Prof John Sharry, Founder Parents Plus and author of Solution-Focused Groupwork
1) Insist on presence:
People can more easily drift off in an online meeting. Prevent this by encouraging everyone to have their camera on and use ‘gallery view’ that allows you to see everyone at once on the screen.
2) Use gesture:
To engage people online you have to use more exaggerated gesture and body language. Use ‘thumbs up’ and ‘signs of applause’ to show approval and physically show books and objects by holding them up to the camera. Pointing to a physical flip chart or poster behind you can make a more memorable alternative to a virtual white board!
3) Increase interactivity:
It is the interactions with other people in a group that enhance learning and make the group therapeutic. Use small group breakouts online to increase these valuable interactions. Make sure to also use group rounds which give a turn for each person to contribute.
4) Vary delivery:
Many online groups get stuck in a presentation and Q&A format. Use the many other modes of delivery such as live demonstrations and roleplays, interviews and participant presentations, as well as quizzes, polling and reflective exercises. These all work just as well online as face to face. We explore these techniques more in our training.
5) Use the chat window:
Online groups provide new channels of communication – use these to your advantage. Use the chat window as an alternate means for quieter people to communicate, as well as a means for reflective exercises. Ask people to share a main goal or a memorable learning point in the chat window as an alternative to a verbal group round. This can be a much quicker and more effective group exercise.
6) Create space for attendance:
In a face to face group you create the therapeutic or learning space in your agency. In an online group people need to create this space in their busy homes which may be full of other demands from their family. Contact people in advance to help them prepare, to overcome technological challenges and to create space in their homes so they can fully attend the group.
7) Nurture participants:
The tea break/ social part in a face to face group is often the best part. Continue to emphasise this online. As a gesture, post out to participants tea bags and biscuits for the breaks or arrange a pizza to be delivered to each person during the last session! Such nurturing gestures can transform a group.