Top Five Tips for Virtual Facilitators and Moderators

06 Aug Top Five Tips for Virtual Facilitators and Moderators

As coronavirus rapidly spreads across the globe, conferences, symposiums, and summits are transitioning from in-person to virtual events. There are pros and cons to this transition. Through our extensive knowledge and understanding of human communication, we’ve been helping executives who have been placed into virtual conferences learn how to facilitate a virtual event with success.


Why does your success as a virtual moderator matter? It matters because you are essentially managing both the event and the participants. It’s your job to set a welcoming tone, orchestrate an interesting conversation, handle Q and A, and wrap up the session on time. These are skills that you may not be doing regularly in your current role, and it’s essential to learn new tools and techniques to show your expertise. If done well, you will demonstrate leadership qualities that could lead to new opportunities for you and your organization.


At The Speech Improvement Company, we have seen a 79% increase within the last three months of people asking for coaching on virtual best practices concerning communication, presentation skills, facilitation, and moderating.


A skilled moderator or facilitator helps the group understand the common objectives and reaches them in a short amount of time. The facilitator or moderators’ goal in a virtual setting, such as WebEx, Zoom, or GoToWebinar, is to encourage participants’ involvement and control the conversation’s flow.


Facilitating and moderating virtually creates challenges. During the event, participants can multi-task, walk away, or disconnect entirely, any time they choose. How many of you reading this do more than one thing if your camera is off during a virtual event?


For this reason, the moderator must keep everyone engaged. Remember, successful facilitating and moderating means creating opportunities for interaction, engagement, and a synthesis of the information. It’s critical for the success of your virtual conference to know how to orchestrate these engagement opportunities. 


As an experienced corporate coach for over 20 years, and a virtual conference participant, I repeatedly see the same fatal errors. Here are five of my top tips for virtual facilitators and moderators: 


1. Engagement starts with eye contact. Use direct eye contact with the camera lens when you are talking and when you want to demonstrate listening, as if the virtual participant is sitting right there in the room. Most people are looking at the gallery view of participants or their own image when they speak on video. This lack of eye contact can create the impression that you are looking at something else entirely. When you are talking and listening, you need to be looking at the camera lens. This takes practice and feels counterintuitive, but trust me, it looks great.


2. Review the attendee list. First, who is attending this virtual conference? What do they already know? What do they want to know? What type of content would be valuable for them? Your audience (we refer to them as listeners) is likely to be at the conference for either education, networking, or both, so ensure you are providing what they want. When you know your participants’ demographics, background, education, and interests, you can provide them with valuable content and conversations.


3. Request a technical run-through in advance. If possible, practice interacting on the chosen software platform with the panel involved in the event.  In your tech rehearsal, have everyone test their webcam and microphone settings. Do this even if the speakers claim they have used the software before. Double-check that the speakers will be using the same computer on the day of the event itself. Unnecessary technical issues are one of the quickest ways to lose your listeners.


4. Follow the “one person at a time” approach. Facilitators need to have “rules of the virtual road.” Use the raise hand feature in some platforms to call on people, state the rule of one speaker at a time, and don’t be afraid to say, “Tracy, let’s hear from you, and then it’s David’s turn.” These tools maximize participation by all, even the introverts, or speakers that are new to virtual conferences.


5. Reserve time at the end of the event to recap, review, and answer questions from attendees. Find bridges and synthesize what is shared. “Mark, in the last question you answered… and what I hear now is that…” Be the one to put it all together. Many panels end with a Q and A, and they can get unruly fast.  What if there are no questions? Should you create some in advance just in case? Yes, we believe it doesn’t hurt to prepare two or three “seed questions” that allow you to kick things off. If you choose not to create seed questions, you’ll need to discuss how to handle situations where no one asks a question. Will you end the event early? Will you just talk casually about topics that were brought up earlier? Find a way to handle this awkward situation without getting flashbacks to the house party you threw in 2019, where no one showed up: so much herbed goat cheese, so few friends.


Moving a conference online requires different virtual skills and techniques. Use these five tips to help you become more confident and engaging during virtual events as a moderator or facilitator.


By way of introduction, I’m one of the Executive Communication Coaches at The Speech Improvement Company, based in Boston. We are the oldest communication coaching and training firm in America. I’m headquartered in beautiful Austin, Texas. My colleagues are coaching around the world.


For over 50 years, we’ve been delivering one-on-one communication coaching to individuals and conducting workshops for groups. I’ve remotely coached conference speakers, moderators, and panelists worldwide with great results, and I look forward to being helpful to you.



Laura Mathis

[email protected]