Designing and facilitating a successful virtual workshop

I recently had the opportunity of facilitating a virtual design workshop for the SheHacks Hackathon. Running virtual design workshops are distinctively different from in-person. There’s a lack of insight into energy levels, what participants may be struggling with, and visual cues.

Pavi facilitating the virtual workshop for SheHacks
  • Duration: 1 hour
  • 100+ participants
  • I won’t be able to see any of the participants
  • Hopin(webinar tool) doesn’t have breakout rooms
  • Interactive workshop and different from a generic design thinking workshop

Since the pandemic, virtual workshops are something I’d have to do from time to time at work. However, leading a workshop with over 100 participants, where I’m unable to see nor interact face to face, made planning this a challenge. Here’s my approach to making the virtual workshop successful.

Step 1: Workshop Value

I first started by thinking about the value for students from this workshop. Reflecting on my experiences, the one thing I wished I learned earlier was how to solve whiteboard problems during an interview. Rapid problem solving is an essential aspect of a product design interview that shows the interviewer how you think through problems. I thought this would connect well with the context that students are in at a hackathon, where they’ll have to solve problems in a short amount of time.

Step 2: Resources & Tools

When I was looking for approaches to solve whiteboard problems during early interviews, I came across Solving product design exercises by Artiom Dashinsky. It helped me frame and organize my thinking for solving whiteboard problems quickly. I used this method to solve problems for my interviews, including Shopify. The most valuable takeaway from this book was the canvas. The canvas takes you through the product thinking step-by-step.

The canvas from Solving product exercises recreated on Figma

I used a problem from the book as a sample for myself and the participants to work through together. To make the workshop interactive and beneficial, I opted to use Figma, considering it’s an industry tool used by product designers and is available for free.

Step 3: Setting up

After setting up the instructions and timelines in Figma, I suddenly realized that most of the participants are beginners and may not have experience using Figma nor understand the basics. It forced me to step back and put myself back in beginner shoes to understand the most important things to know in Figma. I created a Figma basics cheat sheet for students to use. Due to timing constraints, it would be challenging for students to design a complete mockup while considering branding, look and feel. To help speed things up so participants will take the time to think through the problem, I provided them with helpful UI kits to hit the ground running.

The Workshop

During the workshop, it was hard to gauge the participants’ reactions and how they felt. I continuously kept communicating and asking questions. The constant queries encouraged participants to ask questions through the Hopin chat. Since we were working on Figma together, this helped keep the engagement up rather than talking at them.

At the end of the workshop, I asked for feedback and provided my contact info on the Figma file so they can reach out to me anytime for questions. Several participants who were either beginners or who understood Figma responded, saying they found the workshop incredibly helpful and learned new things.

“Really mindful of the fact that we’re actually beginners and that on the stream, she paused and made sure we understood. She also moved at a good pace, not getting caught up with a bunch of questions (i.e., pushing repetitive and small things towards the end and asking people to stay). Comparatively clearer and more efficient than the first two workshops!” — Workshop participant

Learning for next time

Despite timing and keeping the workshop organized, it was a lot to fit into a 1-hour workshop, even though it was beneficial since a lot of time went into getting to know Figma. Next time, I’ll focus on spending quality time on a specific aspect or problem and allow more time for inquiries and questions.

Overall, this was a memorable and fun workshop. I look forward to having more similar opportunities to share my learnings and help early designers grow their understanding.

Toronto-based designer specializing in user experience and visual design.