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ATD Blog

10 Things You Should Learn If You Want to Be a Better Virtual Facilitator

Monday, July 26, 2021

The adoption of virtual classrooms for leadership development is one positive coming out of the new work-from-home world. This modality has been around for many years, but many companies were slow or reluctant to use it.

As many employees transition into a hybrid working environment, virtual classrooms have become a new standard. They offer an incredible opportunity to bring people together for learning no matter where they are in the world or what may happen.

With more exposure and use, it is important to understand that facilitating in the virtual world isn’t quite the same as facilitating in person. While classroom training provides a great foundation, you can’t jump into a virtual setting and see the same success. At DDI, we’ve been doing this for more than a decade and put together 10 best practices for virtual facilitation.

10 Best Practices for Virtual Facilitation

1. Plan, then plan some more. Before starting, plan content timing and identify where to adjust if time becomes an issue. Don’t wait until you’re leading the session to think of how you can adjust in real time.

2. Understand all technology needs and work with a producer. Nobody likes to think about what may go wrong, but it’s important to plan for contingencies. A producer can help ensure that you deliver a smooth technology experience.

3. Welcome learners. During an in-person session, learners get to know one another during small talk before the session. In the virtual world, try to replicate this in creative ways. These moments provide an overall first impression of the session and facilitators.

4. Take advantage of your virtual platform’s features. Coach people on using the platform’s tools throughout the session. Don’t assume they know. People appreciate small nudges about where things are located. Also, provide longer response times as learners navigate interaction tools.


5. Create small-group virtual breakout sessions. These groups create a strong sense of connection between participants and stimulate conversation.

6. Have a “must-do” list. Make sure you cover all essential topics during the virtual session. Check-in often, especially when transitioning between topics, to ensure learners understood the content and are ready to move forward.

7. Use your voice as a tool. Use your voice to engage participants and clearly communicate. Pace yourself, speak clearly, and use a warm, conversational tone to engage participants.

8. Read your learners and adjust. Virtual facilitation depends on flexibility and adjustment as needed. For example, a quiet group may require facilitators to use chat for responses, which works if it helps meet critical learning objectives.

9. Have fun and be energetic. We like to have fun in the traditional classrooms, and that’s no different in a virtual classroom. Don’t hesitate to use appropriate jokes or use fun activities to maintain engagement.


10. Provide networking opportunities. A lot of participants enjoy the networking opportunities they receive in traditional classrooms. Facilitators can create networking opportunities by leveraging breakout rooms for partner or group exercises and other similar activities. Find ways to enable connectivity.

Above All, Empathy Matters

While this may not be your first experience facilitating a virtual classroom, it may be a learner’s first time participating in one. Frustration, fatigue, and anxiety due to technology or the environment is a real possibility. This is where it’s important to remember empathy is a facilitator’s most important skill to help balance learners’ personal and practical needs.

Watch for online and offline emotional cues. If someone needs help, demonstrate empathy and provide ongoing support and assurance that you will navigate the session together and be their partner along the way.

The virtual classroom is still about human connection. It’s up to you to provide the best possible environment for learning.

Want to learn more? Join me during the ATD 2021 International Conference & Exposition for the session 10 Best Practices to Become an Exceptional Virtual Facilitator.

About the Author

Kevin Tamanini is the director and head of consulting services for DDI’s US Operations. In this role, he leads the strategy and enablement of all Consulting and Adjunct resources to design and deliver high value solutions to clients. These Consulting resources drive growth for DDI by designing solutions, managing and enhancing the client experience, and driving insight and value for both new clients to DDI, as members of integrated account teams. This leadership responsibility includes long term workforce/talent management planning, defining performance expectations and capacity planning, metrics and incentives, and building a high-performance culture across consulting services.

Kevin is an industrial/organizational psychologist, and has nearly 15 years of experience working directly with clients on engagements focused on leadership growth and insight. Since joining DDI in 2007, Dr. Tamanini has worked in DDI’s product development solutions group, where he worked on the development of several assessment tools and processes before transitioning to Consulting Services in 2008, he has developed and implemented systems for organizations in a variety of industries, including airlines, insurance, manufacturing, health care, sales, life sciences, and customer service. A leader within DDI for 10 years, Kevin’s expertise with clients has focused in several areas: front line and mid-level leadership development programs; large scale selection system design across the leadership pipeline; organization wide competency and assessment strategy; and succession strategy.

Kevin has also presented at industry conferences in areas such as leadership development, coaching and feedback, mentoring, selection system and assessment design, the impact of social media during hiring, and several others. Kevin has also recently co-authored a chapter in the Handbook of Employee Selection, where he shares thought leadership on the selection and development of frontline and mid-level leaders.

Kevin has extensive experience in the design, development, and implementation of solutions around the globe and has consulted with worked with clients directly in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Europe, Saudi Arabia, China, and Japan. He has managed many large-scale assessment and development projects for clients.