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Facilitating captivating virtual engagements

WITH almost every business engagement happening on line or through digital platforms, one cannot escape the skills development for facilitating these virtual engagements in a captivating and productive manner.

Robert Mandeya

While this forced digital transformation we are experiencing today has created chaos, it has also opened opportunities for organisations.Given most organisations have been thrown into this new normal of doing business, it is imperative that corporate and individuals alike have to pivot to virtual offerings to deliver client commitments and meet new demands.

Delivering high-quality experience

Hardly a day passes without individuals and corporates posting notifications for virtual conferences or seminars on some topical issue. Delivering high-quality and a transformational experience is paramount to your business. Creating an impactful virtual offering would be critical in ensuring a positive impact on your intended audience.

Team meetings, one-on-one coaching, project kickoffs, working sessions, workshops and training, ideation and brainstorming, impact assessments, etc all now require digital approaches.

How can you create captivating virtual experiences that keep your people engaged? Here are a few key lessons learned from our experience:

Pivoting around purpose

Knowing who you are and being grounded in your purpose, whether as an individual, a team, a discipline, a practice or an organisation is critical during your preparation of a virtual meeting or conference. This even applies if you are trying to make an event more captivating because now it must be virtual.

To pivot, we must anchor on the purpose of your meeting or conference, that is what you intend to achieve. For instance do you intend to inform, educate, entertain or transform mindsets? When you pivot on virtual offerings, it is also very important to know who you are and what purpose your business intends to serve. Each programme you intend to deliver virtually must be purposely designed with clear objectives that connect clearly with your business mission.
To this end it is important to ask yourself: What is the purpose of this virtual event? Who is your audience? What do you want them to think, feel or do differently as a result of the virtual engagement?

Virtual engagement language

Any time we interact with someone, we need pathways to exchange ideas and information. That is what language is. Virtual engagement needs these pathways too. In any virtual training or conferencing there is always need to first start by creating a fit-for-purpose toolbox, which is the virtual engagement language technique. In any delivery there are always specific interaction techniques for different functionalities at each specific point in the facilitation experience.

This includes leveraging on chat, annotation and polling to amplify the pathways — the virtual engagement language — to interact.
Mastering virtual facilitation

The transformational virtual experience has meant shifting of roles from being an instructor to a host and in this new paradigm you need to manage time, how to engage participants, how to organise for a virtual environment and how to adapt your own stories and engagement techniques.

All this must be informed by the type of platform you are going to use for instance, WhatsApp Zoom, Skype, Facebook, and so on. Facilitating virtually is a different experience that requires far more preparation and intentionality. Because you lose some of the flexibility you had when you occupied the same room with people therefore you must be mindful of the issues that arise and how you will address them.

Technology can be your friend or foe. Technology can be your foe if you are not comfortable with the virtual platform, have not figured out all of the idiosyncrasies and assembled your backup plan, or do not know what you are going to do if things do go sideways.

It is your job to make it a friend, to be so comfortable stepping into it that it becomes second nature and you can focus on engaging your people. This can be accomplished in part through the role of the producer. The host and production team contribute to the magic of the virtual facilitation.

Avoid boredom, distraction

In a virtual engagement, boredom and distraction are your biggest enemies therefore you must establish a rule of thumb which observes that learner needs to do something other than listening and watching every five to six minutes. While it may not be easy to adhere to it all the time, it is something you should strive for to avoid long listening spells.

For instance you can have a “cameras on” rule for virtual programmes. Although this may not be effective for large-scale events, but for workshops, training programmes, even internal team meetings, cameras create visual connection and are essential for virtual engagement.

Remember, people need breaks, especially in virtual sessions. You can use a 50/10 or 60/15 model, being sure to take a 10-minute break every 50 minutes or a 15-minute break every hour.

Usually boredom and distraction start setting in heavily at the end of a segment, so also consider including energisers — small, spontaneous or planned events designed to re-engage and re-energise the group, especially when they return from breaks.

Moving to a node-to-node, virtual world has unexpectedly and paradoxically breathed humanity into the connective tissue that makes up our networks and organisations. The ripples of the involuntary digital transformation will last longer than the pandemic, so we will need to focus on creating captivating experiences if we want to succeed in our virtual world.

Mandeya is a certified executive leadership coach, corporate education trainer and management consultant and founder of Leadership Institute of Research and Development (LiRD). — robert@lird.co.zw/ or info@lird.co.zw, Facebook: @lirdzim and Mobile/WhatsApp: +263719 466 925.

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