August 02, 2014
The Challenge of Virtual Brainstorm Training

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For the past six months, Idea Champions has been delivering its Conducting Genius brainstorm facilitation training virtually as well as in person. We've learned a lot along the way and we'd like to take a few minutes, now, to share a little bit of that with you -- just in case YOU are thinking of doing more online training.

First of all, a lot of things you'd assume would be lost in translation by going the virtual route did not turn out to be an issue for us.

If you have a solid online platform and everyone can see and hear clearly, without video hiccups or audio delays, most of the concerns about clarity of communication become moot.

And, there's really no problem with maintaining a high level of engagement and immediacy of experience IF you can keep tossing the proverbial ball back to participants in the form of questions, discussions, online polls, and practice sessions.


Indeed, we've found we can keep a high level of engagement for as long as four hours at a time (including breaks, of course.)

Content is also not a problem, as any information you can deliver in person can be delivered virtually.

Powerpoint? We've found it important not to use it too much -- only when absolutely necessary and then get back to directly relating to the participants as soon as possible. Similar to on-site sessions, Powerpoint can put people into a trance and turn them into spectators, not participants.

Additionally, removing the visual presence of the online facilitator and replacing him/her with a Powerpoint slide removes an important aspect of what keeps people engaged -- the human face and the sense that someone can "see" them.

Our challenge, in teaching people, virtually, how to become better brainstorm facilitators is finding ways to replace the modeling we do when we teach onsite.

Alert participants can pick up a lot of nuanced body language and facilitation cues simply by watching someone else facilitate a live brainstorm session. The transmission of tacit knowledge (the kind of knowledge that can only be communicated via apprenticeship or observation) tends to get lost in the virtual sauce.

For example, one of our seven brainstorm ground rules, in a training, is "no side talk." In our live sessions, we promote a fairly strict adherence to the ground rules, but there are several non-verbal ways to remind rule breakers to stay focused -- subtle facilitation methods that become hard to communicate virtually.

Also, if people are having side conversations during a session, all you have to do, as facilitator, to stop this behavior, is walk closer to them physically. This gets their attention and they look up. It is usually enough to extinguish the unwanted behavior. If not, you can then give them the "finger," so to speak -- the index finger indicator for "only one person speaks at a time."

Other peripatetic facilitator moves that are hard to teach virtually are the spontaneous ones that emerge in a session -- the kind where the facilitator chooses to walk around the room, or stand in different places in the room, to give participants a different visual focus -- a move with the potential to literally change the "point of view" for everyone.

Of course, we can TELL our online participants about these subtle facilitation tactics, but it's much more effective, from the learning retention perspective, if they experience them physically and real-time.

Our goal, as brainstorm facilitation teachers, is to create a virtual training experience that is virtually identical to our in-person training. Right now, we figure we're about 90% of the way there.

How long do you think it will be before communicating via holograms becomes the norm?

Thanks to Val Vadeboncoeur, Idea Champions Director of Training, for sharing his insights and wisdom on this most important topic.

Brainstorm facilitation training

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at August 2, 2014 07:01 PM

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