How to run an online workshop

Running an online workshop can seem daunting but it can be a great way to collaborate with your clients and/or colleagues. Hopefully, you will find the following advice and tips useful.

  1. What platform to use

With the growth of popular applications such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and Skype for business it has become commonplace for workshops to be held online.  But which one is the best for you?  we will focus on the two front runners, Zoom and Microsoft Teams.  The other platforms are ok, but I feel they are somewhat lacking in features and not yet at the standard of Zoom and Teams.

Zoom – The free version of Zoom is both simple to use and full of features that make any workshop a breeze to manage. However, the meetings are limited to 40 minutes.  You can simply create another meeting room after the 40 minutes, but this does tend to cause disruption and confusion for the users.

Cost: The paid-for version of Zoom is just shy of £120 and gives you unlimited time for meetings of up to 100 people.  If money is not a concern, then you can’t go wrong with Zoom, the £120 is a very good investment to enable you to run a workshop with minimal disruption.

Conclusion: Zoom is a great choice for online workshops, it is full of easy-to-use features and is both simple to setup meetings and invite users.  As with many things in life it is always best to try it yourself and see if it meets your requirements. Many people have a preference for Zoom and believe the learning curve is not as steep as that of Microsoft Teams.

Microsoft Teams – Teams is the platform of choice for most educational establishments in the UK.  With a wealth of options and features it is hard not to recommend it and for that reason we do recommend it for the majority of users who want to run a professional online workshop.

Cost: The free version of Teams normally has a 60-minute maximum meeting time, however for a limited time due to covid the meeting time has been extended to 24 hours. However, this is expected to change in the near future.  The full version of Teams comes with office 365, this removes any restrictions and includes the office suite for only £3.80+vat a month.

Conclusion: It can seem a little daunting to begin with but stick to it!  Watch a few tutorials on youtube and you will be up and running in no time.

My TOP TIP for Microsoft Teams is to create a Team with no additional attendees, create a meeting room where you can try out all the features at your leisure until you become comfortable with all the available. Don’t worry about all the features, start by learning only the things you need.

Note: Whatever system you choose I can not express enough the importance of knowing the system inside and out.  Practice!, Practice! and Practice! until you no longer have the anxiety of worrying about how to do something such as sharing your screen or assigning learners to breakout rooms.

Do as many trial runs as possible, you can not prepare too much, ask a couple of your friends or colleagues to join you in a meeting and try out the features you wish to use most.

Set your Ground Rules: 

From the outset of your workshop it is important to set the ground rules before you begin.  They do not need to be complex or numerous, just simple things like:

1: Everyone should have their microphone on mute until they are required to speak
2: Users should raise their hand using the raise hand icon if they wish to speak
3: Mobile phones on Mute
4: If the user needs to take a phone call, they should turn off their mic and camera whilst on the call.

These simple rules will help you keep the workshop flowing without people talking over each other.

  1. Set “homework”

Much the same as a regular in-person workshop don’t be shy about giving the users homework. This should be done well in advance of the workshop, so they have time to prepare and digest the information.   Why do we do this?  The simple answer is so that everyone has time to prepare, be it a slide show you wish to go over in the workshop or a video to watch, allowing everyone to view these at their own pace will reduce the time needed to cover the topics within the workshop.   Keep it simple and don’t overload users with tasks and information.  Simply plan out your first session and send the learning materials to the users well in advance.

  1. Have a ‘helper’

    If possible, have someone to assist you during your first couple of workshops, be it a friend or colleague it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that the ‘helper’ can answer questions and help users who are having any difficulties whilst you focus on delivering your workshop.

  2. Don’t just present!

When planning your workshop try to be diverse as possible with your delivery. Don’t create a large PowerPoint presentation and just leave it run for the whole session, as this really limits your ability to engage and interact with the attendees.  Use PowerPoint by all means but try to limit the number of slides you show in-between discussion about the slides.   One tip is to use 2 laptops, sign in on both and use one for presenting your slide shows and the other for speaking to your class. This will avoid the hurdle of trying to see everyone while you have a PowerPoint playing on your laptop.

  1. Small group work best

One major benefit of using Zoom or Teams is that you can invite large groups of people to interact live online.  However, the downside to this is that it can make it difficult for the attendees to learn as much as they would in a smaller group.  For this reason, you can introduce breakout rooms, assign each room a task or subject to discuss, you are then able switch between the rooms to ensure they are all on track.

  1. Stop often

It can be easy to forget to pause and take a breath when you are in the full swing of things, but it is extremely important that you stop for questions, comments, and interaction.  I would recommend that you interact with a question or comment every 5 to 10 minutes.

Don’t forget to take regular breaks.  Every 40 minutes to an hour you should take a 10–15-minute break to give people a chance to go to the toilet, make a cuppa or grab something to eat.  If you do not give regular breaks the attention span of your attendees will dwindle and not much learning will be done.

  1. Get used to being on camera

Don’t get distracted by the sight of yourself on video! remember to use the camera. Make eye contact by looking directly into the camera, smile and bring your personality onto the screen.  If you must take notes, do so quickly and flag that you are taking your eyes away from participants. Or better yet ask your co-facilitator to help you with this. Nothing is more off-putting than only seeing the top of someone’s head when they are meant to be leading a session!

  1. Plan for technology fails

Expect some things to go wrong, because they will, and it is completely normal and acceptable. You do need a backup plan however, if someone’s internet drops or they have a computer problem it would be a good idea to have a dial up number for them to join the meeting on their phone whilst they are resolving their technical issues.  This can simply be a WhatsApp number or a conference call that they can dial up. At the start of your workshop when you are setting your ground rules, it would be a good idea to also mention what your attendees should do if they face technical difficulties.

  1. Involve everyone

Involving everyone may seem difficult at first, unlike conventional workshops where you can see everyone and can gauge if everyone is involved you will undoubtedly have some people who are less interactive than others.  Therefore, it is imperative that you always work to the ethic of involving everyone and not just the ones who are most active.

You can set tasks that require everyone to write a short paragraph, then get each person to read out the paragraph or maybe encourage everyone to use the chat box to ask questions.  Don’t overdo it or pressurise everyone to ask a question but try to encourage everyone to interact.

  1. Relax and have fun

It easy to tell when someone is tense, anxious, and not enjoying themselves and so it is important that you lead by example, don’t just bluff your way into pretending you are enjoying yourself, it is important that you do.  Don’t be too hard on yourself if you make a mistake, tell everyone you made a mistake and have a giggle, people will respond in a positive way, and you will gain confidence and enjoyment from the feedback you receive.  Remember that everyone is anxious when they run their first few workshops, everyone!  So don’t let it get in your way, remember to take a deep breath, jump straight in and show everyone just how awesome you are!

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