*Specific* Things I’ve Learned, Running (a Few) Remote Workshops…

Originally posted as a twitter thread, here are few things I’ve learned over the past few weeks about remote facilitation. I have NOT rewritten this for Medium (there’s something nice about the punchiness and brevity of tweets!), but I have fixed some typos and added a few additional observations…

I’ve run a couple all-day remote workshops over the past few weeks. I thought I’d share a few of the more specific things I’ve learned… [THREAD 1/?]

PROBLEM: While in presentation mode in Zoom, you can’t see faces (except for a few in a modal that covers parts of your slides). It’s vital to “read the room” while presenting. What’s the fix, you ask…? [2/?]

FIX: I joined Zoom from a 2nd computer as “Stephen’s Clone” — for the sole purpose of seeing everyone. No audio / video. Only challenge (and a minor one) was removing my clone from breakout rooms. [3/?]

The Zoom “Brady Bunch” view is limited to 49 faces. Cap classes at 40–45 to accommodate this constraint. [4/?]

(Oh, and here’s Google Meet Grid View, a Chrome extension that enables a grid view, like that of Zoom’s, to show everyone in a Google Meet)[5/?]

Chat in Zoom doesn’t persist for people who have to drop in/out. I’d find another backchannel for text (to share files, ask comments, etc.) Time was lost to people who rejoined but missed out on a file that was shared via chat. [6/?]

Also, chat in Zoom just doesn’t compare to things like Slack or instant messaging. Plus, the friction of getting to chat… I’d use something like Slack for the backchannel. [7/?]

[SIDENOTE: On top of Board Game Arena, my gaming group used a combo of Zoom AND Slack. Zoom was great for in game dialogue. Slack was GREAT for sharing gif reactions and screenshots of trophy’s.] [8/?]

My workshop had a TON of “paired-sharing” exercises. Zoom’s “Breakout Rooms” feature was a lifesaver. More here: “Getting Started with Breakout Rooms — Zoom Help Center” [9/?]

Also, once folks are in their Breakout Rooms, you as host can broadcast to all rooms, b̶u̶t̶ ̶n̶o̶ ̶a̶b̶i̶l̶i̶t̶y̶ ̶(̶t̶o̶ ̶m̶y̶ ̶k̶n̶o̶w̶l̶e̶d̶g̶e̶)̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶”̶d̶r̶o̶p̶ ̶i̶n̶/̶o̶u̶t̶’̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶s̶p̶e̶c̶i̶f̶i̶c̶ ̶b̶r̶e̶a̶k̶o̶u̶t̶ ̶r̶o̶o̶m̶s̶,̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶c̶h̶e̶c̶k̶ ̶i̶n̶ ̶o̶n̶ ̶f̶o̶l̶k̶s̶.. [10/?]

Correction: You CAN—as the host—drop into Breakout Rooms (which might be kind of weird and awkward. Better yet, participants can ASK you to help them:

The only other tool I’ve found that might have solved this splinter/rejoin challenge is Sococo (more on that in a sec). [11/?]

The frequency of breakouts solved a problem that’s exacerbated by remote workshops: Engagement. For participants, it’s SOOooo easy to be distracted while at your computer. Counter this with frequent small group conversations. [12/?]

If not already, your workshop should be heavy on the experiential learning activities. General rule I’ve thumb I’ve seen is lecture 10 mins, then let folks interact. This is great for in-person workshops, but critical for remote ones. [13/?]

Even with the ability to “raise your hand” via chat, this interaction has more friction than real time body language signals. What’s the solution? [14/?]

I see this an *opportunity* to create/ introduce printable hand signs, fun glasses or masks — printable, tangible, and OVERT things to QUICKLY signal common human responses. Fun, and functional. [15/?]

Sococo — Prior to discovering breakout rooms, Sococo was the only tool I was aware of that would let people go to private offices, then be summoned back to one big conference room. [16/?]

