First and foremost, these are social programs. Participants are sharing an experience with you, a friend or loved one, and with other participants. As a facilitator, it is important to find ways to include everyone throughout each session, and to seek out and encourage participation. While some participants will contribute eagerly, others may hesitate for many reasons – worry about not knowing the answer, feeling self conscious about their changing abilities, difficulties finding the words they want, or with understanding and expression of their ideas. They may have difficulty knowing how to ‘jump in’ to a conversation. Some will only want (or be able) to participate in non-verbal ways. Ensure everyone has an opportunity to express themselves in a way that works for them. Get to know your group and their preferred level and style of participation, and be sure to give each person regular opportunities.
As a facilitator, in-person programs may be the easiest for you to keep track of everyone’s participation. You will be able to observe body language, attention, and to see who wants to contribute. Participants may raise their hand, or even begin speaking right away. Others can be called upon by name – name tags are important to help you with this. Depending on your group size you may be able to ask each participant about each object, or you may need to limit each to a smaller number of people – just be sure you give everyone a chance throughout the program. At times, it can also be useful to make use of ‘group participation’ techniques – hands up to show preference or consensus, or thumbs up or down. Be sure to vary your invitations to participate with a variety of formats to keep things interesting.
Balanced participation during virtual programs can be a bit trickier to navigate. Always remember that technology can be a barrier for some people. We have found it best to avoid reliance on the ‘hands up’ option or the chat on online platforms. Unless there is a lot of background noise, we avoid turning mics on and off for the same reason. Most of our programs run with everyone with cameras and mics on, so that we can see everyone and interact with more comfortable in-person cues, like hands up. The simplest way to manage conversations is to develop a routine of calling on participants by name, rotating among your group. As a facilitator, having a list of names beside you is very helpful, to check off each time you’ve engaged someone, so you know you are including everyone. Be sure to let participants know you will call on them by name, and that they can ‘pass’ at any time.