Moving consultancy online

We run workshops with clients present in the room.  Many workshops need the client’s staff to get up and do stuff, to interact, to be present and to be with each other.

But we’re in lock-down.  People can’t be in the same room, and all of my material is designed for people in the same room.

At first I was stumped.  How would I continue to work?  How would I get paid?  But the first 2 weeks of lock-down, my clients went into a flat panic, and wouldn’t talk to me, so I filled in the time researching some options, and rewriting my workshops (benefits management) for delivery via on-line interactive sessions.  I thought that HiveMind experts might be interested in what I do now.

1) *Conference calling tools*: there are many, and your clients may restrict you to one or another.  By preference, I use Zoom ( because it is very efficient on internet bandwidth, and allows you to put people into breakout rooms.  But clients have restricted me to using GoToMeeting, MS Teams, Skype, and they can all work with a bit of thought.  Buy a license – it’s not expensive and there’s nothing worse than your client thinking you are a cheapskate because you appear with someone else’s name, or have to terminate the call and restart after less than an hour.

I recommend that you ask people to keep their video on (regardless of how they look), and also keep their microphones on except when an individual has lots of background noise.  People don’t talk as freely if they have to remember to unmute themselves.  But be aware that if someone is having bandwidth problems, it’s not just their video, it’s everyone else’s that is contributing, so you may have to shut down video from everyone except the facilitator at times

Zoom supports polls, voting, chat and Q&A.

2) *Presentation tools*: I strongly, strongly recommend mentimeter ( instead of anything else.  You don’t get many animations on slides or between slides, but it presents within a single browser tab (rather than insisting that you take up the whole screen), and it allows very much better interactivity and polls than any I’ve seen in conference calling tools.  The free license lets you have up to 3 polls, but again, don’t be a cheapskate because your client will see through it.

Mentimeter will get you votes, word clouds, scales, and speech bubbles, together with spider charts and 2D charts.  Participants love it because the results are instantaneous (as each person presses), and you have captured all of the information for future use.  And if you want to do quizzes (answer not displayed until everyone has voted), the Mentimeter will keep score from question to question.

What are the advantages over PowerPoint, Apple’s product, Google Slides etc?  Not sharing a screen (so you can see what your participants are up to), and robust interactivity.  I use an enterprise license – it’s possible that you won’t get the same flexibility of templates and branding with some versions.

3) *Whiteboards*: when you want lots of people to do a group exercise, such as putting post-it notes on a wall, you need a whiteboard.  Google Docs works fine (Slides, with coloured rectangles to type into and move around) with everyone given a link at the same time so everyone is in the google document.  This also helps if your own (facilitators) internet isn’t brilliant, because the participants can carry on even if your call drops.  And you can have lots of pages (eg lots of slides with the background pre-drawn), and direct people’s attention from one to another – and see where they all are!

However infinite whiteboards may be more useful.  Remember that the whiteboard is not just a single panel or frame, you can put frames all over the place just as you would if you had different techniques or different stages on different walls of a room or in different rooms.

I’ve tried Mural, but I think Miro is going to be a better fit.

4) *Preparation*: you need to prepare for your client.  Like me, you’re probably used to preparing for a physical event, you know what to bring and what to draw up in advance.  Online, you don’t have any more to prepare in fact in many cases you can copy and paste or duplicate more easily.  The transition is painless if you believe it will be.

We could be locked down for a while, so we all need to think about how to continue to work.  Please share what you’ve found, that works or doesn’t work.