As many of us are experiencing, having an online small group meeting is considerably different than sharing a living room in person. Here are a few tips for participating in or facilitating an online group experience.

Preparing For The Meeting:

  1. Recommend group members download meeting software at least 30 minutes prior to meeting, just in case they have technology issues they need to work out.
  2. Make sure your face has sufficient lighting.
    • Lighting works best in front of your face, not behind.
  3. 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.
  4. Select the quietest room or 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.
  5. Only use one device per household to join the meeting.
    • 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.
  6. Prepare your notes, agenda and discussion questions well in advanced.
    • Many leaders are in the habit of doing this already which is great. However if you are used to “winging it”, digital meetings are less forgiving and require a higher degree of organization and structure from the facilitator.
    • Do your best to prepare for discussion ahead of time, while allowing for conversations which may require more care and support as they arise.
  7.  Meet—no matter who can make it.
    • If three or four people can’t make an in-person group gathering, you may reschedule because an unusually small group can be awkward. Not so with a digital meeting! Online gatherings may even benefit from the intimacy of having just a few people “in attendance.” So as long as the leaders can make it, meet—even if there’s only one or two other people joining you. 

During The Meeting:

  1. 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.
  2. Avoid having/creating multiple conversations.
    • Side conversations in a group environment are often helpful, however they are difficult to do digitally. It can be distracting and even chaotic to have multiple conversations taking place at one time during a zoom call.
    • If you have the need to start a side conversation, consider using the chat feature to do this to allow everyone greater focus on the main conversation taking place.
  3. Be an assertive facilitator.
    • The facilitator 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.
  4. 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.
      • In Zoom, you can “raise your hand” digitally in the “Participants” screen.
      • Or you can have group members physically raise their hands to indicate they have something to say.
    • Utilize the “chat” features to post questions for discussion that are easy to answer to get conversation started as a facilitator you can build off chat responses and ask follow-up questions.
  5. Be a MORE active facilitator, quarterback your small group meeting!
    • As a facilitator you will need to be more active in online small group meetings, like a quarterback directing the play.
    • Since it can be awkward to know when to talk, the facilitator calling directly on people is more acceptable in a digital environment.
      • Hey we haven’t heard from so and so in a while, do you have any thoughts on this?
    • Be more aware of the transition between crawl, walk, run questions. There is a big different in a digital environment between softball questions everyone can answer and questions that require large amounts of transparency and vulnerability.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Our groups may not be able to meet physically together for a while, but that doesn’t mean they cannot meet at all. Consider making use of these wonderful online platforms with your groups during this season and watch God do amazing things in and through all of you.

What other tips can share as your small group meets online?