Virtual Facilitators, Are You Prepared to be Spontaneous?

May 3, 2016 10:00 by Dana Peters

For facilitators of virtual instructor-led training, a commitment to planning, preparation, and practice is the most effective strategy to foster spontaneity in class.

Wait, what?

I know, it sounds counterintuitive, but a significant amount of work needs to be invested before anyone even logs into your class in order for you to be that spontaneous engaging facilitator you want to be.

 

To better illustrate this point, let me share a “light bulb” moment experienced by one of my workshop participants.

During a recent workshop session, a group of virtual facilitators and I became engaged in a discussion about the nuts and bolts of planning a virtual learning event. As I stressed the importance of planning, preparation, and practice, one workshop participant shared her concerns.

“I am not seeing how I can be spontaneous when the entire class is mapped out in such detail…it feels like shackles to me…where’s the personality…I need to operate in the moment.”

Knowing that spontaneity is important, we decided to move forward with the class agenda and revisit everyone’s perspective on the topic later in the workshop. By the time we finished going through case studies and a few exercises, the same participant realized that facilitators simply can’t be spontaneous if they aren’t well-prepared with a solid plan going into a session.

The work you do in advance will allow you to operate in the moment, be yourself, and effectively roll with the technical challenges and participant curve balls.

What do we mean by planning, preparation, and practice?

This means being organized enough to plan the session outline, and even script or semi-script out the content of your virtual session.

Not surprisingly, as facilitators, you want to sound natural in your delivery, and be flexible and nimble in responding to participant needs and discussion points in the moment. You desire the outcomes that flow from spontaneous discussion and worry that scripting out parts of the session or creating a timeline will hinder your ability to seize the moment. I’m here to tell you that, almost always, the exact opposite is true. A detailed outline gives you a strong foundation to manage time and discussion in a targeted, but flexible manner.

You may have the luxury of having this part of the planning done for you by your instructional design team. In a recent post, I covered several pros and cons of using a script or outline for your virtual learning session. These tips may help with your planning process: To-Script-or-Not-That-is-the-Question.

Additionally, having prepared contingency plans, determined ahead of time, will help facilitators make adjustments on the fly if a class size is smaller than expected, participant reaction to the material is different, or if technology fails. I call it “plan B” and “plan C.” Without contingency plans, a delivery team is left scrambling and the time, energy, and attentiveness will not go to the participants, it will go to figuring out what the new plan should be. Keep in mind that if you are working with a producer or a host, contingency plans that relate to failed technology may be his or her responsibility.

Preparation is also important when it comes to delivery. Facilitators should be comfortable enough with the class material to realize, in the moment, which exercises will or will not work with a particular group of participants. For example, some groups of participants will be better suited for informal verbal discussion exercises, while others, perhaps larger groups, may benefit from seeing ideas shared in writing on a whiteboard. This can help move the discussion to a deeper level or to prioritize ideas.

The right amount of practice will ensure you are familiar with the material and the virtual environment. It also gives you the opportunity to “test drive” your plan. I have seen many last minute changes made after a dress rehearsal because an exercise didn’t hit the mark or content didn’t flow as expected. I have also witnessed less significant content removed or condensed to allow additional time for more critical information.

Proper preparation, planning, and practice allow facilitators to focus on the moment, fully. This strategy actually increases a facilitator’s ability to be spontaneous.

Do you agree? I’d love your feedback.

 

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