Setting up your online workshop for success

Setting up your online workshop for success

Or, how to move a big event online with very little notice.

The week of 23 March 2020 saw us all exploring new ground. New Zealand went into Alert Level 4, with most of us locked down at home and only essential businesses operating.

That Monday, SBC had scheduled a workshop to help our members embed emission reductions in the value chain. We wanted to help members understand how to measure scope 3 emissions, share what they were doing to reduce them, and work together in groups to identify common objectives.

Our members consistently tell us that fellowship is important – feeling like we’re all in this together, being able to share challenges and learning. So we had planned the event at one main venue, supplemented with livestreaming so members could watch from home to reduce their travel emissions.

However, we decided not to run any face to face events shortly before the alert levels were implemented. So, my new ground was facilitating 76 SBC members to interact live with one another without being in the same room as a single one of them.

Sustainability managers know the importance of value creation, resilience and low emissions. This means we are already well practised at working remotely and reaching out to connect and collaborate.

We’re already heavy users of Zoom. And we have a secret weapon – our events and training manager Jay – tech guru and Captain Troubleshoot. When we sat down to redesign the workshop, Jay suggested using Zoom’s virtual breakout rooms. I could see the potential value for members, once I overcame my trepidation at the lack of face-to-face contact. I had to streamline my communication style for a small screen, where I would have no visual cues about how the material was being received.

But we pressed on, and ran the event. Our incredibly adaptable presenters, Helene Pacalin at Toitū, Adele Rose at 3R, Scott Watson at Naylor Love and Rick Lomax at Beca, were great users of the platform and there were heaps of questions.

For the workshop component we ran 8 virtual breakout groups of 4-5 people. We’d sent them a template to complete, which was then emailed back to me after the workshop.

We got some great feedback…

  • ”interesting and informative”
  • “I enjoyed the virtual breakout rooms and the chance to “meet” other participants”
  • “a good morale boost and proof we can keep going through all this”

We’ll definitely be using the format again in the near future, as well as helping the BusinessNZ team use the platform for their members.

Here are some ideas on getting the most out of the experience, as a facilitator, and a participant.

  1. Timing is everything

    Sitting in front of a screen for extended periods is tiring. Blocks of time that you would design into a physical event for conversations are not needed in this type of format (this was done using the virtual breakout rooms). Keep the overall session to less than 90 minutes. Keep presentations short and slick, and from more than one person.

  2. You have the power

    Cleverly, Zoom gives the host full control to mute and unmute participants, turn their video cameras on and off, and assign them into breakout rooms. It can help to have both a host and a moderator – one person to facilitate speakers and discussions, one to work the tech.

  3. Know your audience

    Make sure your audience feels engaged: Welcome specific people if you recognise their names and know where they’ll likely dialling in from. If someone asks a question that you know a participant has experience with – unmute them and invite them to answer. And use examples from audience members to back up your points or the points made by the presenters. That’s just good facilitation – but it’s even more important in an online meeting.

  4. Have some ‘gap fillers’

    There will inevitably be delays as presenters hand over – and it takes a few seconds for screen sharing to appear. Have a couple of ‘fun facts’ (not jokes!) up your sleeve. Or take the time to reflect on some of the information that has been presented, and how that links to what’s coming up next.

  5. Practice, and have a plan B and C

My usual coping method is to imagine the worst case scenario, and come up with a plan for how I’d fix it. Using a virtual workshop format actually makes it easy for the presenters to ‘meet’ a few days in advance and have a dry run of the session. Jay also meticulously designed comprehensive runsheets (cheat-sheets!) so everyone has specific instructions of the order in which they need to push buttons on the day.

The ultimate worst-case scenario is that your wi-fi drops out… so use an ethernet cable if you have one. And assign a co-host in case it does. Same for speakers, if one drops out you’ve agreed in advance to move on to the next speaker if there’s a delay in their ability to reconnect (see point 4 – gap fillers)

And, if you’re a participant………

  1. Give yourself about ten minutes to access the platform ahead of the session so you can get set up in advance. If there are any access issues, you’ll have time to contact someone for help. It’s also a great confidence boost for the facilitator to know they’ve got a crowd waiting to go!
  2. Follow the instructions about keeping your camera and mic turned off, unless prompted otherwise. It vastly improves sound and picture quality, reduces audio feedback, and also allows you to do other (work related!) tasks in the background without being seen!
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or use the chat function to make comments – it’s great to get feedback and reinforce that feeling of engagement
  4. BUT…. If you have technical difficulties, reach out to the hosts in a message or phone call rather than the whole group, as this can be distracting for the other participants.
  5. Keep shining – in true SBC member awesome style we had members ask the same question at exactly the same time (efficiency!) and some members using the chat box to answer questions that other members had posed. It was great to see the platform being used for maximum engagement and value.

Next, we will take the information from the virtual breakout rooms and developing a guide using successful examples of working with suppliers to reduce emissions.

Members also gave us feedback on how we could make the experience better for next time. We’ll incorporate this into our planning for future online engagements.

He para i te huarahi ki tua – To carve a path forward into the future.

Kate Ferguson, Manager, Climate and Natural Resources

Contact: Kate Ferguson, SBC Climate Programme Manager



9 Apr, 2020

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