video chat

Investing in your human capital is more crucial than ever as organizations continue to transition or adopt hybrid or remote work environments. This process leads to the need for executing effective virtual facilitation strategies for remote participants and inevitable challenges as participants and facilitators adapt to the virtual environments. Meeting facilitators and Learning & Development professionals must evaluate these challenges and identify the best practices to overcome them to create the most valuable experience for the participants.

The CMOE team has developed expertise in virtual facilitation and understands the potential roadblocks in executing a successful and effective virtual session. We also understand that time is of the essence. And that’s why we’re here to help.

Virtual Facilitation: The 5 Main Challenges and Solutions

Whether facilitating a group discussion, running a workshop, or overseeing a meeting, facilitation in a virtual environment requires unique skills and preparation.

The guide below is designed to help you overcome challenges that arise in virtual facilitation and elevate your capabilities. We encourage you to adapt these best practices to align with your people or organizational needs.

Each section discusses the challenges first, followed by actionable solutions you can implement today.

1. Challenge: Apprehension

Facilitating content and conversations can feel nerve-wracking. And today, on top of providing value, leaders are tasked with ensuring technical components go smoothly.

With these additional expectations and pressures, it can be challenging to initiate a facilitation session confidently.

Solution: Focus on the Facilitator Mindset

Leadership consultant Dr. Flo Falayi encourages leaders to lean on what they call “The Facilitator Mindset.” This mindset encompasses five parts.

Utilizing all five is what makes a good virtual facilitator:

1. Front: You ensure the audience understands “where they are going and how to get there.” As the facilitator, you lead the charge by helping participants form connections and by offering purpose and direction.

2. Back: You focus on the needs of your team members. You manage the behind-the-scenes work, like overseeing chats during the virtual facilitation and monitoring the discussions to ensure participants receive the proper support.

Tip: If you find this process difficult, ask a team member to act as a producer to monitor the chat and presentation. This will allow you to focus on the content you are getting across.

3. Together: You establish a shared vision to connect participants. You provide team members the opportunity to speak up and share their ideas. By doing so, you drive collaboration, teamwork, and new ideas.

4. Outside: By working from the outside, you can see where the energy is focused. Spend more time on what the participants care about and ask questions to draw people out and bring their unique perspectives to the topic.

5. Inside: You practice self-awareness to work past your personal stressors and anxieties. Be fully present in the moment with your participants.

2. Challenge: Lack of Visual Feedback

It’s easy to feel like you’re speaking to a blank wall during a virtual facilitation session. While it’s easy to pick up on visual cues and non-verbal signals in person, an online setting is more complex.

Solution: Establish Camera-on Expectations

As the facilitator, establish the expectation that all participants must have their cameras on. Communicating this in writing in an official communication, like an email prior to the event, will set the tone for the meeting.

With participants live on camera, you can see levels of engagement and how participants are reacting to your facilitation. This may offer visual cues that you need to adjust your approach, style, or agenda.

Be sure to use movements like hand gestures to elevate engagement. Studies suggest:

  • Individuals tend to perceive those who speak with gestures “as warm, agreeable, and energetic.”
  • Be aware of and consider how you would like to be perceived by participants because “Certain hand gestures such as sweeping motions and vertical movement signal extraversion and dominance.”

man showing whiteboard over video chat

3. Challenge: Technical Malfunctions

When facilitating virtually, technical issues are inevitable. Rest assured, technical expertise is not required for virtual facilitation. A very basic technical understanding of your video-conferencing platform, audio connections, and platform features will empower you to tackle most technical issues that arise.

The key is to take a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to this challenge. Most video conference platforms have test meetings where you can test connections, audio, video, and sharing features. Basic preparation pays dividends.

Solution: Rehearse Beforehand

Rehearse your facilitation session a few times before the presentation. This preparation offers you the opportunity to become familiar with your message and tools. Rehearsing will help you identify any tech tools that may cause inconveniences and prepare you to replace them with an alternate solution.

