The number one concern among prospective new virtual facilitators is that they loose the ability to read the participants’ body language. This is the key feedback mechanism for face-to-face instructors. They understand the pull of other distractions like email, Facebook, and other digital bombardment. Facilitators fear that participants may be losing interest and they will have no way to know it.
The virtual facilitator has to establish a “virtual body language” that can be interpreted using the application sharing software. Many packages include icons or color boxes that can be used to communicate the current mood. The facilitator must ask for feedback frequently in the beginning of the session to set the expectation for use. Colors and icons can be reassigned from their designated meanings as needed by the facilitator. “X” and check mark symbols can be used for a quick yes/no vote.
Here are some specific strategies for creating virtual body language.
- Give participants a quick “play session” with the tools to make sure they feel comfortable using them. It’s a fun way to get them physically involved early on and increase the odds of active participation. If the session is small enough, ask them to use the text tool to write their first name on the screen. You can check the names against the attendee list and check in with anyone who hasn’t completed to see if they need help. Immediately they know you are paying attention to who is participating and who is not.
- Remind participants to use the feedback status/icons in the platform to let you know how the session is going. At the beginning of each the session, ask everyone to change their status to a particular mode (not the default) then back again so that you know they are aware of how to use it.
- Leave the chat functionality enabled. Remind participants to use it. Use it yourself to ask open-ended questions for them to respond.
- Use drawing and annotation tools to call attention to items on a slide the same way you would on a whiteboard in a meeting room.
- Invite participants to use the annotation tools any time they like. I encourage use of the “X” and check mark symbols to let me know if they like an idea (check), agree with a comment someone else made (check), disagree (X), or want me to stop for clarification (X). Yes, sometimes people draw funny things to entertain themselves, but you know what? They can’t do email when they are drawing on my slide AND studies show that people retain more auditory information when they doodle.
- Call participants by name and use the attendee list to call on them to answer questions.
- Allow participants to contribute the content as often as possible. Your role is to guide the conversation in the right direction to the topics to be covered, not to tell what the topics are. When they use the annotation tools to contribute they can’t do email or really anything else. You have them mentally and physically engaged.
Can you think of other ways to establish virtual body language? Please share in the comments.