Productivity tips from a nerd

By the way if the thought of reading a whole book about productivity seems unproductive let me reassure you I read each of these books in less than a day and they have repaid that investment many times over….

I sometimes joke that ‘one multi-task too far’ will probably be my epitaph, because I’m always trying to do too much. There are a lot of downsides to this way of being, but I’ve also learned a fair bit about productivity along the way. As a coach, mentor and co-worker I often hear others looking for tools and tips around productivity so I thought I’d share mine here in case it’s useful:


Some might be useful to you, others might not be your cup of tea – I’m not suggesting these work for everyone, they just work for me. If you have alternatives please share these – I’m always interested to hear other perspectives and ideas.

I doubt any of these are ‘my idea’ – like a magpie I take shiny ideas and techniques I spot around me that work for me and line my nest with them. I try and credit any sources when I can remember them, although sometimes original source may have been lost or my way of doing things altered the original beyond recognition!

  1. Start with the end in mind (this phrase might be from Stephen Covey, but it’s also based on the GROW model of coaching)
    I never do anything unless I’m clear why and it is aligned with my priorities. That means setting priorities or ‘goals’. I set annual goals and chunk these down into ‘termly’ goals – about 12-13 weeks in length. Being a coach I make sure my goals are clearly defined – outcomes (not activities), specific/ measurable, positive and stretching. So earlier this year this was one of mine:

Develop capacity to deliver brilliant and inclusive events online through new skills, resources and training.

I limit myself to no more than 4 goals in any term – and then develop a plan that identifies the key tasks/ actions and resources I need to make sure the goals are achievable. 

I stick these goals where I can see them (they are in front of my desk) – and I also have a pictorial version that I’ve sketched which is a more fun way to convey a sense of direction.

2. Develop your own systems to keep you on track

I have 4 main systems for managing my time productively:

Firstly, I use a daily planner based on the ‘Self Journal’ template. I don’t use that particular journal in its entirety, but I like the day planner which means I block out my time daily (usually the night before or over breakfast before I start work) so I’m clear what I’m doing when. It also encourages you to identify 3 targets each day – this is often difficult as I can usually think of at least 5; but it reminds me to focus on the key 3 things…

Secondly, I use task management software called ‘Toodledo’ which was suggested in a book about productivity which I highly recommend (How to be a productivity ninja – by Graham Allcott). Toodledo is where I keep my ‘to do’ list which I can segment into different categories (Home/ Finance/ Work/ Waiting On) and organise into sub-folders like projects, importance or urgency. There’s an art to writing a good task – specific, doable – which Graham explains in his book. And he suggests you should never add a task to a list that takes less than 2 mins to do – just do it. Having somewhere I can reliably ‘park’ the millions of things I think of to do each day keeps me focussed and means I don’t forget to do too many things. I also have managed to stop worrying about forgetting to do things. There’s an app and desktop version.

Thirdly, my email ‘filing’ system is based on these same folders too – Waiting On/ Home/ Receipts/ Action. If there’s something I need to do, I put the email in ‘Action’ and write it on my task list. If I need the info saving, it gets saved in a folder. Otherwise I delete emails to keep my inbox as close to empty as possible (and periodically I tidy it up and delete anything that slips through on a bad day). 

Fourthly, I use my calendar to block out time to do work – for example, anytime I book in work I make sure I block the time I need to prepare/ follow-up as well as deliver the work (for example if it’s to facilitate an event I’ll block a half-day to draft the plan etc). The vast majority of what I need to do is blocked into my calendar at the point I commit to doing it so I can see at a glance whether and when I have space to do things. (I have quite a few other systems for planning my work but will stop sharing now as I’m picturing getting weird looks already).

3. Focus on cultivating habits

Jim Richardson recommended this book Atomic Habits in a tweet once and I really like it too. For years I’d been using the technique of setting goals and identifying specific tasks but the regular things you do daily or weekly don’t fit well do well into that model of planning. James Clear makes a strong case for the power of cultivating positive habits, and offers some very practical advice (backed up by neuroscience) about how to break bad ones and make the ones you know you should do but find hard to stick to a bit easier.

