How to avoid chaos and manage live online discussions smoothly

How to facilitate WebinarsI began my career as a technology trainer in the 90’s, so the idea of using technology to teach, rather than teaching about technology felt like a natural progression for me.

I know it’s not like that for everyone. In fact, it can feel quite daunting for many.

But once you know how, you can implement it by instinct.

A great starting point for any trainer looking to create online courses is a webinar because:

  1. they are the closest thing to face-to-face training that you can do in an online environment, and
  2. many of the facilitation skills we use to run face-to-face training transfer quite nicely to webinars.

In this post, I’m sharing a couple of strategies you can use to facilitate a short group discussion during a webinar.

First steps

For context, let’s say the discussion is on the similarities and differences between face-to-face training and webinar or online facilitation.

First, I would prepare a set of PowerPoint slides, writing the key points on the slide then expanding orally, just as I would in a training room. The slide might read:

Face-to-face and online facilitation: What’s the same? What’s different?

To manage the discussion, you can choose from the following methods:

Method No. 1: Suitable for a small group of up to 12 learners.

  1. Explain that each person will be asked to suggest one thing that’s the same or one thing that’s different about delivering training online vs delivering training face-to-face.
  2. Let the learners give their suggestions in the order of the participant list visible in the webinar environment.
  3. Explain that you will start the discussion, after which you could say ‘after me it will be Jane, then Michael and then Paul, and so on…
  4. Give the learners a minute to think about their suggestion.
  5. After giving your example, you could say ‘OK Jane it’s your turn and after Jane if will be Michael’. Then repeat that strategy after every person has spoken.
  6. When all participants have contributed to the discussion, move to a new slide and display 2 columns with suggestions about what’s the same and what’s different.
  7. Summarise the discussion by making particular reference to anything that did not appear in the lists.

What works well about this approach?

  • Everyone gets to contribute – even the quiet ones!
  • Learners have time to reflect before they contribute
  • Learners know when it will be their turn
  • There will be a range of ideas shared amongst the group
  • You get an understanding about the level of experience and knowledge amongst the group.

Method No. 1: Suitable for groups of up to 20 learners

  1. This time instead of asking everyone to contribute, ask for volunteers.
  2. Say that you would like some people to answer orally and that they should raise their hand (most webinar tools have this functionality). Others can write their ideas in the text chat.
  3. You probably don’t need to say that people have a minute to think this time as they will start to put their hands up.
  4. Ensure you review the text chat and make a comment about contributions.

What works well about this approach?

  • The more confident or more experienced participants are likely to speak thereby supporting those who have less experience.
  • The text chat provides reflective learners with an opportunity to compose their thoughts.
  • Learners can choose to participate or just to listen and read.
  • You can more easily manage the time spent on this activity
  • There will be a good range of ideas shared amongst the group between the oral contributors and the text chat.
  • You can add to the contributions when you go to the next slide and summarise the responses.

These two discussion strategies are among my best practices honed during my ten years of instructing online facilitators.

You can use them to add variety in one webinar or more and see how it increases engagement among your learners.

What are your own top tips on how to run online discussions more smoothly?  Let me know in the comments.


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Photo of blogger Ann Brady from Learning LinesAbout the Author: Ann Brady

Ann specialises in the design, development and facilitation of blended learning projects from concept through to evaluation across multiple sectors including corporate, government, non-profit, higher education and vocational education and training.

Find out more about Ann on LinkedIn.