I remember the day I had to be certified as a virtual facilitator. I was scared.
So scared that I didn’t prepare. No, I didn’t know how to even prepare.
After all, all I had under my belt was just 2 virtual facilitation sessions of focus group discussions. Could I count myself as experienced enough to be certified?
There was a nagging self-doubt in my mind. After all, I was 26. What did I know about facilitation? What did I know to be certified?
Many times, the people in the room had (slightly) more grey hairs on their heads. I wasn’t even sure if I was doing a good job, asking the right questions. During the first time I facilitated, I remember being so engaged in the sharing from the participants that I forgot that I had to summarise what had been covered.
The second time, I was so nervous that I started perspiring during the facilitation, even though it was 25 degrees in the room.
Was I ready to be certified, especially when I seemed to have so little confidence? When I didn’t seem to accomplish the organiser’s needs?
Maybe that’s you. You wonder if you have what it takes to be certified as an INIFAC Certified Virtual Facilitator (CVF).
This article will share with you how the CVF experience is like, how you can ready yourself for the CVF (even if you don’t feel ready!)
Overcoming self-doubt as a facilitator
Let’s face it. You’re not going to be the smartest one in the room. You’re not the subject matter expert. You aren’t brought in to be the expert. You’re brought in to bring out the expert in others.
Facilitating is a super-skill because bringing out the best in others, takes considerable expertise.
- How do you build rapport from the beginning so that people feel comfortable with you?
- How do you build psychological safety in the room, so that others feel safe, even amongst strangers they have never met before?
- How do you ask so that people will share openly?
That’s why the first position that has helped me in overcoming self-doubt is to take an attitude of humility, accepting that I don’t know everything. I accept that in the room, I probably am the least knowledgeable about the subject.
That helps me to keep both feet planted on the ground. It helps you to overcome self doubt as a facilitator.
In applying for this CVF qualification, you may get in your own way.
I did. I hesitated to apply because I thought I wasn’t ready, I needed more experience, and that I needed more guidance before I was finally ‘ready’.
But you’re never ready. You probably know that already.
Overcoming your own self doubt is accepting that you won’t know everything. You just need to know some important things.
Know your competencies
Like how your competencies match up against the INIFAC list of master competencies.
Do you know the INIFAC master competencies? If you don’t, it’s a good time to find out.
Seeing the PACCCE competencies listed, how do you adapt them for virtual facilitation?
But before that, one meta-skill that may serve you well, which you can build, is the skill of…
As facilitators, you’re familiar with being brought in to solve problems for your client. Your client may struggle with understanding what the strategy forward is. You’re expected to run something for the team that would elucidate the way forward.
But this is even more prominent in virtual facilitation, where everything that can go wrong will probably go wrong. Hands up if you’ve had:
- WIFI lags during key moments in your facilitation
- Shared screen not showing
- Speaking whilst you’re on mute
There are probably many more you can list. The most important thing isn’t to ensure they don’t happen. It’s to solve it when it does happen.
Trust me, it will. It’s not a question of ‘if’. It’s a question of ‘when’.
That’s why your problem-solving skill will matter much more as a virtual facilitator. How do you build that?
Practise more problem-solving. I don’t know about you… but I didn’t use to like having problems in my life. I wished for a fuss-free life, where I could have something smooth and uneventful. I’ve come to see that at least for me, it hasn’t happened. Rather than hating the problem, I’ve learnt to build a better set of tools that allow me to solve problems, such as:
- Asking better questions
- Framing the problem statement
- Having mental models (Occam’s razor etc. – Read Farnam Street’s ‘Mental Models’ for a good introduction)
How about you? What are you doing to grow your problem solving skills?
Knowing this, let’s now look at the INIFAC Master Competencies, especially when they are applied to virtual facilitation.
I’ve lost count of the number of nostrils I’ve peered into over the past 2 years on Zoom. You didn’t read that wrongly.
The most important question you need to answer for this competency is:
How do you look on camera?
How do your nostrils look on camera?
It’s tongue-in-cheek, but you get the idea. So many of us have been accustomed to having our webcams face up to us, rather than at eye level.
I know, I know… you can’t look at the top whilst seeing what your partner is doing on screen.
Here’s my ideal setup.
What my setup looks like
- If possible, get an external webcam. I recommend the Logitech C922. This allows you to elevate it above your keyboard, so that it’s right in the middle of the screen.
- Many studies have shown that audio matters much more than video. People can ignore a grainy webcam video. But if your voice is soft, scratchy, participants will remember that.
If you’re on a budget, here’s something you can explore.
- Use your computer’s webcam. But when you speak, look at the webcam. Ensure it’s at eye level. Elevate it with a raised surface to ensure it’s at eye level.
- Secondly, get a microphone that’s close to your mouth. Your standard-issue Apple or Android ones would work well.
The assessment competency tests your ability to assess a client’s need.
But to do that, you need to first be comfortable with what you’re using.
Try answering these two questions.
- How comfortable are you with the platform?
- How confident are you with getting your participants equally comfortable with the platform?
In facilitation, your voice is your chief tool and technique. Virtually, it’s the same. Without your voice, you may struggle to convey the instructions. More importantly, are you able to convey the same quality of understanding over a different platform?
If you were in person, you could see micro expressions that may tell you that a participant doesn’t understand. But how about in a virtual setting? How are you adapting your communications for a virtual faciltaiton?
How clear are you at communicating?
Control and Consistency
Been in facilitated meetings where everyone is on mute, and no one talks? All you hear is the background noise around you.
How do you control the meeting so that this doesn’t happen? As organisational expert Priya Parker recommends in ‘The Art of Gathering’, don’t be a ‘chill’ host. Please.
You are the facilitator. Take control. That means taking control from start to end, and ensuring that everyone has a clear idea of what their roles are, and what the rules are.
Oh you’ve been there. The Zoom meetings that make you become a Zoom-bie. High-five if you’ve been there.
Engagement across virtual facilitation is difficult. There’s one place though that does it well. Can you guess it?
Yup, TV. You watch Netflix for hours on end, even though no one even talks to you. How? How does Netflix do that?
Marketing expert Andrew Davis calls it the ‘curiosity gap’. Exploiting the curiosity gap is what makes us tune in week after week for the next episode, even though you know (and you definitely know!) you should probably be doing something else.
In virtual facilitation, you can think of it that way. How are you peeling the proverbial Russian doll, so that it leaves participants wanting more?
Draw the gap between what people know, and what people don’t know. Make the gap clear. How? Signify where you are at in the process, and paint the promised land participants can arrive at if they work the process. Sure, both you and the participant won’t know how to get there. But both of you want to get there. That counts.
Asking questions is one. Pattern interrupts are another. Having your voice in a monotone won’t do much in helping you engage your participants. Having the regular changes in pitch, pace and volume can help.
I passed my CVF assessment. It was a pleasant surprise, and a great New Year’s gift.
If anything, it showed me that I didn’t have to know everything. I needed, though, to know the competencies.
If you read them, study them, live them, you’ll be okay.
Trust the process.
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