How to use ZOOM for larger groups so that it doesn’t suck: 3 Strategies for success

This is about maximising Zoom for groups of 20 to 25

How can I use Zoom for larger groups so that it doesn't suck?

This is a follow up to my recent post on How to Use Zoom for Teaching Online

If you have recently made the switch from face-to-face meetings or classes to online using Zoom or similar technologies you might wondering how to keep things interactive and engaging.

This is a valid concern as it’s very easy to let things slide into the online equivalent of Death-By-Powerpoint + Monologue. This is the fate of a lot of webinars and it sucks.

There are a few good resources and ideas out there, but what follows below is my own take on what’s working for me.

With a smaller group, of – say 5 or 6 – people, it’s less of an issue, as you can actually have a conversation.

But you might have to deal 20 or 30 people at a time, or more. What are you going to do then to make it so that it doesn’t suck?

I’m not so worried about the super large groups – let’s say more than 30. Because, I think that if your group is bigger than 30 or in the hundreds, then Zoom is probably not the right platform.

There are other ways of getting your message out for really big groups and audiences. For example, if you have to get your message out to more than 30 or even hundreds of people, you should probably just two do one two things:

  1. Pre-record it and then broadcast it; or
  2. Use some kind of live-streaming technology that allows you to broadcast live to an unlimited number of people, perhaps with a couple of remote guests and perhaps with audience access to a text-based chat for feedback and questions.

The first option here is easy and you can do it with a combination of your phone plus Youtube or any platform that allows you to upload video.

The second option is a bit more complex and it’s something I’m investigating at the moment. For example, friends of mine use video chat on various platforms plus live-streaming technologies.

But actually, I don’t want to talk about either of those two options right now. Instead, I want to describe a particular format that is working well for some of the work that I’m doing with groups of around 20 to 25 participants.

One of my projects is meeting with representative groups from the education sector to review some of our qualifications. These are not classes or tutorials, but I think the same format would work for some online learning situations.

Here’s what we do. This is all actionable advice and practical steps you can implement, copy or adapt.

It’s a simple and effective approach and runs really well via our organisation’s enterprise Zoom account:

1. Do the work before the Zoom

This beforehand stuff is super important as it means we can condense what would normally be an expensive in-person, day-long meeting where we have to fly people in from around the country. We:

  1. Do our due diligence: My co-facilitators and I work really hard to understand the content that we’re working with. This takes time and requires, in this case, a lot of reading and synthesising complex material, breaking it down into simpler components.
  2. Do a survey: Where we lack information or we’re looking to find out what people are thinking, we use Survey Monkey to send out a short survey to get a sense of people’s perceptions, ideas or thoughts. This helps us set the tone later for our recommendations. There’s a quick Survey Monkey hack at the end of this post.
  3. Compile and send a short overview in advance: Once we feel we know what we’re talking about and what our participants need to know we summarise and compile this in a short document which we send out a week prior to the meeting.
  4. Schedule the Zoom: We do this with clear messaging around time, date and expectations regarding what the meeting is for and what people need to do to prepare. We also state the duration of the session so people can plan their time accordingly. It’s important to set the tikanga or describe the way we want to run things in advance to avoid confusion or other problems.
  5. Plan breakout groups in advance: Our Zoom sessions use the Breakout-Room feature of Zoom. This is excellent, but it pays to have someone organised to manage this including with a list of names as to who goes in which group. Note: for three groups you only need two breakout rooms, as one group just stays in the main room (Hat tip to John Milne for this)
  6. Plan polls in advance: We don’t always use them, but sometimes we will plan to poll the group on one or two questions. We work this out in advance and supply the exact wording to whoever is managing the Zoom tech on the day.

2. Have a clear structure for your Zoom session

For face-to-face meetings, it’s expensive to use a lot of facilitators. But with Zoom, and since everyone is remote anyway, and we’re limiting the time, it’s now a lot cheaper. So, we:

  • Use three facilitators with one of these in charge of the technology including break-out rooms, polls and support.
  • Have an extra person, on occasion, to help with some of the note taking if required.
  • Schedule a 90 minute session in total with a 45 minute breakout session.

