Top tips

Tips for facilitating online community meetups

I was recently asked to run a workshop for community facilitators to help with fresh thinking about facilitating online meetups. These are people who regular facilitate meetings of our members, and want to keep improving what they do. They are looking to avoid those ‘tumbleweed moments’ and maximise engagement.

When writing the session, I turned to our own community of community facilitators at Jisc, to draw from their extensive experience. Here are our tips:

  1. Be prepared – have a good session plan that you share with your co-facilitator. A co-facilitator can help with notes, setting-up breakout rooms, monitoring the chat or even step in if tech doesn’t work. Allow your attendees to be prepared too by telling them the topics you will cover and tech you will use in advance
  2. Know your audience – as a group and as individuals. Check that you are covering what they want to talk about – you can find out through surveys or working with a steering group. Also, think in advance about individuals you can call on for comments on discussion topics if conversation run dry
  3. Welcome and icebreakers – plan how you are going to welcome people and bring them into the room, you can find lots of icebreaker activities online. This can also fill time for if people are arriving over a few minutes
  4. Silence is ok – thank you to the community facilitator that reminded me that silence is ok! People need time to think. Some people may not have heard you properly, so repeating a question is fine. Also, some will just be there to listen. Avoid the temptation to keep talking over every silence
  5. Use tools for non-verbal contributions – there are lots of options for people to contribute without speaking that you can build into the session plan, such as the chat, a virtual whiteboard, a collaborative document, a surveying tool like mentimeter or slido. Do choose carefully, set clear expectations for contributions, and warn people about the technology you will be using in advance
  6. Say thank you for contributions. This will encourage people to contribute again and encourage others too. Examples: During the session: “that was a really good point, thank you for raising it”. After the session: “I just wanted to say that I really appreciated your contribution today”
  7. Time-keeping – be on time, finish on time and try not to fit too much in
  8. Fun – try to make it fun! Even the driest topic, if approached with enthusiasm, can be fun whilst still getting the business done
  9. Be inclusive – as you prepare, think about how the meetup will feel for different people. This might be thinking about it from someone who is visually impaired, to considering it from a neurodiverse perspective, or for someone who is shy. By giving different options for involvement, you can create a more inclusive environment
  10. Consider breakouts – careful use needed, with clear instruction of what’s expected and ideally facilitators in each room… but small groups can provide a useful more intimate setting for contributions. Remember that you do not need to get feedback from each breakout room once back in the ‘main room’, but you should set expectation about contributions required
  11. Reflect and iterate – after each meetup reflect with your co-facilitators about what went well and what to change. Ask your participants regularly for their feedback. Don’t be afraid to try new things

I hope these provide some ideas to get you thinking. If you are looking for more inspiration consider going along to community meetups and seeing how others are doing it.

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Photo credit: Chris Montgomery via unsplash

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