Close this search box.

8 Takeaways from the Ultimate Virtual Facilitation Experiment


B2T first offered virtual classes in 2009.  At the time, we were really pioneering the concept of “live virtual” classes.  We initially developed our “live virtual” capability to provide a convenient way for students to attend our public classes without having to travel.  As time passed, we continuously improved our delivery, striving to match the in-person experience as much as possible.

And then the pandemic happened.

Suddenly, virtual was no longer just an option – it was the only option.  We’re proud to say that our years of experience delivering classes in a virtual environment made the transition almost transparent for us.  It wasn’t nearly as transparent for a lot of our customers.  Teams that were used to working in person and collaborating face to face suddenly couldn’t.  Lots of learning happened in the early days of the pandemic!

It’s unlikely that we will ever completely return to pre-pandemic ways of working.  With that in mind, we’re sharing a set of “Virtual Facilitation Lessons Learned” we’ve compiled over the years.  Many of them are common sense, but it’s surprising how often we see people forgetting the basics – like practicing new technology before delivering a session.


Technology is Unpredictable

Boy, is it ever. I won’t soon forget the panic that set in when I realized that our virtual meeting tool was experiencing a worldwide outage… just as I was ready to start a class…

  • Before the meeting, distribute a list of technology tools that will be used. Encourage participants to prepare and provide them with access to learning materials in case they’re unfamiliar with the technology. Specifically call out anything that needs to be installed or loaded in advance, so you’re not waiting for people to download plug-ins or do battle with their firewalls while you’re trying to start the session.
  • Have a fallback plan that outlines how the meeting will go forward without some individuals or some communication channels.
  • Provide a “check-in” session prior to the actual meeting so that participants can test their technology.
  • Have on-call technical support at each site.
  • Establish a re-start procedure in case of total failure.


It is Harder to Follow the Meeting Process

You can’t hand out paper agendas in a virtual session, and you can’t track your progress on a flip chart or white board. To compensate for that:
  • Make the pre-meeting plan very explicit and provide more details than you normally would for a co-located group. Need some help with that? Try our Happy Meeting Plan Template.
  • Create a visual meeting scorecard. Use a window on the computer screen to show the meeting agenda and mark it up with check marks to show progress. If you’re sharing your screen, you can float a window that contains the agenda.  We use online whiteboards like Miro and Mural; it’s simple to put a copy of the agenda there for reference:

What we will be doing today:

  • Make transitions between topics and activities explicit so that participants don’t get lost. I go back to my agenda mark it up to show where we are. This lets me give both a verbal and a visual transition for attendees.


People Don’t Get Feedback When Remote

Often times in virtual meetings, you can’t see them, and they can’t see you (or each other). Humans rely heavily on visual feedback when we work with a team. Even if everyone turns on their camera you’ll notice a decrease in the visual feedback. People also tend not to respond to open questions. I quickly learned not to ask my virtual classes things like “Does anyone have a question?” I get crickets when I do that…and I can’t look around the room and pick out people who have a puzzled look on their face like I can in a co-located class.

  • Pro-actively seek out and provide feedback for virtual participants. Prompt for verbal responses individually, or use enabling software features like as polling and chatting.
  • Take frequent process checks. Make sure that remote participants know where you are in the meeting process, and that they are in agreement with how the meeting is proceeding.
  • Use back channels such as chat windows to encourage participants to communicate about process issues.


People Forget Who is at the Virtual Meeting

There’s a hilarious video put together by a couple of comedians that makes fun of virtual meetings. I’ve had every single one of those happen during a meeting, and while it’s funny in a video, it’s frustrating in real life.

  • Make use of software features to maintain a list of who is online. If your meeting software doesn’t provide that automatically, maintain a list on the screen yourself.
  • Configure the meeting settings so notice is given when participants arrive and leave. 
  • Use participants’ names frequently when facilitating.
  • Verbally check in with all participants on a regular basis to confirm that they are still online and to remind everyone of who is participating.