And we use structure the Zoom session as follows:

  1. Pre-start meeting for facilitators: We – the facilitators – meet 20 minutes before the main session via a separate Zoom link. This is to check any last minute details or discuss anything of note that has arisen since we last spoke. It has to be a separate Zoom link as some overly zealous participants will log into the main Zoom as early as 15 minutes prior to the start time, which means if they’re there we can’t discuss things as freely as we might want to.
  2. Welcome: This includes a very quick greeting or mihi whakatau. To do the greetings, we can see people’s names on the screen so one of the facilitators goes around the room prompting each person to say a very quick hello and state their organisation and role. We also say in the session that people are welcome to add further greetings or information about themselves to the main Zoom chat as they feel inclined. [10 minutes]
  3. Agenda: This is very tight and brief and includes mention of anything tricky or important but also acknowledges that time will go quickly and that there will be other channels for adding comments and thoughts after the Zoom if people don’t feel that they’ve had enough of a say. We may also address any technical issues as required. [10 minutes]
  4. Breakout: One facilitator then introduces the breakout rooms and sends people to them. As noted, to get three groups we only need 2 breakout rooms as one group stays in the main room. Usually, we get about five, six or seven participants per room.

    Something we’ve noticed though is that latecomers, or people who are booted out of the room by poor internet connections, can only rejoin the main room. You can’t reassign them to one of the breakouts.

    In the breakout sessions, we usually start with quick introductions again as needed, usually with each person stating their interest in the subject matter or something similar to establish rapport.

    Usually, what follows is very focused and intense discussion about the topics at hand. And we record these sessions. [45 minutes]
  5. Breakout summaries: After the 45 minutes are up (you can watch this counting down on the top of your screen), all participants are automatically teleported back to the main room. At this time, each of the group facilitators does a 5 minute summary of the breakout room discussion. [15 minutes]
  6. Open forum: As we near the end of the 90 minutes we encourage a roughly 10-minute open forum for discussion with everyone often picking up key issues from the breakouts or other matters not yet discussed. [10 minutes]
  7. Close Zoom session: Once we reach the 90 minute timeframe we thank the participants and we close the meeting. In closing, we ask participants to note any feedback regarding the session in the main Zoom chat. We also let them know that that there will be a follow up survey in a day or two with a full written summary.
  8. Facilitators Debrief: After the sessions, we – the facilitators – stay on the Zoom call and debrief. The time frame for this varies depending on what tasks have arisen from the session. Some times, we break for lunch first and then debrief afterwards.

3. Have a post-Zoom plan or strategy

After the Zoom follow up is also important. Here’s what’s working for us. Typically, we will:

  • Compile notes from break out groups: Each facilitator compiles their own notes from the breakout and forwards them to one of our group. This person then compiles all of the notes for further distribution. We anonymise the comments if needed.
  • Send a new survey: Based on our notes and depending on what has arisen in the Zoom session we draft a follow up survey using Survey Monkey. This is to extend and capture decisions from the discussion, or to ask questions where we need more information.

    One hack I’ve discovered is that one of us can draft a survey using a free personal Survey Monkey account, and then share a copy with the organisation’s enterprise account.

    This is a workaround to the problem that the organisation subscription for Survey Monkey only allows three users and these cannot be shared with others outside of the main admin and comms staff. See the very end of this post for instructions on how to do this if you’re interested.
  • Send out notes and survey to participants: We try to have notes and the follow up survey shared with the workshop participants within 24 hours of the session.

We’re following this format with several groups across a series of at least three meetings with each over the next couple of months.

That’s it… I have some further notes on the Survey Monkey hack mentioned above which I’ll post below if you’re interested.

Otherwise, if you found this useful, please share with others or leave me a comment and let me know.

How to write a survey in Survey Monkey using your own free account and then share with someone else (e.g. an Enterprise Account) for branding and distribution

  1. Create a survey in your own free Survey Monkey account.
  2. When complete, go to MY SURVEYS (not DASHBOARD).
  3. Find the survey in the list on the screen then click the three dots under the column marked MORE.
  4. Then Click SEND A COPY (not TRANSFER).
  5. And enter the other account’s user name.

This sounds simple and it is, but because the organisation I’m working for can’t add me to their enterprise account for Survey Monkey it means I can design the survey I like natively in Survey Monkey rather than writing it out in an email or document and sending it.

If you found this useful, you might also enjoy my recent post on How to Use Zoom for Teaching Online

Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

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