Running virtual workshops in a global pandemic

Even outside of global pandemics, running virtual workshops can be tricky. Getting agreement and actions out of a meeting when you don’t have a lot of time, can’t tell what people are thinking and you have a lot of different people involved can be really tricky.

Here, Consultant Carrie Ellwood shares a few tips from a recent, successful virtual workshop we ran with a client on creating a roadmap for their special offers journey.

First, some context:

Our client works in the “Global” team, but they work on a site template shared across multiple “markets” (i.e. countries):

  • The team as a whole are trying to “fix” their special offers journey and create a global, technical solution that is fit for purpose for all the markets
  • Speed when taking in the views of multiple markets can be a challenge for both global and market teams
  • Global are a relatively small team and don’t have a lot of resource to understand all the market challenges in detail
  • Our task: To run a workshop that would create alignment on the next steps needed to improve the special offers journey for the markets and the users

💡Tip 1: Gather insights and collate WELL BEFORE the workshop

We were due to have representatives from about 15-20 different markets on the call. It’s impossible to get an accurate picture of what these all need if you try and do this on a single call with everyone involved. All you will get is the loudest and, in this case, those most confident with their English, saying their opinions with everyone else left behind feeling ignored.

We invited all workshop attendees to complete a short survey and to a 30 minute call to get their views on a one on one basis. We were able to gather thoughts, feelings, frustrations and suggested solutions from each market, which helped shape the workshop format.

The markets really appreciated global investing time in listening to them, even if it wasn’t the global team directly involved in the call.

🏎️ Tip 2: Use insights to drive the content for the workshop

Seems obvious but I didn’t want to overlook the importance of this. The fact that the markets could see that things they fed back had been included builds trust. Trust can be hard to come by in a big organisation so any opportunity to build that should be capitalised on to help with the internal politics of the business.

📊 Tip 3: Make it interactive wherever you can, even if it won’t really tell you anything important

This is so critical to engagement and making sure people are paying attention. We’ve all been on long, boring, irrelevant calls before where the people running it have no idea that you’re not listening and you’re actually checking your emails. Our clients will have been on so many more of those than us as an agency.

One way we did this was by running a quick poll, using a pretty good, simple (and free) website called Direct Poll. We sent the link for those answering the questions in the chat of the hangout while I shared my screen showing the results as they were coming in. The specific question we asked was relevant for us to refer back to as we talked about things later on, which also worked well.

After this workshop, I asked one of the market leads what they thought of the approach and they said: “I’ve never been on a 2 hour hangout before and seen people so engaged”.

They wouldn’t have been engaged through just talking, we had to give them activities to do. Just like you would in a physical workshop.

Consider some hold music or something while people vote though, as it was a bit awkwardly quiet at times! The countdown music would work for British audiences…

🤔Tip 4: Force a choice but allow discussion of those choices

The main reason clients dread meetings and calls with their colleagues is because they often end up as a place for lots of discussion but not a lot of action. We didn’t want this to be one of those sessions so we played “Would you rather?” with them. We presented them with a series of these “would you rather” questions that offered two potential solutions for improving the special offers journey. We then asked them to move their country flags to their preference. These solutions were a mix of our ideas, ideas already fed by global and ideas fed by the markets.

To lighten the mood and make sure everyone understood, we did a practice round:

After that, we gave real options.

We grouped these in such a way that meant they were addressing the same problem. We made it clear that the votes didn’t mean that we would only do one, it was just a way to get a sense of priority and who would be most interested in testing the solution out. Importantly, after the votes came in for each, we started a discussion so people could say why they voted the way they did. It also allowed for some original ideas to come through but these were far more focused on a theme or solving a particular problem.

🏌Tip 5: Quick follow up to keep momentum

We shared the slides as an output immediately and put in a session to define the roadmap and review the outputs internally first and then with the global team second. Not always necessary to do it like this but in our case it was. It’s really important to make sure the next steps are clear and stated at the end of the call too. You don’t want the attendees going away thinking “that was fun but why did we spend 2 hours of our day on that call?”.

👨👩👦👦Tip 6: Don’t do it alone

It can feel quite a lonely place when you’re talking into a void and you’re not sure how engaged people are. What’s more is that it’s probably super boring for the attendees to hear one voice, so it was good having Sam there talking about the insights and solutions and me there chairing the workshop. While it’s helpful to have you both in the same room, this tip is less about your physical location and more about the importance of having a couple of you running the session itself. That could be you and the primary client, just keep the voices varied.

💻Bonus tip: Make sure everything works before you start!

In this case, all the technology worked perfectly but there is nothing worse than technical difficulties when you’re trying to keep people engaged. Make sure the whole thing is smooth and slick by checking everything multiple times!