What are the first things you do when you walk into a physical classroom as a facilitator or speaker?

If you are like most seasoned facilitators, you move the furniture about. Why? Because you know that you need to create the right environment to get the participation you want.

  • When you want your group to talk to each other, you move the chairs and tables into a horseshoe or board room arrangement.
  • When you want to remove barriers to personal connection, you move physical obstacles such as tables or lecterns.
  • You adjust the light, the temperature and you carefully decide where resources are placed, to facilitate the interaction you want.

This extends to your facilitation too.

  • When you want people to listen to your directions, you move TVs out of your audience’s eyeline, and you blank out any screens. You stand centre stage.
  • When you want the group to speak to each other instead of you, you step aside or sit down among the group, so they focus on each other.
  • When you want people to focus on the slides, you step out of the way and bring the TV/screen to the centre.

What you probably do not do, is have eyes on the screen, you, workshop materials and every other participant at the same time. Why? Because you know that attention will be split, and your participants will have to work that much harder to follow the session.

So why do we do exactly that when we facilitate a group session online?

Think about how most people conduct meetings on Zoom.

We have slides onscreen, the speaker’s video is pinned, participants are typing in chat, and everyone can see every other participant on the call and themselves, all at the same time.

We split attention and we unintentionally make our audience work incredibly hard. You would never ask your audience to focus on all these things at once face to face.

When we communicate online, we quickly pick up on a problem. We can’t see people’s faces and read their body language. So, we get people to turn their videos on and then we can see their faces and read their body language. Problem solved right? Well, not really. Here is why:

  • Being on a video call requires more focus than a face-to-face chat. Video conversations mean we need to work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, tone and pitch of the voice, and body language. Paying more attention to these consumes a lot of energy. This makes your audience work harder and leaves less focus for your message.
  • Cognitive dissonance. Our minds are together when our bodies are not. That dissonance causes people to have conflicting feelings and processing this can feel exhausting over time.
  • Silence is another challenge. Silence creates a natural rhythm in a real-life conversation but experiencing silence on a video call is less comfortable. It also changes our perception of the speaker. A 2014 study by German academics showed that delays on phone or conferencing systems shaped our views of people negatively: even delays of 1.2 seconds made people perceive the responder as less friendly or focused.
  • When our cameras are on we are very aware of being watched. When you are on a video conference, you feel like everyone is looking at you. You feel like you are on stage and with this comes social pressure and feeling like you need to perform. Feeling like you are on stage is nerve-wracking and stressful. It is also extremely hard for people not to look at their own face if they can see it on screen, or not to be conscious of how they behave in front of the camera. This means that the very strategy we created to read body language and understand moods (turning on videos), decreases the chances of us being able to understand our audiences’ true feelings.

You may have noticed that is harder to get people to turn their cameras on in meetings these days. At Co-Creation, we actively invite people to leave their camera off if they aren’t speaking. And to be honest, we feel the camera fatigue sometimes too.

So what can we do?

  1. Approach an online session more like a face to face one.

While not every process directly translates to the online world, we are usually trying to achieve the same things; connection, engagement, team bonding etc We just need to be flexible in the way we achieve these.

Over the last year or so we have seen our clients adopt some brilliantly inventive ways of checking in with how people are feeling, and we have witnessed some really clever approaches to collaboration and facilitating change. Many of these are not reliant on using cameras, or at least, these exercises shift focus to objects, pictures or activities rather than causing people to feel ‘onstage’.

  1. Ask yourself: what kind of interaction does the session need?

Just because you can use a product feature, it doesn’t mean you should. Most people follow the technology, but when we think about the quality of the interaction we want to create, we make the technology work for us.

  1. Be clear on where you want people to focus.
  • If it’s on some fantastic content, invite others to switch their cameras off and switch yours off too.
  • If you want them to focus on a story you are telling, spotlight your camera and remove everything else from view.
  • If you want group interaction, ask for their cameras to be on and ask people to switch to gallery view for group discussions only. I find this leads to better participation.
  • Give clear direction on how features should be used. A lot of the leading software tools allow participants to choose their own set up, meaning that audience members are potentially looking at different things. Of course, this makes it harder to create a shared experience. You may have to clearly signpost which view is best for particular activities.

What about you?

What steps have you introduced to facilitate a good learning and sharing environment?

How have you made technology work for your team?

Call Co-Creation on +44 7876 024555 to speak with a member of our specialist team or email us for further guidance on how to manage change using a strengths-based approach on  info@co-creation.group