• Frank Bieser

9 (not so) secret ingredients to successful online workshops

Recently I had the pleasure of facilitating an online event for a large innovative banking group. The format had two elements: an inspirational speech and an interactive part.

My sessions were framed by a two-day online event for community of people who work on the forefront of an agile transformation, including many product owners and agile coaches.

As the overall goal was to bring people together and foster organizational learning, we thought that a little challenge before the event would be fun: Community members were asked to nominate initiatives which brought extra value to the customers or positively changed the way of working. A jury then selected seven initiatives based on business value and organizational impact, taking also geographical diversity into consideration.

I assumed that 3 roles and 3 steps would make a nice experience, so here is my recipe:

Ingredient #1: no slides - just stories

One key element in keeping the level of attention high amongst the audience are stories. True, personal, insightful stories to which the listeners can relate. Therefore do not allow slides. Instead, have the initiative owners explain in their own words why they are proud of being part, why their initiatives are relevant, and how they would impact customer experience. This part is the five minutes of fame for every initiative.

Ingredient #2: the power of silence

Allow the initiative owners to speak until the time box is over. Usually they are prepared, but while they are speaking additional topics come to their minds. Let them think and talk at whatever pace is convenient for them. Don't over-moderate or interrupt.

Ingredient #3: surprise the crowd

The audience did not know the initiatives, as they had not been shared upfront. Some were change initiatives, others innovative product creations. So every story was new, every topic was interesting, and every talk was different. That helped to keep the level of attention high amongst the listeners.

Ingredient #4: give orientation through questions

The crowd had to figure out where on the business model lifecycle (or where on the change curve) each initiative was. Ask questions to help them narrow down the hot area on the lifecycle for every initiative. Remember that this is not a precise science, so expect a distribution of responses.

Ingredient #5: summarise the responses

By summarising the answers given by the initiative owners, you basically amplify their message and repeat the essential aspects of the presented initiatives. This helps capture the content and makes it easier for those who vote.

Ingredient #6: an educated audience

Everyone in the audience had heard about the business model lifecycle less than one hour before. Additionally, the common denominator of the various initiatives was the domain they all work in - banking. Encourage organizational learning by connecting dots: How can one initiative be coupled to another? What did they do well so others could steal it with pride?

Ingredient #7: an easy-to-use voting tool

If you want to hear from the audience, they need to have access to an easy-to-use voting tool. We used sli.do, which was simple to set up and use without a heavyweight registration procedure. Here is a screenshot of one icebreaker question:

Ingredient #8: applause

Every contributor deserves appreciation. One obvious way of demonstrating that you liked their show is to give them applause. Just ask everyone to unmute themselves, and then invite them to give a big hand for the initiative owners. Easy to do, powerful for the emotional well-being.

Ingredient #9: relaxation

Clearly mark the end of the initiative owner's session, thank them, and let them rest. Carry both the audience and the presenters through the event, and make sure they enjoy the ride.

With these ingredients, we managed to create an interactive session which included new aspects for everyone to include into their personal journey. With an overall score of 6.6 out of 7, the feedback was really positive. So my conclusion is, that this recipe works.

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