As you might imagine, having an online group experience is considerably different than sharing a living room or classroom in person. Here are a few tips for participating in or facilitating an online group experience.
- Recommend group members to download meeting software at least 30 minutes prior to meeting, just in case they have technology issues they need to work out.
- Make sure your face has sufficient lighting.
- Lighting works best in front of your face, not behind.
- Make sure your face is centered in the video camera.
- Members probably don’t want to see only your forehead or neck throughout the meeting, so position your camera accordingly.
- Select the quietest room/location you can find.
- Turn off anything making noise in the background (TV, radio, appliances).
- Put pets in a different room or have them in a place where they will be most quiet.
- Only use one device per household.
- When two devices are used in the same room, it produces feedback that affects all group participants.
- If two people feel more comfortable participating with their own devices than sharing the same one, each should have his or her own room for doing so.
- Mute your computer unless you’re talking.
- If everyone’s microphone is turned on at the same time, the sound quality can be an issue and it can be hard to hear the person who is talking. The best policy is to mute yourself when you are not talking.
- If you are muted, make sure to nod your head and listen well so people can recognize you are following them.
- You will be muting and unmuting a lot, so get used to it.
- Also, you’ll get called out if you don’t unmute, so don’t be offended.
- The host may mute you if you don’t do this yourself, so don’t take that personally.
- Be an assertive moderator.
- The moderator/host of the group will need to be welcoming and in charge. Make sure as host you jump on a few minutes early to welcome everyone.
- Redirect the conversation or mute participants as necessary. This may feel rude at times, but it is necessary to manage a good online experience for the group.
- Generally speaking, the moderator should talk 30% of the time and listen 70% of the time.
- Create a plan for participants to indicate they’d like to talk.
- Since participants will often be muted, having a plan will help you know when to mute and unmute.
- You may try something like raising a hand, answering in a specific order, or another signal.
- Utilize the “chat” features to post questions for discussion.
- Give your full attention to the group experience, resisting the urge to multi-task.
- When participants are not paying full attention it can be a big distraction online just like an in-person group.
- When talking, spend some time looking at the camera, not just the screen. This digital form of “eye-contact” goes a long way toward creating a sense of connection and community.
- Stay in touch afterwards.
- Assign prayer partners to call each other after group is over and pray with them.
- Or text each other in gender specific text chats to share requests.
- Leverage GroupMe, Facebook Groups, WhatsApp, etc. as a place to stay connected and keep the conversation going throughout the week.
As we implement best practices for online groups, can we find best resources? Turns out Lifeway and various Christian leaders have partnered for resources that are especially timely in this current season. Check out an online Bible study group for Derwin Gray’s The Good Life, a multitude of teaching video options, and individualized resources such as Pray Like This: A 52-Week Prayer Journal or Foundations: A 260-Day Bible Reading Plan for Busy Believers.
CHRIS SURRATT (@ChrisSurratt) is the discipleship and small groups specialist for Lifeway Christian Resources, a ministry consultant and coach with more than 20 years of experience, and the author of Leading Small Groups: How to Gather, Launch, Lead, and Multiply Your Small Group.
A good idea.