10 creative ideas for virtual workshops

The global pandemic has left event organizers, community builders, and human resources no choice but to bring their events and workshops online. But without the perks of physical experiences and real, in-person communication, the big question is: can you make this virtual event as effective or interesting as an offline one? 

The answer is yes

There are so many games, tools, and video conferencing platforms out there that can make virtual events highly engaging, even when everyone is apart. Here are a few ideas you can apply to your next workshop:

Conduct collaborative mind mapping sessions

Mind mapping is a popular team building activity that can be used in workshops. It’s a collaborative and written version of brainstorming where members take a subject and jot down anything connected to it. 

For example, “time management” can correlate to words like “organization,” “monitoring,” and “supervision.” Teams can then group similar words and work together to come up with themes, which in turn lends itself to solving organizational problems. 

Screenshot of Miro for mind mapping

You can use tools like Miro to create virtual mindmaps that everyone can work on at once. Put a time limit for members to jot down their thoughts, and then get on a call to discuss key learnings. Who knows what you might discover this time around?  

Host virtual icebreakers

It might seem funny to host an icebreaker when everyone’s online and calling in from separate rooms, but virtual icebreakers can do wonders in softening up an audience and making them feel more welcome and engaged. 

These don’t have to be elaborative or complex—in fact, the simpler, the better if you want to get your whole audience to participate. Something as simple as getting everyone to share six-word memoirs or give quick tours of their homes can really do the trick. 

You can find some fun, easy to implement virtual icebreaker ideas here

This is perfect for new communities that are still getting to know each other. Because it’s impossible to get together in real life, you can give your audience something to bond over during your workshop. 

Separate members into virtual breakout rooms

In-person workshops have “breakout rooms” or “breakout sessions” that essentially group members into teams to ideate and discuss certain topics. You can use this concept and apply it in virtual workshops as well. 

A video conferencing platform that focuses on driving engagement and participation like Toasty allows meeting participants to quickly split into groups, then get to know each other and work collectively on topics and discussion in a seamless way.

Screenshot of toasty

Have everyone submit virtual sketches

Sketching out ideas is useful whether you work in the animation industry or not. 

Everyone’s got a different learning style. Some people are better at reading instructions or listening to announcements. Meanwhile, others are more comfortable with visual cues, choosing to learn and convey information through images. 

This could be a good activity for virtual workshops, especially if you’ve exhausted the usual speaker-listener format. Teams that split up in various “breakout rooms” can create sketches on another platform, like the aforementioned Miro, and submit them via the Group Response feature. From there, teams can then vote for their favorite sketch idea and discuss the next steps. 

It’s good to test out different forms of brainstorming and ideating, which makes virtual sketches a valuable exercise. 

Have a virtual design thinking session

Design thinking is a popular methodology used in software development to solve complex problems. These days, all kinds of businesses are implementing design thinking in their practice, whether it’s to create new products or improving customer experience. 

The reason it’s so popular is that it is inherently customer-centric—it puts humans at the center of all its processes and frameworks, resulting in products and services that customers would love. 

In the brainstorming phase, a lot of design thinking workshops make use of sticky notes, where one sticky note represents one idea. Sticky notes are useful because it allows people to pick up an idea, bucket it with other similar ideas, and move it around. Teams can simulate this activity online through collaborative online boards like Miro.  

Screenshot of Miro for design thinking

These virtual whiteboards allow teams to keep brainstorming and solving problems, even in the midst of the pandemic. 

This allows the host to either direct participants to interact with other participants who have similar interests, or engage participants to discuss with other participants who have different opinions.

Conduct temperature checks through physical cues

You know how workshop speakers or facilitators pause in the middle of their program to ask the crowd how they’re doing? Well, that’s called a temperature check, and it’s useful in scenarios where you want to understand how your audience or your teammates are feeling at the moment. 

Are they keeping up with your thought process? Do they agree or disagree with what you’re saying? Are they losing you somewhere? 

You can gauge their engagement based on their facial expressions, posture, and gestures. If they’re leaning forward in their seats, they’re probably engaged. If they’re mindlessly tapping their feet, they may be growing impatient. 

In a virtual setting, these visual cues are pretty difficult to catch. Instead, you can ask your audience to create cue cards with the numbers one to five written on each, or frowning faces and smiley faces if that’s more of your thing, to represent how they’re feeling during any part of your program. 

