Tips for conducting online workshops

In these times of ‘lock-down’ and ‘social distancing’, we need to become creative in how we can continue to do our work remotely. For now and for the future! Better be prepared in this VUCA world…

Since I have a lot of experience in facilitating workshops, both on-line and off-line, I thought I would share some tips.

No fancy formatting in this article. Just plain text. With tips about Preparation, Technology, Workshop content, Workshop interaction and special tips for the Facilitator.



  • Think even more through the flow of the workshop than you would for a F2F.
    • How will you trigger the discussion: which questions do you show on the screen?
    • How will you capture the output? Online, a structured lay-out is more important than working with flips, post-its etc in a F2F. Can you come up with a template that will both structure the discussion and help you capture what is being said? Think about using a digital whiteboard, a powerpoint with boxes, an overview in Excel (already prepare the lay-out and cell format upfont), a spiderweb, a matrix structure.
    • Especially when you use a template to guide the team through an exercise, you will have less flexibility to adjust the template than in a F2F, so think it through and if you want, have an alternative template available
    • Think through how you will use the template: how much information, what will it look like on the screen, which font type etc. Test all this with some mock information upfront, so you don’t have to adjust that on the spot
  • If possible, require advance reading or preparation from the participants. This already gets the participants thinking and increases their engagement during the meeting because they provided part of the input (think about asking for their input and opinion upfront e.g. by using an application like Survey Monkey).
  • Think about in which parts of the meeting you want to be able to see the participants (asking for input, group discussion, reflections) and when you want to collaborate on a screen (brainstorm, collecting inputs). In most applications you have to choose between seeing the participants or sharing the screen. Think through this upfront.
  • Since in online meetings, the peer pressure to say something is lower, you may want to approach some people upfront and ask them for their active contribution in sharing an example or a case.


  • Avoid technical issues. Be sure the system works, the slides work, the sound works.
    • Test this upfront
    • Avoid movies and sound recordings; if you really want to use them, ensure people also have access to an off-line version
    • Compress the pictures in your presentation to reduce file size, reducing the risk of freezing or unresponsive connections.
  • Make sure you are comfortable switching between applications during the workshop.
  • Consider having a person co-facilitating your workshop to switch between applications in case you use multiple, to provide technical support for people having trouble with the connection, so you can continue to focus on the content.
  • Systems like Skype, Teams, Zoom are suitable for having (video) calls with both small and large teams and enable you to share your screen, use a whiteboard etc. Break-out groups are not possible in all applications, so look into the possibilities of the system you are using before you design your workshop.
  • Applications like Kahoot, Mentimeter and Survey Monkey can be used to make your workshops more interactive. See ‘Preparation’ and ‘Workshop interaction’ for more information on these applications.

Workshop content

  • Have a clear structure, a clear agenda, planned breaks (if you run a longer workshop) and tight time management
  • Be concise. Keep your messages simple. Use short sentences. No more than a few bullet points on a slide. Use visuals to keep the slides lively and to make your message more memorable.
  • Shorten the session. If you would normally have a two-hour live workshop, reduce this to a 60-minute online version. This will keep people focused. Compress the content, ask the do so some preparation and/or give them some homework.
  • Keep the scope and objective short and simple. Keep it interesting, keep it relevant. Focus on the exercise want them to do or the discussion you want them to have. Put boring facts in the advance reading or follow-up assignment.
  • Consider breaking the content of your normal F2F workshop into on-line and off-line pieces.

Workshop interaction

  • Use the chat function to engage everyone, also the people that are more quiet. Regularly read some of these comments out loud, so people are heard, people that do not keep up with the chatbox will also hear the highlights and it makes the meeting more lively.
  • Keep the team engaged with a lot of small assignments. Try not to go more than five minutes without asking a question — even if you just ask participants to write quick answers in a chat box. This gets people’s thoughts going.
  • Use online tools to engage your complete audience: Mentimeter, Kahoot or (upfront) SurveyMonkey
    • Mentimeter is useful to get a quick group opinion (in a Word Cloud), to ask people which issue they want to talk about (by rating them), to ask people their opinion (e.g. through multiple choice or simply by using free comment fields)
    • Kahoot is great to test the teams knowledge since it comes in the form of a quiz. Tip: Don’t only ask serious questions, also put some jokes in it.
    • Survey Monkey is very useful in preparation of evaluation after the workshop since it is an anonymous questionnaire
  • If you have a group discussion, make sure everyone gives input. The quieter people will find it even more challenging to speak up now they cannot see body language.
  • Call on people to keep their attention. Sometimes call on someone specific. Then people will have to pay attention. They don’t want to be the person who isn’t ready to unmute, missed the question etc.
  • Use a Wordcloud from e.g. Mentimeter in the beginning and the end of the meeting to ask people how they feel. Since nobody will see and feel the energy which people bring into the room and there is not really room for hall-way talk, this is a way to let people be heard and know with which energy they come in (and walk out).
  • Ask for reflections from the team (at the end of the session or afterwards, e.g. via Survey Monkey) to learn what they thought went well and how it can be improved.


  • Be lively. Change the tone of your voice more than usual, change your speech rhythms, throw in a silly joke, funny images – whatever works for you. The key is to be a little unpredictable to keep people’s attention.
  • Break the flow. Either through responding to a question (from the chat box or spoken) or coming up with a useful digression. This wakes people up.
  • For a large group: Have a co-facilitator. If you are running a session with more than 10 people online, have a co-facilitator to manage things like incoming chat questions/comments, dealing with anything interactive you have planned, time management, technicalities, switching between applications etc. Having a co-facilitator makes it also more lively because people will hear another voice, another perspective.

Enjoy. Find the fun of connecting with people over the internet and make sure you express this. “Wow, we’ve got people from the US, from Spain, from China!” If you are excited and you demonstrate a sense of promise, your enthusiasm will be catching. You’ll have a good time, the participants will have a good time and this will help getting