I recently had a unique opportunity to compare online and in-person facilitation experiences. I facilitated two sessions with the same purpose, outcomes, design, and activities – and one main difference – one was online and one was in-person.
I have facilitated numerous online sessions and nine days of in-person over the past 15 months. However, with the two sessions being held so close together and with many similarities, it was a perfect opportunity to compare them in a more meaningful way. And no, I am not discussing hybrid sessions. Another time!
What were the sessions?
Session 1: Online input forum on Zoom with 48 participants
Purpose: provide input about barriers and success factors related to small care homes for people living with dementia
Format: Two-hour session using GoogleDocs and Mural in small groups and plenary group
Session 2: In-person input session with 50 participants
Purpose: provide input about resources and ways to address gaps related to transportation in local communities
Format: a six-hour session using flipchart recording sheets, post-it notes in small groups and plenary group, moving activities
What did I learn and affirm?
Mindset is the main ingredient for success.
The mindset of the organizers and participants created success in each of the sessions. The in-person hosts recognized that the individuals in their communities would prefer being together and correctly assessed that the energy of talking together was essential. The hosts of the online session recognized that having participants contribute their ideas efficiently was more important than the energy created by being physically in the same space.
The two sessions worked extremely well because the hosts I worked with knew the participants’ interests, whether they had the time to attend, and their access to technology. The hosts also listened to me describe the design and techniques of online and in-person and collaborated with me to select and design what worked best.
What was the same?
- Participants contributed high-quality input in each session.
- My design and activities worked well in each format with the appropriate adaptations for online or in-person. I used Mural online and post-it notes on a sticky wall in person.
- The small group discussions were effective in each session.
What was different?
- The energy in the in-person session was palpable and added much to the discussions.
- During the in-person session and with the longer time, I was able to move participants into an additional idea generation discussion about actions.
- During the online session, participants were able to quickly theme the ideas on the Mural.
For those who want more information, read the advantages of the two sessions.
Pros of the in-person session
- Being able to have participants stand or walk and talk increased energy
- Being able to move participants into different groups quickly
- Participants seeing and hearing each other in their small groups – standing, talking, laughing, writing – stimulated engagement
- Participants more readily participated in the Question and Answer sessions.
- I could create an ambience in the room with decorations on the tables
- The informal chats over lunch were fantastic.
Pros of the online session
- Participants were focused and able to provide input in a much shorter time
- Participants were less distracted by the activity and noise from other small groups
- Ideas were quickly captured on Mural
- Most participants said they could attend because of the convenience and “no-cost” factors of being online
- Participants in small groups summarized themes from the information quicker
Please contact me to share examples and ideas about ways we can continue to enhance our online and in-person facilitation experiences for our participants and ourselves.