Enhance communication
and participation

How to encourage participants to actively engage during virtual events?

The challenge

In contrast to face-to-face events, moderation in the virtual space is much more demanding and complex. The challenge is to keep the participants attentive, excited and committed.


The solution

In all types of virtual events, the role of the moderator is crucial to ensure active involvement of participants because online communication requires structured conversation guidance, good visualization, and an interactive design of the virtual exchange. For the facilitation of online events with more than 15 participants, two moderators are recommended. One moderator is responsible for the facilitation of the working process and group dynamics. The second moderator provides technical assistance to the participants and manages the chat to enable their active participation.

Areas of application:

All kinds of virtual events such as online group meetings, classroom training, and workshops as well as large group events.

Whilst all kinds of virtual events entail some interaction among participants, it needs to be kept in mind that there is – by design -- a considerable variation in the expected and possible level of interaction and participation in different type of events. Small virtual group meetings presuppose intensive participation and would, therefore, require a different set of methods compared to a large virtual lecture where interaction with the audience is limited to a short Q&A session. Similarly, a group that is meeting for the first (and possibly only) time would require a different approach from a group that has met in person before or is convening regularly online. Finally, a balance needs to be found between encouraging participation through the use of various tools and achieving the content objectives of the event (i.e. using tools for the sake of participation and interaction vs using tools to achieve the objectives of the event such as reaching a decision or finalizing a draft document).



Setting the stage: the beginning of the event

Create an atmosphere of "well-being" and a good reception right from the start of any virtual event (see Welcoming Participants).
The communication of simple ground rules at the beginning of the event (e.g. mute the microphone, switch on the camera, listen actively) helps to develop a common base for communication and cooperation and makes participants more comfortable and likely to participate.
For smaller events, introduction rounds that motivate participants to speak up or write for the first time at the beginning of the event might lower the obstacle to participate later in the event. In addition, getting to know the rest of the audience is helpful for communication.
Similarly, the use of interactive formats and tools at the beginning of a virtual event creates a participatory dynamic.  

During the event

Avoid an event design where one expert or speaker occupies disproportionately the time while the rest are passive listeners.  Instead distribute inputs more evenly. Different speakers might make it easier for participants to stay concentrated for a longer time.
It is important to let some of the participants know in advance that their input/opinion/participation will be required as this gives them time to prepare.
If the event format allows it, take advantage of asynchronous work to ensure that the participants are prepared in advance and to avoid long powerpoint presentations. In some cases, participants can already be actively involved in the design of the content for the event. (see Asynchronous/synchronous work).

Use open questions or tasks that stimulate participation.



Tools and technical aspects

To stimulate interaction and active participation some tools for the virtual moderation are useful. It is recommended either to use only selected and familiar tools, or to introduce the participants to them in advance (see “Use of Virtual Applications”).

Breakout rooms (available in some videoconferencing tools such as Tixeo)
Participants can interact in smaller groups which makes the discussions more lively and open. This also gives a chance to everyone to participate, including and especially to more reserved people who normally would not speak up in a larger group. Breakout rooms work also in large-group formats such as bar camps, open space, world café up to 500+ participants.


Other considerations



Virtual sessions are often shorter than in-person ones. However, more time might be required to prepare the event, especially if new tools or concepts are used.



The costs of licenses for the use of certain tools should be considered.


Gudrun Becker
Alexis Valqui
Suzana Lange

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