Equipment and software will sometimes fail due to circumstances beyond your control. Remember to keep calm and prepare with tech contingencies.

Backup contingencies may include the following:

Contact details of who you can reach out to for immediate, on-the-spot technical challenges that might be resolved quickly.
Contact details of participants to share quick updates if they have technical troubles on their end.
A basic troubleshooting guide for most common mishaps.
Sending resources and files ahead of time to ensure that participants will be able to access them during the event.

Challenge: Lack of Audience Attention/Focus

When facilitators do most of the talking, participants are likely to disengage and begin to multitask during a workshop or meeting and may miss critical information.

A virtual environment often leaves more room for distractions, and participants, depending on their unique remote work environments, may be more easily distracted than in an in-person setting.

Solution: Offer Varied Learning and Interactive Experiences

The key to overcoming the lack of attention is to offer varied learning and interactive experiences.

Examples of these experiences include the following:

  • Polls and quizzes to incorporate interactive exercises
  • Breakout rooms to have team members work in small groups
  • Reflection time
  • Time for team members to share their thoughts or actions items
  • Interactive presentations using an audience engagement platform such as Mentimeter that offer dynamic word clouds, live polling, and varied learning opportunities

As you can see, there are quite a few options from which to choose. Selecting the proper solution requires first knowing your audience.

Know Your Audience

To whom are you speaking? What are their learning styles? Understanding these areas will help you identify the best learning experience and personalize your facilitation approach.

For example:

Leaning on DISC assessments can help you brainstorm the types of activities to facilitate:

  • A group comprising a majority of Is (Influence) may need more verbal interactions and group activities.
  • A group with a majority of Cs (Conscientious) may need personal time to reflect and contribute answers.

Knowing participants’ strengths and weaknesses directs what topics to emphasize and which areas to spend less time on. This insight allows you to prioritize and, more importantly, engage your participants effectively. Rely on resources like your company’s 360-degree feedback or performance assessments to gain insights on the team.

5. Challenge: Lack of Community

Creating an inviting and engaging virtual environment may be challenging if there’s a disconnect between participants. When team members don’t know one another very well, it may cause participants to be less engaged.

Solution: Build a Connection with Specific Rules

You can build community in a virtual environment. One study tested a set of rules that led to better group outcomes—86% of participants noted engagement levels as high or higher compared to face-to-face meetings.

These rules involve:

60-second rule: Ensure that participants understand the impact and purpose of the meeting or session. During the first 60 seconds of the meeting, present a topic, issue, or fact that creates a sense of shared responsibility or purpose among the group.

For example, you might bring up a competitor statistic or anecdote, which can help place everyone on the “same side” and remind them they’re working towards one collective goal.

The nowhere-to-hide rule: Assign specific tasks to individuals within a limited time frame. The more unique each task is, the better—this encourages team members to step up, do their part, and work together.

When everyone is responsible for the same task, this creates what social psychologists call diffusion of responsibility—individuals may stand back until others take action.

The nowhere-to-hide rule avoids this passivity and compels participants to act and participate. One example that embodies this principle is having group members pair up and focus on a specific task. At the end of the session, every pair must present their findings—ideas connect to everyone else’s, ultimately creating one big picture.

Sustain Workforce Engagement with CMOE

During this era of rapid transition, adapting to constant change can feel incredibly challenging. Our courses and resources can help businesses of all sizes adapt and thrive in today’s hybrid and remote environments.

Contact us to learn more about how CMOE’s renowned eLearning and virtual resources can help make it easier.

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About the Author
CMOE’s Design Team is comprised of individuals with diverse and complementary strengths, talents, education, and experience who have come together to bring a unique service to CMOE’s clients. Our team has a rich depth of knowledge, holding advanced degrees in areas such as business management, psychology, communication, human resource management, organizational development, and sociology.

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