A question from a reader: Because I do a lot of Zoom ‘brainstorming’ sessions, do you have any tips for the best ways to facilitate discussions as opposed to presenting? The distinction in my mind is that as a presenter you are guiding the experience, and using features such as mute or hands up can be helpful. But when facilitating discussion, you want people to speak up and have a more ‘organic’ feel.

There has been a ton of ink devoted to Zoom best practices, or best practices in the virtual space in general, over the past months, but it is still worth discussing because, for many of us, the virtual workplace will be a reality for the indefinite future. Facilitating discussion or helping with brainstorming is not the only place you need to be able to engage and encourage discussion.

What I have found is that you must be proactive in calling out specific people and asking them a simple, specific, non-confrontational question. “Cheryl, can you think of a time you walked in on a heated argument and had to avoid being recruited by one side or the other?”

Do not let it just be that one person either; call on someone else to comment or advance Cheryl’s answer AND be prepared that Cheryl might not have something come immediately to mind, so have a fallback Q ready to go. (Always have a plan B.)

There are times when you might find a sea of cameras turned off and just names on the screen, and you may wish to change that up by asking one or more of the no-shows what’s going on in their world that they aren’t showing themselves and/or ask them a question anyway, ignoring the fact they’ve chosen to participate only partially. I have fallen into the trap of addressing myself only to those whose faces I can see, and must force myself to try to engage those who are not fully present.

Is it harder work? Absolutely. The sound of crickets can be deafening.

Joanna Piros