So when you stop to ask them if they’re keeping up, they can just raise their cue cards and you can take a break or keep going based on their feedback. 

Spruce up your virtual presentations

What is a workshop without a presentation? An effective presentation is simple, concise, and engaging on any platform. However, the way you deliver you an effective presentation is different in an online setting. 

You can’t use physical cues to emphasize certain points and it’s hard to get the audience to focus all their attention on you when there’s Facebook Messenger open in one of their tabs. (See: Treat your virtual audience like 5-year olds.)

Instead, you’ll have to supplement your presentation with useful audience interaction tools to keep them actively participating. For example, you can turn on your camera and use real-life props to demonstrate an idea. Or you can ditch Microsoft Excel in favor of more dynamic and non-linear presentation software, such as Prezi. You can even integrate interactive tools like virtual quizzes, polls, and anonymous voting to create more live interaction, which we’ll talk more about later. 

screenshot of Prezi

Integrate chats, polls, and anonymous voting into the program

Audience participation is also very different in an online setting, thanks to new interactive tools like chats, polls, and anonymous voting.

Because it would be rude and highly disruptive for attendees to just unmute their microphones and talk over the speaker to ask a question at any moment, virtual chats allow audience members to slip in a question in the middle of the talk for the speaker to get back to later. It’s also useful for discreet updates to the speaker like, “BRB bathroom break” or “NO SOUND!” 

Polls and anonymous voting lets members actively participate in the program. You can ask them about what topic they would like to talk about next, or what activity they would like to do to synthesize their learnings through a poll. If attendees are shy about their vote, you can also make it so they vote anonymously. 

Think of them as co-creators—by providing these tools they can help decide on the program and workshop they want. Not only does this make for a better session for attendees, but it also provides you insights on how you can make an even better workshop the next time around.

In the past, you have to use two separate platforms for video conferencing and audience engagement. Now Toasty offers the engagement activities directly on their video meeting platform, saving a ton of time needed for the participants to set up and increasing the participation rate in the virtual room.

Play virtual quizzes

Workshops are meant to be informative, but they don’t have to be in your typical speaker-listener kind of format. If you really want your audience to retain and apply the information shared in your lecture, you need to make your workshop more hands-on.

Virtual quizzes are an exciting and energizing way to make learning fun. Not only will it release the competitiveness in people and allow them to actively participate in the workshop, but it will also incentivize the audience to soak up as much information as they can. 

You can use quizzes to, well, quiz the audience on some key learnings from the program. Or, you have the option to use quizzes as in icebreaker. For example, Toasty has a feature called Who Said That? and you can have the audience guess who among them said what was flashed in a card based on their first impressions of different members. 

Host sales and leadership training

Virtual sales and leadership trainings aren’t just useful during this era of self-quarantine, research shows that it’s an effective platform for learning altogether. 

According to a survey conducted by Training Industry, Inc., 50% of respondents said they found virtual training modalities like e-learning to be “very useful” for impacting sales learning. This is driven by the young population who expects learnings to be delivered in “mobile formats and bite-sized increments,” as well as the growing trend of remote or distributed teams. 

The global e-learning market is expected to reach US$238 billion by 2024 due to the growing demand for optimized content and increasing adoption of self-paced learning modules by the corporate sector. 

What’s important is that your program contains pertinent information and offers functionalities to ensure effectiveness. You can gamify the experience through hosting breakout sessions and playing virtual quizzes, or you can keep track of their feelings through physical cues. In fact, you can use any of the ideas we stated above to enrich your training program. 

So if you haven’t been conducting training online, then now is a good time to start.

Remaining engaged while being remote

While it’s easy to fall into the trap of isolation, there is no reason for us to remain disconnected from each other when there’s the potential for so many fun and interesting workshops online. In fact, learning how to conduct workshops on a different platform can be useful in the long run.

In the era of remote teams and decentralized learning, the virtual workshop is something that event organizers, community builders, and businesses can consider implementing in the future, pandemic or none. In the meantime, it’s a powerful tool to bring people together.

🍧  Engagement is the number one thing a facilitator should focus on to add value to the experience. In our view at Toasty, engagement means getting your participants to actively take part in the conversations and keeping your virtual workshops fast-paced. You can easily do so with Toasty’s ready-made templates and a powerful engagement toolbar.