Online Facilitation 101

Abdul Otman
6 min readMar 30, 2020

In these times of extensive digital collaboration, I found myself in the need to synthesize and prepare more regularly than before online meetings. And especially training groups of people on a daily basis. So, with intense readings and preparations comes a time for reflection and sharing. I aim to use this content as a cheat sheet to read before any training.

I will focus more on the content and facilitation part than on the technical part (maybe another time?).

The agenda

I love improvising. And do you know why? Because I over-prepare. Over plan. Then hopefully over-deliver. Having a clear and defined agenda allows you to reflect on the objectives of the meetings:

  • What do you want to harvest?
  • What type and level of energy/interaction to you want?
  • What image/brand do you want to give?

After answering these questions, you can then dedicate timeslots for each objective (or multiples ones) and come up with a coherent and cohesive silver lining. I’ll offer a standard baseline with different techniques that you can choose and mix it up a little.

Starters (or the key moment)

You guessed it, I like to invest heavily on the beginnings, with two objectives:

  • Present the meeting framework (hosts, roles, rules)
  • Include participants (presentation, contribution)

And how do you do that?

You can allow each host to take the mic, show their face, and present themselves. Sometimes I see the “main” facilitator introducing each and everyone, but that doesn’t encourage participants to then take the lead and contribute. 2–3 person sharing the mic with at the beginning has a powerful unlock effect. But be quick!

As with hosts, let’s include participants as well! Scale can be the issue here, as an icebreaker for 10 will definitely not work for 50. Be clear and concise about what is expected from the participant.

Round-table (<15)

  • Unlocking power: High
  • Timeboxed: Low
  • Knowledge of participants: High

Classic, simple, efficient. Why complicate things? Asking an introductory question related to the event, as simple as “what is your relationship/feelings regarding today’s topic?”, will unlock contributions. Be clear about the expected duration and warn that the timekeeper will cut over bearing monologs so that as a surprise.

Namely invite participants and give them a heads-up: “Now we’ll hear Jessica and then Farid, how do you relate to this event’s objectives?”, instead of asking the audience and requesting one lone soul to bravely open the mic and take the stage.

Always remember the rule of consent. It’s totally fine for participants to decline to contribute or to stay within the chat. We are merely inviting them, opening space, and giving a fair opportunity for everyone.

Technical point: if you manage the mic rights of the audience be sure to allow/activate the mic of each designated participant, otherwise…

Collective contribution: the whiteboard

This is one of my favorites!

  • Unlocking power: High
  • Timeboxed: High
  • Knowledge of participants: Low (unfortunately)
High-level content there

Variant: play a little hangman, allowing one letter per participant, calling them one by one.

High-level content here to

Let me know if you have other ice breakers using the whiteboard.

Polling (∞ participants)

  • Unlocking power: Medium
  • Timeboxed: High
  • Knowledge of participants: Medium (depending on the question)

This activity requires a bit more preparation and has great potential in engaging everyone. Although it is preferred for large groups, it can be used anytime and at any scale to (re)engage participants in a simple way, make a choice about the next course of action (what activity? What topic?), or get insight from the collective.

Source: Zoom

Last points:

  • Type questions and guidelines in the chat. If people failed to be attentive or joined in the middle it saves you time and includes everyone.
  • Use polls anytime you want to reengage your audience. For instance, after a session and then after a break (what did you get during your break? Tea/Coffee/Juice). Not only for serious stuff
  • Timebox, Timebox, Timebox. Be Strict about it. It allows you to keep the pace and not rush other sessions

We have now created a safe space for participants to hear and contribute, raised the engagement level (energy?), we can get into the heart of the event.

The main dish


We are circling, circling together
  • Engagement power: High
  • Connection between participants: Medium
  • Complexity: High

This is one of the most famous and most used techniques of the Liberating Structure collection. Regardless of how large your group is, it allows you to create connections between participants and generate content quickly.

I’ll quickly go over the steps (here if you want additional content)

  • Provide a question or set of questions for the participants
  • Offer them a 1 min of silent self-reflection (alone!)
  • Bring them in pairs for 2 minutes to build upon the reflections and generate new ideas
  • Bring them in groups of 4 people for 4 minutes to share and iterate. It is meaningful to highlight similarities and discuss differences at this point.
  • Finally, bring everyone back, and each group takes 5 minutes to answer the question “What is one idea that stood out in your conversation?”

I really appreciate this “Divide and conquer” approach, creating cells of interaction and collaboration, then bringing back everything within the collective.


Word Café

  • Engagement power: Medium
  • Connection between participants: Medium
  • Complexity: Medium

Quick steps overview:

  • After welcoming the participants and explaining the process, divide them into small groups
  • Ask the first round of questions with the allocated time, designed to open the discussion between the participants and let them relate to the event’s topics
  • After the time is up, you can follow up with the next rounds of questions
  • After all question rounds, bring everyone back, and open the space for reflection/feedback to the larger group

Regarding the design of questions, here’s a proposal:

  1. Start with a personal connection to the topic, how does the participant relate to it

2. Tap into the collective experience: what memory can they share? What episode of their life can they contribute with?

3. Start bringing it all together. What are the links and similarities between what has been shared? What opportunities where discovered?

4. Conclude with the key takeaway: what did they learn? How would they explain this session to their friends?


The Desert

Time to close the session and wrap it up and to harvest the various contributions. Besides having another round table of sharing here are a few ideas to spice it up.

One breath feedback

Nothing more literal than this. Each participant takes a deep breath and shares their heart content until their lungs get empty.

  • Engagement power: High
  • Timeboxed: Medium
  • Complexity: Low


Word of clouds

You can invite participants to share a few words to answer your closing question.

  • Engagement power: Medium
  • Timeboxed: Medium
  • Complexity: Medium

The Group Picture

Okay, that one has not really a “content” harvesting power, it is nonetheless a memorable moment and a simple sharable takeaway of the event :)

Ask for all participants to share their webcam for a few seconds, then take several screenshots (if you have to go through multiple screens) to immortalize the event!

If you want to share a call-to-action, a next step, advertise your future event. Now should be the time. Present the links and contacts in the chat and where the event was shared.

You can now relax.

Until next time :)



Abdul Otman

Cofounder of Remote-ready, Elected council member of Global Ecovillage Network Europe