It took 3 days to organise this set-up. The big screen helped me read people’s body language.

Here’s what I learnt from a baptism of fire facilitating an online interactive workshop for 32 professionals last week.

(The platform was Zoom. Similar rules would apply to all platforms.)

The big lessons were:

1) Do two (2) full dress rehearsals.

2) Have a co-host;

3) Start slow, do energy checks and have lots of breaks.

4) Use the breakout room feature;

5) Get a bluetooth headset;

6) Have a big screen (a TV is perfect)

7) Make a nice background and adjust the lighting.

My first set-up had strong shadows and reflections – I removed these with ad hoc curtains.

1) Do two (2) full dress rehearsals before your first workshop

Really, an amazing amount of stuff can go wrong when you’re a novice! I did two one-hour dress rehearsals with 18 and 8 participants. I’m so thankful for this! They appreciated the practice too.

I stuffed up so many things: I accidentally closed the meeting once, and abandoned it twice. I didn’t know how to turn on video sound. I found out how to fix these things, and got familiar with the buttons and features.

2) Have a co-host

Appoint a co-host (thanks Gayle!). They have important roles:

  • If your connection fails, the ‘host’ role defaults to them and the meeting can continue.
  • They can be in charge of recording the session (you’ll be too distracted to remember).
  • They can troubleshoot participants with video / audio problems.
  • They can be in charge of assigning people to manual breakout rooms (this can take several minutes). Just make them ‘host’ temporarily so they can do this.
  • They can just jog your memory for stuff you forget.

(If you’re doing this ‘in-house’ then note that you can create a number of “Alternative Hosts” prior to the meeting, for example your IT-person, your assistants, your registration desk person. This only works when you’re all using the same Zoom account.)

3) Start slow, do energy checks and have lots of breaks

I spent lots of time (30 minutes!) on the preliminaries and ground rules, getting everyone active, practicing extravagant gestures to communicate (‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘not sure’). The participants responded well…they really needed to know the rules in this new space!

Doing a round of spoken intros was important because the online environment tends to inhibit talk, and I wanted everyone to break their ice. In the big group I used 3 breakout rooms for this. It worked well.

To maintain the energy, I aimed for at least one 10 minute ‘tea break’ per hour. This was perfect. It was a 7 hour workshop! But in future I’ll aim for max 4 hour workshops, 9.00 to 1.00. Mornings are always best for thinking and creativity anyway.

I also did 5-finger energy checks regularly – this gave me feedback on people’s attentiveness, and they enjoyed doing it.

4) Use breakout rooms

The Zoom breakout room feature works very well! I could quickly throw people into smaller groups where they could speak more freely. The online environment inhibits many participants – the breakout rooms overcome this nicely – I could tell from the happy look on people’s faces when they returned to the main session.

Remember to appoint room facilitators and give the participants crystal clear instructions about what to do when you’re not watching. Also, you can pop in and check how they’re going.

(You’ll have to separately turn on the breakout room feature in meeting settings – do it once, it stays on permanently).

5) Sound matters! Get a Bluetooth headset. I got a cheap one from Jaycar and it worked fine. Do sound checks before each workshop.

6) Get a TV. A big screen helped me read people’s body language. This is essential if you’re going to do this often. It’s a good idea for participants to do this as well.

A dragged the TV onto my desk and connected it to my computer using an HDMI cable. (Check whether you need a cable adapter and order it now.)

6) Tweek the lighting, and arrange a nice background

It goes without saying: play around with the lighting until it’s perfect. I carefully masked direct sunlight from the room,and I used a set of cheap worklights from Bunnings to do fine adjustments

People need relaxing things to rest their eyes on during a workshop, so make a fun, easy-on-the-eyes background for yourself – maybe some flowers in a vase, a few artworks.

It’s all happening!



I love checklists. Here are the ones I developed after this workshop.

Problem and solution

THE PROBLEM: The online ‘space’ is really just one 2D screen wide! People can feel trapped in these tiny screens. They can be afraid to move around and get stiff and exhausted quickly.

Also, facilitation is always about activating our social humanity. Full-sized 3D people make energise us. Tiny 2D people, less so!

THE SOLUTION: Practice being “more Italian”.
– Be extra-relaxed, loose and easy-going. The more relaxed you are, the more relaxed they’ll be.
– Use ground rules to give people specific permission to be physically free.
– Make them practice that physical freedom, so they “de-ice”.
– Give them frequent reminders and instructions to be physical.
– Remember that most people are shy in large groups…so use the breakout rooms to make smaller groups of 4-5 where people naturally talk more freely (people love the breakout rooms).