4. Active reflection

Research shows that as little as 15 mins a day reflecting on how things have gone and how to apply that learning to future action can increase productivity by 20%. I try and make a habit to set aside an hour for reflection once a week – and I keep a very simple log of any insights/ observations about what has worked/ not worked so well and how I plan to use that learning in future. 

I’m slightly conscious as I share this how nerdy this might sound – but it works for me. I hope there’s something in this that might work for you too… 

How to have ‘difficult’ conversations: top tips from a mediator

When I work as a mediator, in effect what I’m doing is facilitating a difficult conversation between two people who want to improve their relationship. Usually by the time people come to mediation the relationship has reached a point where it’s getting in the way of being able to work together. Very often, I hear how distressing the situation has become for those involved; causing impacts that ripple far beyond the workplace. And sadly, the situation has often been going on for quite a while before it has been addressed. 

Only a small percentage of professional relationships end up in mediation, but I know from my wider experience that relationship tensions at work are widespread and can be very stressful and disruptive. Many people tell me they lack the skills and tools to tackle difficult conversations when they first arise – often waiting until things have become far more serious before action is taken to resolve the problem. So whilst mediation has a valuable role to play, far better we develop our skills to be able to have difficult conversations more effectively and readily.

When we need to have conversations about a problem or a concern, then I find the following principles help us to do so constructively – ensuring we tackle and resolve the issue, without damaging the relationship:

Avoid blame and be constructive – start from position of wanting to improve the situation or avoid the problem arising again by understanding what’s happened and why. Blame isn’t helpful – it tends to lead only to defensiveness and conflict rather than resolution. Be careful the language you used doesn’t imply blame and sound critical – try and stick to describing the facts objectively.

Avoid jumping to conclusions – there’s usually a fair amount of misunderstanding or lack of awareness at play in most disagreements or problems. It’s important to keep an open mind about what has happened and why – try and establish the facts and be open to you having things to learn as well as the other party. Also it’s important to share information – that includes the impact of problem is on you. That’s not about blaming or shaming – but sharing information about consequences of an action or behaviour, you might be surprised how often people are simply not aware their behaviour is causing issues for others.

Respect autonomy – nobody likes to be told what to do, however most of us are very reasonable if faced with a clear request and we understand why we are being asked. Demands, orders, emotional blackmail are less effective (and frankly who wants to treat another person like that?). It’s important to respect autonomy in terms of how these conversations happen too – don’t just pounce on someone, suggest instead you’d like a chat about a specific topic and then ask when and where would be a good time for them?

Be clear – be prepared to be very clear and specific about what you are asking the other person to do less of/ more of or differently – as if you are writing a stage direction, as often misunderstandings about what’s expected can arise when things are less too general. 

With these principles in mind, you might like to try a 3-step process along these lines:

  1. Open up: state your intention and ask permission to proceed
  2. Explore: discuss and uncover the issues, keeping an open mind, looking for solutions
  3. Agree Actions: that each of you will take, and how you will follow-up if necessary

Some examples of ‘openers

“I don’t think that either of us is completely happy with how this is going at the moment – I’d like us to work together to work out what’s not working and identify a way forward… is that something we could focus on today in our meeting?” 

“I’m concerned we aren’t delivering at the level that we need to and we need to do something about that… Can we talk about this – when would suit you?” 

Some examples of ‘exploring

“How are you feeling about how things are going?”

“What would you like me to do differently? Is there anything I could do more of, or less of, that would help you?” 

“What questions do you think we need to be asking to get to the bottom of this?”

“What suggestions and ideas do you have about how to sort this out?”

Some examples of ‘agreeing actions

“What actions do you think I need to take, and what do you think needs to come from you?” 

“So, having thought it through together, what actions are you proposing?” 

“What will we need to put in place, to ensure that this doesn’t happen again?” 

“I think it would be helpful if we jotted down the key things we’ve agreed will happen, are you happy to do that in an email?”

