Here’s my first question for “back in the room” in-person facilitation.

You have been asked by a client organization to facilitate an in-person session. The first question I now ask in a similar conversation is, “Will any participant join us online, that is, remotely?”

In the last two weeks, I’ve been back in the physical space, facilitating two in-person strategic planning sessions; a 12-hour session with a group of eight senior leaders and the other an 8-hour session with a group of 35 senior leaders. Here are some of my discoveries.

Clarify immediately whether the session is hybrid. 

I find that organizations are very good at telling me if they are going in person or online. However, they may not be aware of the significant work required to design and facilitate a hybrid session. With one group, we had confirmed in person and talked for half an hour before one of them said to me, “By the way, four people will join us online.”

Cartoons of in-person and online sessions

Acknowledge Covid based on the group’s needs 

For the group of eight, I did not ask any questions or design an activity to allow them to talk about how they were feeling about Covid or their experiences during it. The group had been back in the office together for about two weeks and had already shared many stories. They told me that they did not need a conversation about their experiences or emotions. Conversely, the group of 35 participants was just returning to the office and many have not seen each other in person for 18 months. I asked two questions to allow them a chance to acknowledge and indicate how they were feeling about the return to work and Covid experiences. The questions allowed them to look forward to being back in the office and share any aspect of Covid they wanted. The participants were also able to learn more about each other through the stories they told.

  1. What are you most looking forward to as you return to the office?
  2. What might you miss that you experienced during Covid times?

Yes, participants can hear you and each other through masks. 

In three of the four in-person sessions I have facilitated in the past 9 months, we have been masked for the entire day. Group size ranged from 12 to 35. No one had difficulty hearing each other. For the large group, I used a portable handheld microphone which was also needed to connect with the audio for the online participants. I held the mic and then went to the participants who wanted to speak and held it for them. I designed a lot of small group discussions so one person could report back rather than 35 people talking in the large group.  I wiped the mic with sanitizers between each speaker. Taking the mic to each speaker takes longer and I had to build time into the design.

Remember how you adjusted design and timing when you started online facilitation? Be ready to flip again.

I will not use the pivot word! Lol. I was surprised at the “mental gymnastics” I had to do to prepare to facilitate in person. I remember how I started online facilitation by thinking about what I would do in person and then adapting the activities to the online platform and space. As I prepared for my in-person sessions, I realized that I now design naturally for online without thinking about in-person activities. I had to flip my mind to assess the pacing, flow, and timing for activities in person.

Move move move 

Being able to move around the space is a joy. Yes, in online sessions I had people stand, I invited them to walk for a few minutes and then come back to the session, and I incorporated fun physical exercises. These online physical activities don’t generate the energy and connection that occur when participants are moving around a space together. It was so invigorating to hear the buzz and see the smiles during standing pair and trio talks, a 1-2-4-All activity, and participants placing post-it notes on a wall.

Hybrid – hmmmm?

I am starting to lean towards the approach of if one is online, all are online. I will think more about what I have learned from the hybrid experiences I have facilitated to date and likely post about them. First impressions: I learned that it may be necessary to focus on the group that is the majority, i.e. if 3 out of 20 participants are online, it may be more important to plan for and emphasize the 17 participants who are in the room. I used a buddy system to pair an online participant with a person in the room. That worked very well. I had wonderful technology support yet wonder if the time to bring people in remotely detracts from the in-person experience.  I have asked the participants for feedback. Of course, if the numbers were more evenly spread between the two groups, the amount of focus on the two types of participants would change. I reinforced my impression that hybrid session design is a challenge and I need to explore the best methods with my clients.

I love online and in-person facilitation. For the past 18 months, I have thoroughly enjoyed and been challenged by designing and facilitating online meetings and sessions. Going back in the room has been an enlightening, inspiring, and challenging situation. I love both spaces and formats and really hope to have a wonderful mix of them in my future facilitation work.

Contact me if you want to talk about your experiences or your facilitation needs for your team or organization in:

  • Online facilitation
  • In-person facilitation
  • Hybrid (remote) facilitation
  • Team work, building, development
  • Strategic planning
  • Conversations about topics in the forefront of your organization
Here’s my first question for “back in the room” in-person facilitation.