How to Host Effective Virtual Sessions

Collaborating virtually with colleagues and customers can sometimes be a challenge – especially for those who are new to working in a distributed environment. Training, brainstorming, and driving business goals forward is possible if you understand how to run effective virtual sessions.

We have created this tip sheet to help you run better virtual sessions. Whether that’s a virtual design thinking session to understand your clients better, identify new business opportunities, or improve organizational culture or performance, or even host a training session, these tips apply.

We have broken out our recommendations into four segments – general, before, during, and after the session.

General Recommendations:

  • Break sessions out into smaller chunks – we recommend each session be less than two hours. People’s attention spans are shorter in virtual formats, especially when other tasks and people competing for their attention (like kids or pets at home).
  • Communicate the desired outcome of the session.
  • Prepare your participants. Provide clear written instructions before and during the session.
  • Use basic (familiar) technologies for the templates – ppt. or whiteboards work well.
  • Consider recording the session (including the chat), so you can go back and review the insights that were shared.

Before the Session:

  • To ensure participation, break-out larger groups. We like to break-out into groups of 3-10 participants depending on the type of session (brainstorming, training, etc.).
  • Use multiple sessions to tackle complex challenges. For example, if you are taking a team through a design thinking exercise to understand your customers better, do the empathize persona development and empathy mapping in one session, and the journey mapping in another session. Consider tackling one customer persona at a time to maintain focus and simplify the process.
  • Create templates beforehand and share them with participants in advance (along with any instructions).
  • If you haven’t met the participants before or are introducing a new concept, we suggest scheduling a quick one-on-one before the session to outline the process and the desired outcome of the session.
  • Ensure your participants understand expectations, what the result of their input will be, and what the next steps are. Consider including this information in the invitation as well as some pre-work. This extra step allows people to make an individual contribution that the whole group can build on in addition to accelerating results.
  • Send invitations in advance to allow participants to prepare for the session.

During the Session:

  • Create time and space in the sessions for sharing and working together. Our suggestions to do this effectively include a virtual roundtable, or break-out rooms if you have a large group, or using a virtual whiteboard.
  • If resources allow, we recommend having two people co-facilitating the session to keep the experience dynamic for the audience. Or, if two facilitators aren’t feasible, consider having a designated moderator to manage technical issues and for monitoring the chats to support the facilitator.
  • Communicate clearly and effectively: Use specific wording
  • If there are conflicting ideas, put both ideas down
  • Use plain language
  • Be visual
  • Build on ideas
  • Look for connections (with insights, with other organizations, with other industries, other governments, other countries)

After the Session:

  • Have a communication plan in place and at the end of the session communicate the results and/or what the next steps are;
  • Gather, synthesize, and store the information and data gathered from the session.