Finally, if you’re interested in healthy relationships watch out for the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse – sounds bad doesn’t it, and it is! According to relationship experts the Gottman Institute there are 4 main ways in which our relationships become toxic – know the signs and spot them – then act quickly. 

What is Coaching? the C-words

Recently trying to renew my car insurance I realise no-one really knows what my kind of coaching is…

Fairly regularly I find myself explaining what coach is – and isn’t – as many of the people I work with are new to coaching and it’s a term that’s often misunderstood and even elicits a negative response in some – hence me jokingly referring to coaching as the ‘c-word’ at times.  

I like to describe coaching as ‘thinking space’ or ‘time to think aloud’ because both of these phrases capture the self-directed or coachee-led essence of the process; it’s your agenda, your ideas that we focus on, I am there to facilitate your thinking through actively listening and asking questions that offer you insights.

A coach also brings challenge to the process; too often we limit our thinking by making assumptions about ourselves or others and as a coach I help you notice any limiting beliefs that might be narrowing your perspective or restricting the range of options ahead. The coach is by your side, inviting you to be deeply honest about what you individually want to achieve or change; reminding you of what’s important to you; inviting you to be courageous in your thinking. How would you love it to be? What if there were no limits?

Slightly stretching my point about c-words, coaching can be enCouraging. We perform better with stretch andsupport – there is a coach at my running club who cleverly positions himself on the corner of the home straight of the track and when I’m flagging and shouts encouragement for the final push; I know he’ll be there and will notice if I’m easing off so I grit my teeth and dig in… Equally, a good coach is encouraging because they have confidence in your ability to achieve your goals – if you’re willing to put the work in. So thinking about a coach I work with myself, when I recently told her a very ambitious running goal I’ve set myself her response was: ‘great, let’s talk about how you’re going to build up your strength and endurance to achieve that’

Clarity in itself can sometimes feel challenging and it’s a favourite tool in my toolbox as a coach. What does ‘better’ look like to you? How will you know you’ve been successful? What will you see or hear when you’ve achieved your goal? Eliciting a very specific and measurable goal generates not just clarity but excitement and momentum. 

At the heart of coaching is the process of finding your own solutions – developing your problem-solving capacity and confidence in your own abilities or judgment. When you discover your own solutions you’re also more likely to be committed to them than if someone else has told you how to achieve your goals. Also given the complexity of the challenges we’re often exploring in coaching, and premised on the belief that you are expert in your own life/ situation, then the solutions you generate for yourself are more likely to work for you, than the ones that may have worked for me or others. 

Another key aspect of coaching is that it is constructive. Your coach helps you focus on what you can do, to take responsibility for your choices rather than blame others or circumstances. 

Finally, and very importantly, coaching is capacity-building – as a coach I support people to learn how to coach themselves better, to generate fresh insights and ways of seeing that don’t just solve the problem immediately in front of them, but which also continue to be useful long after a coaching conversation.

Money matters – why (and how) I’m going Pay What You Can

A few weeks ago I decided to change my business model to Pay What You Can (PWYC).

Maybe it’s because I’m a Yorkshire woman that I’m careful with money – and it’s certainly got a lot to do with my formative experiences. I’m definitely not money-led, but I keep a close eye on my finances and do a lot of forecasting, planning and monitoring – and saving when I can. I think from an early age it was drummed into me that if you don’t manage the money, the money manages you.

Whilst I grew up in a house with no money worries (but definitely not rich), I was aware my grandparents had grown up in real poverty. Only one of my grandparents was able to stay in school after 14; and only after his mother had pawned her wedding ring to pay for his uniform. By the time I knew my grandparents they were no longer poor, but they still were incredibly careful with their money . So I get more than a little bit cross when people say money doesn’t matter and that’s it’s vulgar to talk about it – because that’s only true when you have enough of it.

Granddad and me in 1976: he was the first person in my family to be able to stay on in school after age 14 – and he was so proud I was the first to be able to go to university.

