone to the participant list in the video conferencing tool
Run a quick poll within the session to show the types of participants and needs, e.g. their interests, areas of expertise, location, sector.
4. Adapt as needed
Re-engage after breaks
Think about how you re-engage people after the breaks and be prepared to adapt this in response to the group’s energy and engagement levels.
Hosting a quick physical activity can offer an energy boost, especially in a longer session. For example, you could host a group stretch, dance, or even a treasure hunt where participants are given 10 seconds to find an object that represents their key takeaway from the pre-break session. Be mindful of making any physical activity accessible to everyone in the session, and adaptable to people’s different needs.
Check in while there’s time to adapt
You will have said at the beginning of the session what is going to happen, and it is helpful to signal that intent throughout via your content, tone and even quick check-ins.
For example, use a poll to ask people if the session is meeting their needs around questions on the agenda, then focus remaining time on the topics where people felt their needs weren’t yet being met.
As the host, it’s your role to ensure that everyone can participate equally and that the session isn’t just dominated by a few voices. You may need to create opportunities to invite those in who haven’t spoken much. For example, asking for questions from “those who haven’t yet had a chance to speak”.
5. Introduce the technology
Walk participants through the basic functions of the digital tools you are using in the session.
This could include:
How to turn audio/video on and off (e.g. to reduce bandwidth issues)
How to change audio/video settings
How to change screen views
How the chat function works
How people can ask questions in the session (e.g. via ‘raise hand’ button)
How to access and use any shared notes facility (e.g. a session Google Doc)
Suggestions of what to do if things aren’t working (e.g. turning the computer off and on again, checking your broadband signal, relaunching the app etc)
If people are already familiar with the functions, they’ll feel knowledgeable and comfortable. If they aren’t, they’ll feel relieved and able to engage. Either way, it’s essential to enabling equal participation.
In a longer session, reintroduce key functions for each tool at the start of exercises where people will be using them.
6. Introduce the etiquette
Whatever your assumptions are about how people are expected to behave during the session, state these explicitly. This will ensure people feel comfortable, know how to behave and what to expect.
For example, you might want to remind people;
To mute themselves when they’re not talking
To keep their video on
That they are visible to others so to be aware of their actions on screen
That they can step away for a comfort break at any time
To let you know if they’re expecting to leave the session early
How and when contributions to discussions will be facilitated
If the conversation is confidential
If the session is being recorded and how/where this recording will be shared
How they can opt out of being recorded or photographs of the call being posted on social media
Effective facilitation is essential to get the best use of everyone’s time and energy. Explain that:
You will be responsible for facilitating the session so that everyone can participate equally and why this is important.
Everyone in the session has a role to play in making a safe and effective space, for example by actively listening, asking open questions, inviting others to add to their ideas, as well as sharing their expertise, ideas and questions.
Consider asking participants to share what they expect of each other and the facilitator so these rules of engagement can be agreed at the start of the session.
7. Verbalise what’s happening
For each activity within your session, remind people of its purpose so they can be clear that it will help them get what they need from the time.
There will be silence during online sessions, and sometimes this will feel awkward.
Name any silences so people don’t get anxious. For example, cheerfully saying “We’ll enjoy a few moments of silence while we wait for everyone to join us” or “What questions do you have? I’ll give us a few moments of silence so you can think” will help people feel more comfortable.
If you are integrating with other tools, this will take a few moments.Tell people this is what you’re doing so they feel confident that the session is moving forward rather than being concerned that something is wrong. For example, calmly saying “I’m opening up screen share now so I can show the presentation”.
8. Close the session
As you near the end of the session, tell participants how much time is left and what you’ll be covering in that time to manage expectations.
When you reach the end of the session, you may want to allow some time for feedback on how the session went. For example, you could use a poll or an online whiteboard tool to give everyone five minutes to jot down what they learnt, what was good about the session or what they’d still like to know. You could also send out a short survey after the event has finished.
Revisit the purpose of the session which you introduced at the beginning and summarise what has happened in the session to accomplish that purpose. Give people the opportunity to think about what their key takeaways or next steps will be.
Tell people what you’ll be sharing after the session and if there are any future sessions coming up.
Say goodbye and give everyone else an opportunity to do so briefly before closing the session.