We all know how challenging it can be to run online workshops. Getting everyone on board, fostering an atmosphere of engagement and participation, all while battling with technical challenges—it can be overwhelming. Despite our expertise in business applications, our training often overlooks workshop facilitation - a crucial skill needed to understand user needs and gather business requirements.
I’ve put together five key tips that have helped me run efficient online workshops for Dynamics 365 and Power Platform projects, and hopefully, they’ll prove useful to you too. These include the importance of preparation, the role of warmup activities, the power of using sticky notes as a communication tool, and the efficacy of workshop templates.
I discussed these five tips recently in a webinar. You can either watch it here, or if you prefer to read a quick summary (including picture and links), continue below 👇.
1. Embrace the Right Digital Whiteboard Tool
The first step is all about choosing a digital whiteboard tool that works for you and your team. We use Miro, but there's a variety of others out there like Figma, Mural, and Lucid Chart. You'll need to find the tool that strikes the right balance of user-friendliness and functionality for your needs. The right tool makes all the difference. Test a few out and see what works for you.
What I like most about Miro, is that you can put it into presentation mode which enables people to follow you around the board, see what you are seeing while still being able to interact with the board and participate with the activities. To me, this is a must have feature for a collaborative digital whiteboard tool.
2. Preparation and Setting Expectations
Online workshops aren’t as spontaneous as in-person ones - you can't just show up with a whiteboard and a marker. There's technology to grapple with, and participants need to know what they’re walking into. Conduct technical checks to ensure that everyone can access the whiteboard and provide basic training resources so people new to the technology can become familiar. Taking time for preparatory steps like these helps avoid hiccups during the workshop. Spending half an hour at the start of a workshop sorting tech issues can feel like forever to participants!
I like to send out links to training materials to participants ahead of the workshop. Here are some good, short introduction learning resources for Miro:
Setting expectations with participants is also key, especially if they have not worked with a digital whiteboard before. It can be a whole new way of working. Tell the participants how the workshop process works and what they should expect. Below are a few examples from one of our workshop templates.
What to Expect
3. Warm Up With Easy Icebreakers
Diving straight in without warming up can result in a chaotic workshop. A simple icebreaker exercise helps everyone ease into the online environment, take their mind off external distractions and get into 'workshop' mode. Not only does this get people involved, but it also helps you preview the level of participants' engagement. If people are not engaged and participating from the start, you can adapt your facilitation style to suit.
Most digital whiteboards provide a huge range of pre-made icebreaker templates and ideas. For example, check out Miroverse.
4. Use Sticky Notes as Your Voice
A key concept in online workshops is for participants to use sticky notes to communicate ideas. When people are talking at each other, it’s easy for conversations to spiral off-topic, so these little digital notes help keep the discussion focused and give everyone the chance to have their say. They also serve as a convenient record of the workshop’s notes - imagine having the participants write the meeting minutes for you!
5. Leverage Workshop Templates
For those who feel apprehensive about facilitating online workshops, lean on workshop exercise templates. They help you guide the conversation, build your confidence, and ensure the workshop stays on target. It's like having a roadmap for your journey - you won't lose your way!
Here are some workshop templates that I find useful for running business application requirements workshops:
Your Next Online Workshop
Online workshops can be just as dynamic and engaging as their in-person counterparts. With these tips in your facilitator's toolkit, you'll be well-prepared to foster a collaborative and productive online workshop. Remember, it's all about choosing the right tools, being prepared, breaking the ice, using sticky notes, and leveraging templates.
If you are looking to level up your workshop facilitation skills through coaching and getting hands on with a like-minded community of peers, take a look at our Defining Business Applications program.