Welcoming Beyond Facilitation (Less Visible Elements of Intentionally Equitable Hospitality)

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes, 21 seconds

I was in conversation with Mia Zamora and Rissa Sorensen-Unruh yesterday reflecting on MYFest and Intentionally Equitable Hospitality (IEH) and talking about the importance of the role of someone in a virtual workshop, someone other than the main facilitator who plays a kind of “host” role that is not exactly a “tech person” role, but a more caring hospitality role, a noticing role. In Virtually Connecting, we used to have an onsite buddy, a virtual buddy, and usually a virtual co-buddy or backup buddy or such. The roles were clearer and the reasons for them clear as well. I’ve also talked a lot about how hybrid situations need a co-buddy role, someone who can focus with the virtual folks so the facilitator can focus with the in-person folks while also not losing track of the virtual folks. Because most people cannot cognitively handle doing both simultaneously well, if their teaching/facilitation approach is interactive and/or if they’re not extremely tech savvy or just if they’re the type of person who likes to focus. I think hybrid/simultaneous is exhausting for most people. I can usually manage it on my own, but feel drained afterward.

Co-Host-Not-Facilitator Role

In virtual workshops, you can totally have one tech-savvy person manage the tech while also facilitating the workshop, and it’s totally fine. But when you have another person in the room who is helping “host”, in the sense of either managing some of the tech like time, breakout rooms, waiting room, etc., and also “host” in terms of “care” and noticing if participants need something, a hand is raised that no one responded to, or asking questions that participants might feel too shy to ask. This “host” role is someone who can help the facilitator focus on facilitating the actual content, while they help keep a welcoming atmosphere for everyone else. During MYFest, this role was sometimes done naturally, without intention. Like, one of the co-organizers is present at a session that is facilitated by one person alone, and we step up and help a little with these little things. Occasionally, I’ve been in spaces where a participant steps up to do things like that. In general, I think we underestimate the value of this co-host role, of someone who does not need to be facilitating or aware of the content or details of a workshop, but can help the facilitator. When I’ve done it for someone without too much prep, but have agreed to “help”, I’ve told people I’d be their “sidekick”. The role is kind of multi-faceted and shifts depending on the needs of the particular person who’s facilitating. Sometimes, the host will need to do more tech, but sometimes they’ll need to do more care work.

I recently attended a Gamestorming Expedition and there was a co-host who managed some of the tech like the breakout rooms and Miro board timer. The main facilitator was the only facilitator in terms of content, and I know is more than capable of managing all the tech, because I’ve seen him manage really complex tech on the fly to include all participants who had different situations – but it does help to have someone else manage some parts. Also, during the Never Done Before Festival, I volunteered to help out with opening Zoom rooms and such, but one facilitator asked me to stay for the session and help her with some of the tech, putting stuff in the chat, I think maybe also with breakout rooms and similar stuff? In any case, I was happy to do it and I think it helped her relax a little bit, and that’s important.

In MYFest and Equity Unbound and Virtually Connecting, because a lot of us are in the edtech area, and also a lot of us are part of an ongoing community that practices Intentionally Equitable Hospitality (or actually, we’re the community that evolved the practice through reflecting on our practice?), we tend to step up and do these kinds of things for each other naturally – the sharing links in chat, the helping a facilitator see if someone has a question in the chat we missed or a raised hand we didn’t see, or help answer tech questions. In my department, when several of us are in a workshop, and there are many participants, like more than 30, we often do that for each other as well. Another group I’ve seen with this kind of role is Academic Impressions. In their workshops, there is someone you can DM for tech questions, to send you the slides or such, and also if you need anything, and they help the facilitator field questions from the chat, and do some of the tech like breakout rooms as well. In that case, they’re an employee of Academic Impressions and the facilitator is someone who’s just there for that particular day. I think when you have two or more co-facilitators, you may not need an additional (co)host role, unless the two co-facilitators are not tech savvy/confident, which still happens sometimes, even after this pandemic. Things like people who can’t manage looking at the chat while sharing their screens (even I find it confusing to do on a Mac and on some platforms like Teams, even though I’m completely comfortable doing it on Windows and Zoom). An excellent duo to watch manage the tech and hosting together are Anna and Fisher from the Liberating Structures community, but I don’t know if their approach is replicable, because they’re actually sitting next to each other on two computers, whereas most of the time, the two co-facilitators are not co-located. Another situation I found really interesting to observe was in two facilitators of a Convergent Facilitation session, where one person was more experienced and another was new to it, so we were observing some mentoring going on right in front of us, and so I think having someone else support the tech helped because the lead facilitator was also mentoring and not just facilitating.

Welcome Emails/Follow-up Emails

Another thing that I think we don’t speak enough about are those welcome and follow-up communications for people who were together at a workshop. It’s cool that folks can register easily for Zoom stuff online, and get those automated reminders… but there is something to be said for more personalized forms of communication. I think we don’t value this enough: a warmly-toned welcome email, thanking people for registering, reminding them of the time, letting them know what will happen in the session, possibly sending some materials along ahead of time, possibly reminding them to bring a pen/cil or paper or whatever else they need, possibly letting them know about break times or about ethos (e.g. bring along your tea/coffee, children/pets welcome). I’ve noticed in my day-to-day work, that when I send an email to folks confirming an upcoming session a day or so ahead, it increases the conversion from registration to attendance. You know how it is with people, right? They sign up for an online workshop, then only half of them show up? Guilty! I sign up for stuff and half the time don’t show up, often without apology!! I’ve found that a personal reminder email (with or without the Zoom link, as sometimes people struggle to find the Zoom links!) helps a lot!

Follow-up emails are also important, especially if there is an upcoming workshop on a related topic, or they are part of a series or something… and it’s a good chance to share materials, which people often ask for, and to send a feedback form, which people rarely fill (usually easier to ask them to fill it during the session, if there’s time). During the recent Gamestorming Expedition, which was an 18 hours (over 6 sessions) extended workshop, the faciltiator, Dave, sent a very neat follow-up email reminding us of all we’d done, and we needed to do for next time, and linking everything we needed for both of these. He also tended to add some other stuff that would help. I think he probably had 90% of the email pre-written and then added a few tweaks on the day, based on what emerged during the session. I never asked him, maybe I should šŸ™‚

That’s all I’ve got on my mind for now. After writing some of this, it seems obvious, but you know, it really isn’t, because so many people don’t do this kind of thing, or do it in ways that are mechanical and automated, not personal and warm. And the warmth makes all the difference, imho.

Featured Photo of a woman sort of floating while holding an umbrella on a yellow brick background by Edu Lauton on Unsplash (I don’t know why this image showed up when I searched the term hospitality, but I liked it a lot!)

2 thoughts on “Welcoming Beyond Facilitation (Less Visible Elements of Intentionally Equitable Hospitality)

  1. VanessaVaile says:

    Shared this to a major private adjunct group on Facebook since many are still teaching more online/hybrid where they are still not quite comfortable. Now I’m thinking about sending it to non-ed groups I belong to because their meeting and webinar zooms would benefit from it…

    1. Maha Bali says:

      Awesome! Thanks Vanessa. I’m also doing a series on Intentionally Equitable Hospitality in January, if you know folks who might benefit? https://www.eventbrite.com/e/intentionally-equitable-hospitality-series-for-facilitatorsteachers-tickets-496407467097

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