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.