So money does and doesn’t matter to me. It isn’t what drives me, but I recognise it needs taking care of. Since I can remember in my career, the inevitable tension between money and mission has interested me. As an idealistic postgraduate student and young curator I was fascinated by how contemporary artists navigated the tension between making work and making a living. I was drawn to artists like Bethan Huws who’d walked away from commercial success in favour of artistic integrity or artists such as Christo and Jeanne-Claude who rejected sponsorship and patronage for their projects – preferring to raise income through sales of editions so they could retain complete artistic control. I even spent four long years researching a PhD around how public patronage inadvertently shaped artistic practice; in other words how money influenced art, despite the ‘arm’s length principle’.

Over the past 25 years working in arts organisations I’ve seen what happens when funding has too strong an influence on what happens and how. I don’t underestimate how hard it is to avoid this; but when I was working with artists as a curator and later running art galleries I understood ‘bringing home the bacon’ so the work could happen well, without being limited in ambition or pandering to public or private patrons, to be the most important part of my job.

So, it’s important to me now – as a sole trader – that I earn enough to do work that matters to me, to a good standard, and at a rate that means I don’t have to work 365 days a year to makes ends meet. ‘Enough’ for me personally will be different to others as it is linked to my family’s lifestyle choices e.g. we moved from London back to the better-value county of Yorkshire 13 years ago; I have two children to feed, a responsibility I share with my partner who also works full-time. This means ‘enough’ for me at this stage in my life equates to earning around £28K per annum – and that’s roughly the UK average salary pro rata (I work a 4 day week) .

I’ve been thinking a lot about my business model in the light of CV19 – partly because like many self-employed people in the arts my work has been  badly impacted by CV19, especially the training work I love. There are some opportunities too – but I’m under no illusion though that in the medium-term the sectors I work with are in recession and resources are shrinking.

A business model isn’t just about how you control costs and generate income – most importantly it’s about how you create value. And that’s another area that is in flux for me in the wake of CV19 – like many I’m keen to have a bigger social impact and do what I can towards tackling the many injustices and inequalities I see around me. I’m still working out how I might do that – at the moment I’m donating more of what I earn to charity and doing more voluntary work, mainly as a Trustee but in the first few months of CV19 I also offered some consultancy and coaching pro bono. I began to feel a bit conflicted around pro bono work as I worry this undermines another person’s ability to earn. Currently I’m seeing a lot of larger organisations in receipt of grant funding offering free or very low cost courses – which on one hand is great for the recipients but on the other totally undermines my ability to sell training. So if I offer coaching for free, what does that do to other coaches?

So I decided to pilot making my services Pay What You Can – starting with my coaching and mentoring. In some ways it’s a not a massive change – I always offered a sliding scale of what I called ‘Robin Hood’ prices (the better-resourced organisations paid more so I could charge the smaller ones less). In terms of training courses, I’ve always offered free and low cost places (credit here due to Deb Barnard of RD1st  – I took my lead from her on that when I was working with her company). And I was inspired to try the PWYC model by my experience as a customer of Slung Low’s Wild Conference last summer. Their model is slightly different – it’s Pay What You Decide – but I liked their ethos and the transparency about their costs as I was somewhat puzzled about what would be the ‘right’ price for me if I wanted to be ‘fair’. And that has to be part of the equation too – as a customer paying what you can to be ‘fair’ and responsible.

Already I’m noticing a big difference to stating a price and inviting people to say if they want to pay less, and really foregrounding that choice about what to pay. I’m finding far more people are paying less than the suggested rate than before, but often they are booking more sessions. So this might even out if I spend less time generating work and marketing and more doing paid work (albeit at a lower rate). Of course, if everyone pays zero I’ll be out of business pretty quickly, so I trust people will pay what they can and that some can still pay.

I’m offering suggested rates – as people told me they wanted some guidance – and these are based on my calculations of what it costs to run my business to a professional standard whilst paying myself the equivalent of an average UK salary (and average UK employer pension contribution). If you’re not self-employed then you could be forgiven for thinking the day rate or hourly rate sounds high. It’s a lot more complicated to calculate than dividing a salary by the number of working days in a year – for a start there are plenty of days you won’t have paid work because you are writing tenders or talking to potential clients. If you’ve never run your own business you could be forgiven for forgetting to factor in the costs of having a phone; wifi; email provider; web site hosting; URL registration fees; software licenses (MS Office, Survey Monkey, Zoom etc); buying your own laptop and other gadgets; stationary; professional services (accountant; professional liability insurance; coaching supervision); membership of relevant professional bodies; travel and subsistence for meetings and interviews; training; conferences and of course you have to pay your own sick pay; holidays and pension contributions.

