Tips For Running an Online Workshop

Written by Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas & Anna Kantosalo

Recently, we took part in organising a two-day workshop at CSCW (Future of Social AR). With the foreseeable future being virtual workshops, we thought we would share some valuable insights to help others in trekking in this new territory.

Before: 

  • Before the workshop you should spend significant time thinking about the schedule and tasks. We recommend to have a full run through of the workshop before it, preferably with someone not in the organising group.
  • If your workshop is a full day in face-to-face instances, make this two half days virtually. Online is more taxing than face-to-face. Alternatively you may consider shorter shared sessions and time-zone specific working sessions in between, distributing the workshop across 24 hours allowing participants from different time zones to select their preferred time.
  • Videos are excellent guides before the workshop. E-mail instructions are often overlooked. See an example of our video
  • Give people access to the workshop space before the workshop. This helps with the introduction and orientation. It will also give people time to open accounts or familiarize themselves with new tech.
  • Having a technology back-up plan is essential (e.g. google docs work instead of Miro, Teams instead of Zoom, Aalto Zoom instead of ACM Zoom etc.)  
  • Send out a google document with an updatable schedule with links to video calls, worksheets etc. Compared to e-mailing, this allows people to orient themselves and helps to quickly update links and allows people to ask for help quickly and easily. Such a living document  allows you to quickly update links if you need to switch video call or workshop space and the schedule live.
  • Let participants know who other participants are beforehand. This helps everyone get a feel of who is there and what topics/ angles they are interested in. Ideally display peoples submissions/ attendances with peoples topics. e.g. Name [Affiliation] [Submission Name] [Submission Topic] on one page. See our website for an example. 
  • Distribute tasks between the other co-hosts, both before the workshop and during it. Share the load in this way. 
  • Ideally have a separate channel with your co-hosts to allow for quick communications during the workshop. Check with them when you share your screen what you’re sharing and how the tasks are going etc. 
  • Student Volunteers or some help is invaluable. If you have external help, orient these people towards the days’ activity and pre-assign these people to tasks e.g. take notes on the discussion in the miro board, provide technical assistance, manage the waiting room in zoom etc. Introduce these people, and include them in the google doc, as one of the first tasks so that participants know where to seek help. 

During:

  • Introductions are valuable; but introductions on people’s perspectives, what they have learned so far, or their view on an area/topic of the workshop is way better than their affiliation and prior experience. For this, make an introduction space with peoples names, affiliations and something from their workshop submission. This will help people know when to talk/introduce themselves and provide visual references. Ask people to prepare to introduce themselves in  1 min and let them know about this in the introduction video so they have time to prepare. 
  • Focus on people’s perspectives. Do not be afraid of having people introduce themselves and their views multiple times during a multi day workshop. Having regular rounds on what people have found important/interesting so far helps everyone to get a say in the workshop and promote important insights from academic juniors, minorities and introverts.
  • If your software requires registration, have a break early in the workshop before using this software to give people time to install/ register in case they did not. Presume that no one has done any work prior to the event even if you provided instructions in video form. 
  • Have multiple breaks at least 10 mins long frequently, especially between talking/ mind mapping activities. If activities are longer than 45 mins have a break in the middle of them.  
  • Be flexible with your timings. Mention timings to people where you want more structure and less waffle e.g. 3 mins talk. You can use online timers and show these on the screen to help people maintain a sense of time. 
  • You need more time buffers in virtual than physical. Space out hard-timed activities e.g. tasks, with soft-timed ones e.g. show and tell, introductions or other flexible programs. 
  • If you intend to work in groups, group people beforehand to ensure a mix of different expertise and backgrounds and mix these groups during the event if possible. Often people come to workshops hoping to meet someone else so allow for re-grouping. 
  • Ask people for feedback and adapt to it. If the workshop is in multiple parts/ stages make enough time between these stages to implement these changes. 
  • Ask people if they want to be recorded. Do not automatically record people. Give space to people inside the workshop. 

Miro/ Workshop Space Specifics:

  • Do a Miro help guide, introduce basic Miro functions in the video. 
  • Use the 14-day free upgrade to admin lock everything you do not want moved/deleted out of your Miro board so people can not drag things around/ delete things. 
  • Use Miro to also have your presentation slides up there so that people can access your talk and see what is coming
  • Layout Miro easily and intuitively. Some people use mobile phones so make this friendly towards everyone. 
  • Put in tables to things and arrows to show where things are from the large view so enable people to zoom out and see where things are.
  • Use colours as a signifier e.g. blue box etc. This allows for quick orienting.
  • Use frames or some other guide to create structure. Put these frames in the order that these areas will be used/presented in the workshop, allowing for quick navigation. 
  • The timer feature is excellent for helping people to orient towards the schedule. This timer can also be used for breaks. Remember to also announce the timing of things on your video call, chat or whatever e.g. 5 mins left, 10 min break now etc.  

Zoom/ Video Call Specifics: 

  • Although zoom doesn’t say it, making people co-hosts before using the breakout rooms was the only way people could change rooms during the workshop. 
  • Asking people to go on camera does not work. Saying you and the co-organisers will be on camera and endeavour towards community spirit does. Understand that people are in different life situations and may not be able to keep their cameras open. You can encourage keeping cameras open by providing virtual backgrounds, and announcing your call as child and pet friendly.
  • You can set Zoom to auto-mute people on joining. This helps with background noise. Remind people to stay muted until it is time to talk.
  • Give someone a list of all accepted participants and use this to manage the Zoom waiting room. This mitigates the risk of zoom/ call bombing. 
  • Encourage the usage of Chat features. Not all people like this, but this helps with engagement and allows people to get involved and not just those who are talking.  
  • Use a moderator or whoever to bring this chat into the discussion by inviting those who have typed questions/ viewpoints to voice their text. This part is essential to try and bring everyone into the conversation.