Pre-flight instructions for participants

  • Please join us for morning coffee at 9.30 for a 9.45 start. This will give us time to get comfortable and fix any audio/video issues.
  • Before that can you please do the following to ensure a happy session of Zooming:
  • Download the Zoom app on your phone (in case of internet failure).
  • Write down the meeting ID number (ditto).
  • Set-up up Zoom with your own name so the presenter can easily address you. Go to the green box on the top of the initial Join Meeting page, then go to Settings / Profile (in sidebar) / Edit my profile.
  • Feel free to choose a virtual background (or load your own! Hint: Outdoor scenes are restful on the eye for everyone). Use video control menu on bottom left corner of your main Zoom window.
  • Open the relevant manual/template on your computer. Be ready to flick back and forth.
  • Troubleshooting issues: here’s the co-host’s phone number ………………………..and email ………………………………..
  • Have a notebook and pen ready.

Preflight checklist for the presenter

1) Appoint a co-host and get their mobile number (in case your connection fails). Brief them. Do a practice session.

2) Put up any necessary warning signs: “Please be quite – videoconference in progress”; “Please use back door” etc

3) Open on your phone. Write down the meeting ID number.

3) Charge your keyboard, mouse and Bluetooth headset.

4) Send out manuals and templates in advance.

5) Print-out a list of participants.

6) Do a sound check.

Checklist for opening a workshop

At the start of the workshop, spend at least 20-30 minutes doing preliminaries and ground rules.


  • The purpose of this workshops is ………………
  • Ground rules (see below).
  • Ice-breaker intro: Invite each person to say a few words. For groups of 10 or more, use break-out rooms.
  • Agenda for the day. Mention that there’ll be breaks every hour.

Chilled-out ground rules

“Togetherness, kindness, and patience.”

Make this step very theatrical and interactive!

1) Let’s practice ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ and ‘Not sure’ hand signals. (The more theatrical the better!)

2) Let’s practice:

– Toggle Mute / Unmute

– Toggle Gallery view / Presenter view

– Chatting

3) Please don’t sit down for more than 10 mins.

Let’s practice: stand up, walk around, do air guitar and come back. Practice!

You can walk away from the screen anytime you need to. That’s OK!

4) We’ll do 5 finger energy checks at intervals (1-2 fingers = low energy = time for a break!). Practice.

5) You can chat anytime you have a thought or question.

6) Be more Italian. Be super-responsive and theatrical. Let’s practice being more Italian.

7) Speak slowly. If I speed up, then you’re allowed to say/chat “Please slow it down” [Let’s practice telling me to slow down.]

8) Please speak in chunks, then stop.

9) Please turn off your email app and put your phone on silent.

10) If you want to do something offline (like take an important text), then please “mute” and turn sideways, or walk away. (That’s actually good manners – you’re communicating clearly to the facilitator).

11) PRIVACY Will recording occur? Seek permission. Will screen shots be taken? Seek permission.
[CHECK: Does your current set-up allow attendees to record?]

[To enable the “This meeting is being recorded” warning, set it up first in Meeting settings/Recording. More:

12) [NOW, to start people participating…]. Now, so we get practice talking: Please introduce yourselves and say a few words about what’s “top of mind” or “Your top tip for being happy during Covid-19.” [For groups of 10-plus, break into breakout rooms.]

Misc. notes for presenters

  • Chats are saved in Documents/Zoom folder.
  • For videos with sound, click “Share computer sound” before opening the video on the “Share” window.
  • Many people don’t have printers at home, so don’t ask them to print stuff.
  • Like all meetings – be really clear on the follow-up: what’s next; who does what, when.
  • Make jokes about the catering.
  • Fun ideas: make an on-screen Conga line. Bring a soft toy as an avatar.
  • Privacy and permissions matter. [Note that all Zoom meeting are end-to-end encrypted.]
  • If you have concerns over conflict, pre-set “Allow host to out attendee on hold.” in Meeting settings

Checklist: Instructions for breakout groups

1) Appoint a group facilitator. Your job is to keep the group on track.

2) All unmute.

3) Appoint a scribe. They can use chat to record outcomes, or a Word document that’s screen shared (or OneDoc for collaboration if that’s your thing.)

4) For brainstorming: chat works well.

5) Remember to save your chat files (everyone).

Note: When you close breakout rooms, participants have 60 seconds to wind up their discussion.

Happy workshopping folks!

– Les