It’s not an easy calculation to make and there’s a lot of assumptions in my budget which might not prove accurate, so I’ve allowed for a contingency and been conservative in my estimates. And I’ve decided that if I’ve been too cautious and if at the end of the financial year I do better than projected (and needed) that I’ll donate any surplus back to charities I already support. That feels important to me – when you have enough, you support those who don’t.

So I’ve taken the plunge! It’s too early to say how it’s working – I’ll report back at year end if I’m still trading and share what I’ve learned. But already I’m preferring this way of doing business in many ways, just feels like a responsible and fair way to work at this time. I’m hoping it makes business-sense too…

Reflections on virtual facilitation


How far can we move events and group conversations online, and what do we need to do differently when working virtually as facilitators? What is it possible to do via digital platforms like Zoom? How to we make these conversations collaborative, creative and inclusive – rather than the dull, technically-challenging sessions they can sometimes become? 

I’m a facilitator, trainer and coach based in N Yorkshire with clients all over the UK. Prior to CV19 I spent way too much of my time away from home in hotels and travelling by train – so I’ve been itching to work more online for a long time and one silver-lining of this current situation has been the opportunity to do this. I’ve previously done some virtual facilitation training, and I did a short webinar a few weeks ago specifically about Zoom (thanks to Happy for making this excellent free taster session available – details below). And I’ve been chairing virtual meetings and coaching 1-2-1 via phone/ video conferencing for years, but I’m still in the early days of my learning about online facilitation. So I’m still on steep learning curve with some of this myself, but I still thought it might be useful to share what I’ve discovered so far… And I’m hoping you can share your experiences and tips to add to mine, as it feels like an area many of us still learning about and comparing notes with others is definitely helping my learning.

Below I’ve captured what I’ve noticed are the main differences between face-to-face and virtual facilitation; some issues I’m struggling with and my top tips to date – as well as a list of resources on this topic that I’ve found most useful in my own research so far.

1.     The key differences I’ve found to date between face-to-face and virtual facilitation:

Issues using the hardware and software can REALLY get in the way – some participants have less experience/ skill in using the software, or they have poor broadband connections. These practical considerations can have a major impact on a group conversation as well as on individual participants’ ability to participate fully. It might seem basic housekeeping, but enabling people to make effective use of the hardware and software is probably one of the most impactful things you can do as a virtual facilitator.

We need to select different facilitation formats/ tools (e.g. paired discussion, a small group task, brainstorming, group decision-making tool) for virtual working than we would use when face-to-face. Some online platforms like Zoom have created virtual equivalents of common tools – like ‘Break Out Rooms’. Some familiar tools or exercises work just as well online as they do face-to-face; others are harder to adapt. Interestingly, some exercises can work better online as well – for example participants who hesitate to speak in large groups can find the anonymity of some interactive features like ‘Polls’ easier to use, or prefer typing responses into a Chat function than making their voice heard among louder ones in a room. In many online sessions I’m seeing more equal participation than I see in the ‘real world’.

Being clearer and more assertive – before and during the call. A facilitator works in service of the group, but the group vests in us the authority to organise the structure and process so that they can achieve their outcomes. Many groups are less confident and competent online than in real life meetings/ discussions so I’ve found it’s helpful to be clearer and offer more signposting about the process when online. I also find I’m more assertive and structured in making requests of the group and more vocal overall – for example, I’ll often use eye contact to encourage participation in a room, but over Zoom I’ll name and invite people to say something or select a format where participation is more structured. Before an online meeting I issue very clear instructions about how to best use the hardware, assuming no knowledge. I’m being less flexible/ responsive during sessions currently – but maybe that will change as groups (and facilitators) become more confident and competent online.

