Ronan Harrington
International Speaker
From emergency interventions to virtual meditation

A visionary thinker on the future of organisations and societies, Ronan offers a compelling picture of where the world is going, and who we must become. Ronan is sharing his experience in facilitation virtual groups. He is talking about the struggles you face in a virtual context and how to be 100% authentic. He is providing guidance on how to run meditations in an online meeting and what kind of actions he takes when the energy in the “room” drops.

What are the biggest challenges of virtual facilitation?

The key is to recognise that most people have an aversion to meetings in general, and online calls specifically. The combination often makes participants want to check-out during the call. This lack of collective presence feels draining and unproductive. The problem a virtual facilitator faces is that people are easily distracted through emails and apps that would not normally be a distraction during an in-person meeting. The worst case scenario is if participants microphones are muted and screens are turned off giving facilitators no visibility or indication that people are still participating at all.

The second key challenge: it is difficult to facilitate in the online space because there is no immediate, non-verbal feedback. Without feedback, many facilitators tend to become more quiet and reserved. To increase participation and feedback from participants, facilitators must bring high energy and keep the group engaged. Don’t be afraid to express yourself and own the space.

What strategies and techniques do you use to overcome these challenges?

The first step is setting ground rules for what is expected of participants during the virtual meeting. As the facilitator you must actively ask participants (by name) to turn their videos on. Ask the group as a whole to put their phones on airplane mode, turn off notifications, and limit possible distractions. 

All participants committed a portion of their day to this meeting. Creating this awareness and reconnecting to the purpose of the meeting can help everyone to value the time use it productively.

Using grounding meditation in a virtual meeting

You can guide participants through a short, grounding meditation that includes the following steps: 

  1. Feet on the floor, sitting up right, close your eyes. 
  2. Take deep breaths, become aware of the breath, and connect to it.  
  3. Notice sounds and what is happening in the mind. 
  4. Notice sensations in the body. 
  5. Open the eyes, notice the space and our purpose here.

A more active meditation with a focus on emotion: 

  • Bring your attention to how you feel in this moment. 
  • Then, invite people to share this feeling. 
  • As facilitator, you must share first to break the ice. 

The purpose of this meditation is to connect with others on an emotional level. 

Another non-meditation strategy for connecting the group is to invite everyone to look each other in the eyes and smile at each other. This leads to a feeling of being seen and allowing others to see you and is a great way to sense the atmosphere.

How do you build trust with others in a virtual setting?

Oftentimes, trust begins at the emotional level. Making space to check-in with each other facilitates emotional connection. To check-in, ask participants to briefly share the highs and lows of their day before the meeting begins. 

One-on-one time between participants is crucial to building trust. Sharing honestly about what is going on in your life and being supported to share will broker deeper relationships. Generally, trust is about intimacy, vulnerability, and honest sharing but it can be challenging to be vulnerable in larger groups. 

Exercise: In groups of five, ask each person to answer the question below by selecting either A, B, C, D. 

If you came to work with me you should know that… 

  1. … I can lose heart quite easily. 
  2. …I crave attention. 
  3. …I appreciate about you that…
  4. … you would share a great vibe.
What do you do when the group energy drops?

Create a space that allows that breaks down the barriers created by the screen. Identify possible low moments in the agenda and redesign it to keep energy up. It can help to introduce playful elements into your virtual meeting. For example, getting participants to wear funny hats or inviting everyone to share what they are drinking. 

Concrete actions I take: 

  • Name it and suggest a comfort break (nurture yourself)
  • Incorporate some energising movement like stretching, dance, or making sounds together that express feelings
  • Listen to a piece of music or watch an inspiring or funny video together
  • Flood the body with oxygen by massaging the top of the nose or if appropriate, do the Breath of fire practice

*After providing instructions for an energy drop exercise, invite everyone to turn their video off to give them privacy while completing the task.

What advice do you have for virtual facilitators?

Show your personality. Be authentic and genuine and allow yourself to be seen by others. This creates a space where others also feel safe to express more of themselves. A good first step is to make it easy for people to reveal themselves by asking them to check-in and talk about a high and low of their day. A silly but very enjoyable bonding exercise is the “very serious check-in” activity where people complain about their day with their tongue out. 

Tensions in during meetings often arise because we are to serious. Facilitators can avoid this by taking a focus on lightness and being approachable.