How does Sococo do this? By creating a virtual office plan, that shows where people “are”. Sort of a hybrid step between real offices and the fog of remote working. Honestly, I don’t know why we haven’t seen more such experiments. [17/?]

We’re all visual creatures. From a cognitive perspective, Sococo’s virtual office space signals presence and “location” (where there is neither, exactly, in a virtual environment). Speaking of presence… [18/?]

Let’s turn to Mural (and Miro?). It’s a super subtle thing, but being able to “see” all those cursors moving around — don’t see this as annoying. Rather, this is a passive way to signal presence and activity. Humans need this. Don’t turn this off! [19/?]

The awkward pause where you wait for people to respond. Yeah, it’s MORE awkward, as you allow additional time for unmuting and such. That “10 second “pregnant pause” we all practice? Make it more like 15–20 seconds for remote workshops. [20/?]

With remote, things naturally take longer, like 20% longer. Little pauses, the extra minutes to pull people back from Breakout Rooms, leaving extra time to unmute — it all adds up. [21/?]

Content that was “passable” in in-person workshops (the stuff that could be carried through by charisma and energy), won’t work remotely. I’ve found remote to be a great way to reassess and refresh these ‘weaker’ parts of the workshop. [22/?]

I also found the “social accountability” of frequent paired sharing activities was a good way to encourage presence and keep people focused — no one wants to let their partner down! [23/?]

The technical concerns on top of the usual content / participant concerns make remote workshops more mentally exhausting. Even with lively group conversations, there isn’t the same “energy” you get “in the room” [24/?]

Don’t do an all-day workshop. Even with lots of interactivity and breaks, it’s too much. Split into two half-days, instead. This introduces some fringe benefits, such time for participants to reflect (and recharge!) before day 2. [25/?]

Stuff that’s been shared elsewhere (but worth repeating):

— Set good norms at the beginning.

— Everyone should turn their cameras ON.

— Have everyone correct their names at the beginning

— Embrace the kids and pets. :-)

— Ask folks to go full screen (to avoid distractions).

— Take more breaks

— Ask participants to minimize personal distractions (to the extent possible)

— Encourage folks to use the “Brady Bunch” view during discussions

— Leave space to “check-in” with folks and see how they’re doing.

— 2 facilitators are required. 1 for content/facilitation; 1 to handle the technical stuff (run Zoom, monitor chat, distribute handouts, etc. )

— Take time for intros at the beginning. Builds group cohesion but also is a good technical run through.

— Set upfront norms around stepping away (notify via passive means, like chat or DM)


During this time, I’ve found everyone to be incredibly kind and gracious. There will be challenges. Expect those. The good news? Everyone wants your workshop to work out — don’t feel pressured to “perform”. There’s no better time to test, experiment, and try things out. [30/?]

Also, it goes without saying, this isn’t business as usual. Take time to check in with where folks are at emotionally/psychologically. These aren’t normal times. [31/?]

And finally, do share what YOU’RE learning! We can all learn from and help each other.




I used the participant window to help with introductions (going top to bottom). Participants are sorted alphabetically, EXCEPT that the person speaking jumps to the top of this list. A wee bit awkward, just something to be aware of… [33/?]

Speaker Notes. If you need them, print them out, get a 2nd monitor, or be prepared to share the speaker view with everyone else. Even this is quirky and should be tested ahead of time! (This is based on Keynote; it may work a bit differently with PowerPoint). [34/?]

Also, while in breakout rooms, participants no longer see the slides, so if your instructions for them are on the slide… 😬 (little things you don’t think about until the moment!) [35/?]

[Thank you all for the kind words, and the clarification about being able to join breakout rooms as a host. I’ll keep adding to this thread as I think of / discover more of these kinds of specific tips!]

Speaker, educator, and design leader. On a mission to make learning the hard stuff fun, by creating ‘things to think with’ and ‘spaces’ for generative play.

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