The context – we’re not facilitating online in a vacuum, we’re working together at a time of great disruption and uncertainty which is impacting on everyone, but making many existing inequalities worse. Those with a hearing impairment can really struggle with some of this technology or poor sound quality on a call; those with no childcare or school provision are probably frazzled, worried their kids might walk it any moment and how that might look to others; some of us very isolated right now; some of us might be struggling with poor mental or physical health, exacerbated by this social and economic situation; many are worried about their income, job security, families…  We ignore this context at our peril, we need to be mindful of the context in which we are facilitating both in terms of the practical and emotional implications which can sometimes be in conflict (people may have less time than usual; some may need social content more); many of us are feeling overwhelmed, scared, distracted and less able to concentrate.

2.     Some things about facilitating online which seem trickiest for me currently:

Building rapport – trust between the group is essential for people to participate fully. When we’re in a room with others it feels easier to understand one another; body language and tone is more evident and we can make eye contact and build rapport more readily. One to one interaction can happen in breaks, or during breakout exercises. Most of the groups I’ve worked with so far during Lock Down have known one another already, and we’ve worked together before – and this feels helpful when switching to online as the connections are already there. When I’m working with a new group I’m putting more emphasis on creating connections between the group at the outset than I might otherwise. The current context – and the blurring of professional/personal boundaries that is one feature of it –  makes this easier in some ways.

I’ve been using this exercise – ‘take a look around you, wherever you are sitting, and select one object that says something about your feelings about CV19 and the impact on your work. We’ll take it in turns to show our objects, say a few words as to why we’ve chosen it – and then ‘pass the mic’ by nominating someone else to go next. I’ll start….’

It serves several functions:

  • We get ‘all the voices in the room’ – everyone speaks which means they are more likely to speak later
  • It models equal participation – underlining we all have a contribution to make
  • We practice the ‘passing the mike’ technique and muting/ unmuting the hardware and taking turns so we don’t speak over one another
  • It creating opportunities to connect with one another and the topic at hand and by invoking ‘feelings’ it invites people to share their emotional state, acknowledging the challenging context.

Sharing visually what the group creates together

Sharing information or perspectives is fairly simple online. The rules that apply in real life apply even more online – keep it clear and short and allow for Q&A (and there are various ways to do that on Zoom). Early on in the pandemic I facilitated an event where sharing information was important and we cut down what had been 15 minute presentations to 5-6 minutes. The shorter the better, and if it can be shared in advance in writing instead – better still. You can share your screen and do Powerpoint to death online, but there are better ways to broadcast facts or opinions than a Zoom call.

But if you are problem-solving or generating ideas together then it becomes important to think about how to share visually what you are working on – and that’s little trickier. For example – you might want to brainstorm your ideas and see all the ideas before discussing the next steps. In a room we would use a flipchart or post-its, or draw together, but online it’s a bit clunkier.

A few things I’ve tried so far –

Sharing a Google Doc – for a brainstorming exercise where I wanted people to share their ideas generated individually or in pairs, I prepared a simple table in Google Docs and shared the link during the session (via the chat function – but I could have emailed it in advance). Participants spent 5-10 mins adding to this document – everyone able to add their ideas and see others in real time. Another benefit was that the ideas were captured after the session – no need to type up the Post Its or flipchart.

Sharing my screen – I use my screen as the group’s virtual flipchart. This week I ran a prioritisation exercise to help a group decide which ideas to pursue using the impact/ effort matrix. I created a simple table in Powerpoint into which I typed up the group’s responses in real time.

These both worked fine and were simple to do – which is important – but I’m sure there are other ways to share what groups create and would love to hear your experiences. Zoom has ‘whiteboards’ that groups can use during breakout sessions, but I’m wary of introducing these slightly more complicated tools to groups until they are more comfortable with the skills…

Plenary/ less structured group discussions

In face-to-face facilitation it’s easier to be flexible with structure and chair wider-ranging group discussions effectively. Issues with lag and sound quality, as well as the lack of eye contact, make unstructured online discussions harder to manage and often quite hard to listen to or participate in.

