It’s easy as 1-2-3: How to be a good online host
3 easy facilitation tips to make online events more bearable for some of us*.
One would think that the last 19+ months of online events would lead us to organically adopt some good practices for online facilitation. Yet, in my circles, I keep hearing comments of why people dread online events and most of those issues could be resolved by a few simple adjustments.
Here are 3 tips, as a “101 to online event facilitation”:
1. Start on time.
When you are torn between starting an online event on time or allowing some time (even 5 minutes) for other participants to join the event, opt to start on time.
Why: it’s a straightforward way to show respect to the people who are there already, you start by engaging your audience right away, and it frees you from having to make a decision on the spot about when to officially start the meeting. (Think about it: it can be very awkward to wait for people who don’t show up. Especially if everyone waited in silence because you didn’t plan appropriate ice-breaker activities to engage with the people who showed up on time.)
Bonus tip: explore the settings of the software you are using and choose options that will work well for your context.
- You can allow participants to join 10 minutes before the event is supposed to start, so that they can check their microphone/speaker/camera settings - or better yet, to socialize and settle while they wait for the event to start.
- Some software allows you to automatically silence incoming participants’ microphones, so latecomers do not disturb the flow of the session.
“But, people need to run from meeting to meeting; let’s give them a moment to join”, you may object. I agree, let’s give them a moment to join. Don’t compromise on tip number 1. Do as tip number 2 says.
2. Hold shorter meetings that finish “earlier”. Communicate the ending time when you advertise the event.
If we assume that meetings generally start at the top of the hour (i.e. some [time] o’clock) or at the half past the hour mark (i.e. [time]:30), plan for your meeting to end at least 10 minutes before these time marks.
In my experience, a 50-minute meeting can be as effective as a 60-minute meeting. We can hold effective 20-minute meetings instead of 30-minute ones. A 90-minute event that would start on the hour and end at half past the next hour, can become an 80-minute event that starts on the hour and ends at 20 past the next hour. You get the picture.
Why: to give people time to transition to other activities that start on the hour.
A lot of us crave the breather we were getting when we physically had to transport ourselves from one meeting to the next, when subsequent meetings were held in different rooms or buildings. It allowed us time to process what had happened, have a break, and mentally transition to the next meeting. Let us give this time back to each other.
3. Be compassionate and understanding. Encourage people to show up as they want to.
So many online events scream to me in capitals “CAMERAS REQUIRED”! 😨 Do you absolutely need the cameras for your online event? Reflect on what aspect of community you are trying to nurture by requiring cameras, and generate alternative ideas about how to support that aspect.
Why: In the simplest level, some people could use the sensory break from having their eyes on the screen all the time, from looking at themselves and from feeling looked at. At a deeper level, it’s about acknowledging our non-ideal work environments when we are forced to work from home, it’s about privacy and equity. More on this, another time.
Over to you: what’s a simple adjustment you wished facilitators did to make online events a little more enjoyable?
*Online meetings have the potential to be much more equitable than in-person meetings and it takes a great amount of skill and practice to plan and facilitate meetings that minimize barriers for participants. It’s not the intent of this article to thoughtfully cover some of those aspects. If you are interested in the deeper conversation, reach out to me for my consulting services.