Top Free Resources For Planning Engaging Online Workshops

“Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Poor Performance” — Stephen Keague, public speaker and author

As in most areas of life, planning and preparation is key to ensuring you provide a smooth, professional and engaging virtual workshop experience to your participants. Luckily, you don’t have to come up with all of your activities, methods and techniques on your own. Using these four resources, you can easily learn what’s worked best for other online facilitators and integrate the most appropriate activities into your workshop plans. Whether you are new to the world of online facilitation or a seasoned veteran, you’ll want to check out these useful resources for new ideas and inspiration.

Good Workshop Planning is Crucial

Top Free Resources To Check Out

SessionLab is an online agenda-building tool for workshops, meetings and training courses. Originally designed to help facilitators move away from planning their workshops in Excel and make it easier for co-facilitators to collaborate on their workshop’s agenda, SessionLab also offers an extensive open-source library of workshop facilitation activities, methods and techniques that’s accessible directly from their website. The activities were written by a diverse group of contributors including individual facilitators, educational institutions like Hyper Island, professional organizations like the International Association of Facilitators, and SessionLab’s own in-house team. As of December 2020, this library contains a staggering 788 activities, with 111 of them geared specifically towards remote workshops.

Activities are grouped by category (such as team building, idea generation, energizers or issue resolution) and are further filterable by the time and number of participants required. Each activity also includes a comments section, where you can read feedback and advice from other facilitators who have tried them out in their workshops. According to the folks at SessionLab, a particularly popular online activity is the Virtual Scavenger Hunt — a neat digital spin on an old classic.

Another nifty feature is that the library integrates directly with the SessionLab agenda planning tool, meaning that SessionLab users can add activities directly to their workshop agenda by clicking the “use” button. SessionLab offers a free “Basic” subscription, letting you try out their platform and see if it adds value to your workshop agenda planning process.

According to Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz, the creators of Liberating Structures, all of our routine interactions follow certain sets of rules, called “microstructures.” The most commonly used microstructures for sharing information and making decisions at the workplace are presentations, open discussions, managed discussions, status reports, and brainstorming sessions. Recognizing that these five “conventional” microstructures often fail to foster inclusion, co-generation of new ideas, or insightful solutions to complex problems, the creators devised 33 new “liberating” structures to achieve just that. Liberating Structures are, essentially, novel group facilitation methods designed to include everyone in the process of leading the discussion, and to distribute control over the contents of the conversation to all of the participants.

The 33 Liberating Structures designed by Keith and Henri span a wide range of complexity and duration, from 12-minute generative conversations (1–2–4-All) to 2-hour activities requiring small-group work and poster boards (Purpose-to-Practice). Detailed descriptions of the activities, along with helpful examples and recommendations for different riffs and variations to try out, are available for free on the Liberating Structures website.

With members in over 65 countries around the world, the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) provides internationally recognized standards and accreditation for professional facilitators. They also provide useful resources, such as their Methods Library, both to IAF members and interested members of the public.

The IAF Methods Library contains almost 500 workshop activities, techniques and methods contributed by members and curated by the association. The IAF is currently in the process of updating their Methods Library with additional information on how to run these activities in an online setting, tapping the learning and insights shared among the community throughout the year, including International Facilitation Week (#FacWeek) in October which saw 550 online sessions held.

Although only IAF members have access to the full list of activities in the Methods Library, as a non-member you still have free access to 50 of their methods, including Stand Up If (a great way to introduce some physical movement in your session), Word Search (even better if your participants are familiar with using annotation tools), and Rotating Flip Charts (to encourage participants to engage with other groups’ work on virtual whiteboards).

The IAF Methods Library continues to grow as members contribute more entries, and because it’s published on SessionLab you also have access to comments, feedback and advice shared by the other facilitators who have tried these methods out in their sessions.

It would be a massive understatement to say that Joshua Davies and the folks at Knowmium know a thing or two about running engaging online workshops. In addition to their excellent book and self-paced online course on virtual workshop best practices, they have also created the Radical Toolkit, which is packed with resources touching on almost every aspect of online workshop facilitation you can think of. In it, you’ll find recommendations for video conferencing platforms; tools for gamification, collaboration and conversation management; and apps for managing video overlays, cleaning up your audio, transcribing your presentation and scheduling. You’ll also find helpful video guides, book recommendations, and much more. Most importantly for planning an engaging workshop, the Radical Toolkit also includes an extensive workshop activity library.

The Radical Toolkit activity library contains 75 activities as of December 2020, arranged by category (such as whether it’s best used in a breakout room, or if it involves using text chat, polls or whiteboards) and tag (such as whether it’s a coaching, feedback, interview or role-play activity). Each activity description also lets you know the recommended group size, estimated time required, level of complexity, and links to the external tools you’d need to use to run it (such as a virtual whiteboard).

Conclusion

The facilitation profession is one of the most creative and inventive fields out there, and every day facilitators around the world are experimenting with new methods, techniques and activities to provide more engaging and impactful learning experiences for their participants. By plugging in to the resources described in this article, you can stay informed of the best new methods and activities to maximize engagement in your workshop, and choose the ones that best fit your content, audience and personal delivery style. If you feel like giving back to the community, you can also write up descriptions of your own unique activities and publish them on SessionLab, the IAF Methods Library and the Radical Toolkit — your fellow facilitators would be happy to have them!

Interested in learning more about how to maximize your participants’ engagement during online workshops? Check out the other articles in our Guide to Online Engagement.

Seshboard is an online workshop facilitation platform that makes virtual workshops as engaging and productive as in-person ones