I’m finding I’m using a lot more structure in how I design sessions online – what might have been a 5 or 10 min open group discussion face-to-face works better online as each person typing 1 thing into the chat, ‘passing the mic’ etc. The Polls feature can be a good way to get some rapid feedback from everyone (or if you want to keep it simple just ask people to use hand signals – a scale 1-5 on fingers or thumbs up/down).

3. My top tips for virtual facilitation

1.     Be inclusive – not all of us can use all the tools equally well yet – set up for success by sending out clear instructions about how to use the technology in advance, including basic practicalities that make things easier for everyone – like using headphones/ microphone if possible, calling from a quiet, well-lit space. Be clear if you’re planning to use the camera – not everyone will be comfortable with this so best to flag it in advance.

2.     Keep meetings or sessions as short as possible – no longer than 90 mins at a time – if you need to do a half-day workshop then have a good break away from the camera for 15 mins. Use people’s time wisely and with care – many of us are not working to full capacity. Only meet together online if you really need to…

3.     Make time to connect at the start – combine practicing using with the software with a simple exercise that connects people, and acknowledges the context. This will throw up any technical issues (like sound) early on and give you chance to resolve them before you’re into the main business.

4.     Be sensitive to and acknowledge the current context – find a way to invite people to share the reality of their lives – even if that’s just where they are calling from.

5.     Have a co-pilot (if possible) – having someone who can provide technical back-up/ support enables you to focus on the facilitation.

6.     Keep the technology and tools as simple as possible – the less that can go wrong, or exclude people inadvertently, the better. It can be tempting to use the fancy new feature in Zoom but if you can do it more simply I would.

7.     Signpost clearly what the plan/ agenda is – have a clear a plan, share it in advance and try and stick to it. Verbally give people reminders about where we are on the agenda, what’s coming next etc.

8.     Build in interactivity throughout – create plenty of structured opportunities with simple tools like Break Outs (pairs or larger groups); Polls; Chat function; Passing the Mic (‘a round’) to enable participants to contribute in a more orchestrated way.

9.     Be clear in advance what you will do if something goes wrong – what’s the policy if someone hasn’t joined the call, do you start without them or wait? What is someone drops out due to technology or their child needs something? Be clear upfront with everyone how you want to handle these situations.For each exercise I tend to have a lower-tech option prepared/ in mind in case the technology lets us down.

10.  Debrief/ review after each session – ideally seek participant feedback, but if that’s not practical reflect independently – or in discussion with another facilitator (thanks to Sharon Dale who did this with me last week) about what worked/ what worked less well/what you might do differently.

Fundamentally – I’m learning it’s not that different to face-to-face facilitation. The skills and techniques we use daily as facilitators still apply – like agreeing how we work with the group, establishing a clear outcome, ‘active listening’, encouraging equal participation, designing an appropriate process – it’s just some of how we do this looks a bit different online.

I’m still learning myself about using techniques online and very interested to hear what’s working (and not) for you – so please get in touch!

Below I’ve included links to resources I’ve found useful – again I’m really keen to hear about others.

Resources I’ve found useful 


I’m really grateful to Henry Stewart for offering free tasters in making Zoom interactive and I would highly recommend their very reasonably prices courses – the next one runs 28 May. Some free taster sessions also still running and they have a great blog post too:

Making zoom fully interactive, a free session:


9 tips for interactive zoom:


Training course – Using Zoom for online learning

Judy Rees

Judy has been running online courses long before CV19 and she’s sharing great tips and resources for those involved in online training and facilitation via her twitter account @judyrees

International Association of Facilitators

Also on Twitter and a great source of articles on all aspects of facilitation including online is the International Association of Facilitators @IAF  I’ve found this twitter account really helpful and generous in the past with questions I had about adapting a session for people with learning disabilities, for example.

Liberating Structures

Another great source of information about facilitation, including online, are @Liberating Structures There are various international, national and regional groups sharing tips and offering opportunities to participate in and experience online facilitation. If you’ve not yet heard of LS or seen their website – then you’re in for a treat!