The Best Tools For Online Innovation Workshops

Given all the restrictions we’re living with, one of the key challenges for facilitators is how to create the same buzz as face to face sessions. This is particularly important in innovation workshops, where spontaneity and energy are vital. Like everybody else, I’ve had to adapt. Having planned and run a few online innovation sessions, here’s what I believe are the key tools and platforms you need.

1 Zoom for Discussions

By now, thanks to lockdown, everyone knows Zoom. For me, it’s still the simplest and most user friendly meeting platform out there. Compared to others, the killer feature is the breakout rooms, which after scanning a few Youtube videos, is easy to use. The ability to get people to work in small teams and your ability as a facilitator to hop between them is priceless. And of course with Gallery View and the Chat Function, everyone can stay connected and involved. I’m sure other platforms work ok, but given a choice, I’ll always opt for Zoom.

2 Mural For Idea Generation

So, with Zoom, you’re able to chat and generate ideas, but how do you capture them? One way is to send out templates or use Google docs for writing up ideas and editing them. This sort of works, but there are limitations. Firstly, one person has to take the lead in writing everything up, which can be frustrating for everyone and puts pressure on the scribe. It’s hard to write whilst everyone is watching and talking. Secondly, you’re only able to capture text or fill out boxes. It lacks the spontaneity or engagement required in idea generation.

Collaboration platforms such as Mural — click here — offer a great alternative and I recommend that you give them a go. Essentially, Mural recreates the feel of a real life innovation workshop in a fully virtual sense. There is a learning curve involved, particularly if you’re a facilitator and you’re trying to set up a session, but it offers much more flexibility and fun for participants. You can use post its, write text, add images, use icons, drag and drop files. In other words, it’s just like a ‘normal’ innovation session. You’ve just got to be pretty nifty with your keyboard and mouse.

A big bonus for me is that post workshop, all the output can be exported as images or pdfs. One of the big challenges in ‘real life’ workshops is writing everything up after the event. It takes ages. Also, often you can’t read the handwriting and the post-it notes fall off the pages. I also hated throwing away all the flipcharts afterwards. Such a waste of paper. With Mural, once you’ve tidied up everything on screen, producing a full, easy to read output document that captures the spirit of the session takes next to no time.

I’m still a relative novice, but am a big fan and would recommend using it for future sessions. It took a bit of time to get used to, but it’s very intuitive and participants seemed to enjoy the experience.

3 WhatsApp for Chitchat

So, you’ve got Zoom for discussion and Mural for capturing ideas. What else do you need? I would recommend setting up a participant WhatsApp Group. The great thing about it, is that everybody (well I imagine everybody) will be familiar with WhatsApp. Unlike Zoom and Mural, there’s no learning curve. Also it’s on your phone. People will read the notifications (in case it’s a message from their loved ones) and your messages won’t get lost in email.

WhatsApp can serve a number of functions in an online Innovation Workshop. In advance you can send out reminders / pre-work. It can be used for technical trouble shooting. “Can you re-send me the Zoom link”. During the session, you can use it to capture feedback. You can incorporate banter and fun stuff. It also feels much more appropriate using WhatsApp for the playful elements of a workshop eg posting gifs / videos / quiz questions. Also the leaders / facilitators can chat via a separate Group to keep in touch.

So in summary:

As facilitators we all need to adapt in order to run amazing innovation workshops in a virtual world. These are the tools that work best for me. I’m sure there are many others out there and new ones being invented all the time. The key is to continue to try out and learn the tools that work for you. In my case, it’s Zoom, Mural and WhatsApp. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well my virtual sessions have worked. It makes me question whether I’ll ever need to dig out my dusty stock of post its, pens and blutac ever again.

London based marketing trainer and coach

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