5 Tips for GREAT Virtual Facilitation

BGCA’s Director of Academic Success Lesa Sexton is BACK with some timely tips for this brave new world we are in.

This virtual facilitation stuff is no joke. I think this YouTube video pretty much sums up the challenges and awkwardness that we’re all learning to navigate these days.  

Virtual facilitation is a new area for many of us and we’re all feeling a little out of our comfort zone. We’re still learning how to create dynamic virtual spaces that are inclusive of all youth regardless of access to technology, but our experiences thus far have already taught us a lot about what works and what doesn’t.  

The Education Team recently released a host of resources to support Clubs in adapting our summer learning loss prevention program, Summer Brain Gain, for a virtual setting. One of the resources is a list of tips for how to successfully facilitate activities and sessions. While some of the tips are specific to Summer Brain Gain, many are not and can be applied regardless of program or topic area. 

We’ve pulled out our top tips to help you up your virtual facilitation game, drive engagement, and better serve youth.  

Lead with connection 

When Clubs across the country closed, students lost a place to connect with friends and teachers. It’s important in all virtual experiences to spend time re-establishing these peer and adult-youth interactions that COVID-19 disrupted. Leading with connection is critical, so make sure to include a Warm Welcome and facilitate a Community Builder at the beginning.  

Keep youth engaged with frequent interactions like chats, polls, open-ended questions, and opportunities for youth to lead the conversation. 

In addition to the suggestions already mentioned, there are also a lot of great online resources that support different types of interactive engagements:  

  • Use Poll Everywhere to create multiple choice polls, word clouds, and short surveys and broadcast the results to the group. (Note: The free version allows up to 40 responses per poll.)  
  • Create crossword puzzles, word searches, and word scrambles with Puzzel.org (not a typo, it’s a Dutch website) and challenge youth to a puzzle-off!  
  • Tap into your inner Alex Trebek and create a Jeopardy-style quiz using Factile to test members’ knowledge. 

Pause at least 10 seconds after asking questions to allow youth a chance to find their unmute button or type their responses in the chat. 

For in-person facilitation, the recommendation is to wait 5 – 15 seconds after asking a question to allow youth an opportunity to think and respond (it’s uncomfortable, I know, but this article breaks down why we need to learn to live with the discomfort). For virtual facilitation, we recommend waiting at least 10 seconds after asking a question to accommodate for all the logistics of being online: finding the unmute button, finding the chat box, typing your response, etc. Just lean into that awkwardness. It’s fine, we promise.

If youth have questions, invite others to answer and share their thoughts before jumping in yourself.  

You want youth to feel empowered to step up and own this space, and that won’t happen as easily if they’re constantly looking to you for all the answers. So remember to step back, allow youth to engage in some independent thinking, and encourage them to look to each other for support.   

Encourage active participation by calling on specific youth and inviting them to share their thoughts and opinions.  

Let me be clear-this is NOT meant to be a shaming tactic in which youth are made to feel uncomfortable or called out for not paying attention. Instead, this is meant to provide space for youth who may be timid about participating in a virtual setting and/or whose Internet connection is lagging. Calling on them by name allows them an opportunity to share without fear of interrupting or being interrupted (not to mention it gives their Internet a chance to catch up!).  

We hope these are helpful! Want more virtual facilitation tips? Boys & Girls Club staff can get our entire list PLUS see the Virtual Summer Brain Gain adaptations for Reading and STEM on BGCA.net. You can also connect with over 2,000 Club staff from across the Movement in the new BGCA Youth Development Community on Facebook.

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