Participants “Drift Off” Quickly

Admit it. You’ve done email during a virtual meeting.  I know I have.  How do you keep this from happening during the meeting you host?

  • Design frequent activities or interactions that require participants to be engaged. I find that lots of my primarily use their meeting software to show PowerPoint slides. Most software supports chats, screen sharing, white boards, Q&A or polls, and even giving control of your desktop to another participant. Go find out what yours can do, and then think about how to make your session interactive.
  • Verbally check in with all participants on a regular basis. Try to ask them a question that requires more than a simple yes/no response. If you go around the group every 10 minutes and ask, “Kathy, are you still with me?” you’ll likely get a distracted, “Um, yeah!” from me. On the other hand, if I know you’re going to ask me to rank the options on the screen, I’m going to stay focused and be ready to have a conversation with you when my turn comes.
  • Engage in a dialogue rather than giving a brief. There’s nothing more boring having somebody read a PowerPoint deck out loud. Think carefully about what you’re trying to accomplish in your session, and design an approach that gets the team involved. I’d love to give you some practice doing that in our Facilitating a Requirements Workshop course.


It's Harder to Develop the Group Over a Distance

Virtual groups still go through all the same Tuckman Model stages of development as co-located groups: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning. Unfortunately, they tend to go through those stages more slowly. To help with that:

  • Set very clear, unambiguous goals for the team.
  • Have a kick-off meeting face-to-face if possible.
  • Engage in distributed breaks – leave the audio and video up during breaks. This encourages informal discussions that can help break down barriers between virtual team members.


It's Also Harder to Reach Consensus Over a Distance

This is another place where the loss of body language and visual input creates challenges.
  • Tightly structure your decision-making process. As I mentioned earlier, open-ended questions like, “What do you all think we should do?” aren’t going to work well in a virtual session. Our Decision Making Process Template can help.
  • Take frequent process checks to ensure buy-in to each decision made. Don’t assume that silence means agreement, particularly in the virtual world.
  • Capture decision for future reference so they don’t become a source of conflict in future sessions.


Multiple Communication Channels Can be Distracting

Keep in mind that we can only do one thing at a time.  Even though we talk about “multi-tasking”, we can’t actually do two things at once.  Think about the various “channels” you will have available during your session and carefully plan how you will use those.

  • Introduce new technology only on an as-needed basis. Don’t unleash all the available technology right off the bat.
  • Have separate “task” and “process” channels. This lets participants get help or ask a question (“process” issues) without disrupting the main task at hand.  A good way to do this is by using a main display area and an audio channel for the task work, and having users use chat or IM capabilities for process issues.
  • When using video, focus it on artifacts and not “talking heads”. Participants are more interested in the shared information than the faces of team members.
  • Make use of software tools to focus group attention on specific information. Many software packages support highlighting and other capabilities that allow the facilitator to focus attention.

The last thought I’ll share with you is this: Practice makes perfect. It takes time and practice…but you can hold very successful virtual facilitation sessions. 

All the best,


Editor’s Note: This blog post was has been previously published by B2T on our previous website. Due to its popularity, Kathy has updated its content to be more comprehensive and accurate for the state of today’s environment.

Kathy Claycomb

Managing Partner, Lead Expert

Kathy Claycomb brings over 35 years of experience to the classroom. She has participated in all phases of solution development using everything from agile to waterfall methodologies (and quite a few in between). Before joining B2T, her career spanned roles from application developer to Senior Director of Services at various organizations. Kathy has broad industry background including transportation, manufacturing, insurance, energy, healthcare, and banking.

Kathy’s first love is teaching, and throughout her career she has always managed to spend a portion of her time instructing. She has an engaging, highly interactive teaching style that ensures students leave the course with a thorough grasp of the material. Her students consistently praise her teaching abilities and her talent for drawing on her personal experience to enhance their learning.

Kathy served as the Technical Editor for Business Analysis for Dummies, 2nd Edition.