August 2020 - At the peak of the pandemic, UNITAR faced undoubtedly one of its most significant challenge of its history, by having to transfer the majority of its activities online. It is a well-accepted fact that diplomacy relies consequentially on informal face-to-face interaction. As Mr. El-Haddad, Director of the Division for Multilateral Diplomacy (DMD), once put it: “Diplomacy cannot be efficient and effective unless it is conducted face-to-face”. For the Division for Multilateral Diplomacy, which specializes in training diplomats, transferring face-to-face activities online was certainly a momentous challenge.
However, six months later, a full series of e-workshops, successful transition of the Core Diplomatic Training, and with promising turn out in e-learning courses and online diplomas, one can safely assert that UNITAR’s workshops activities in diplomacy successfully operated its online transitions. As the numbers of new cases, unfortunately, rose in the first two months of the year, UNITAR identified the best tools and practices to successfully operate such transition. With the benefit of the hindsight, UNITAR is proud to share its best practices, coupled with selected participants’ feedback, for a smooth running of online workshops.
Exploit the potential of your conference tool
UNITAR workshops strive to fully stimulate the VARK model of education (Visual, Aural, Read/Write, and Kinaesthetic) sensory modalities. To maximise the dynamism of your online event, it is vital to identify a videoconferencing software that provides a wide variety of tools. Look for functionalities that enable a division of participants into groups, screen sharing, public and private chat, question and answers, and polls.This enables creative and flexible methodological designs, that allows to maximise the interactive potential of your activity.
“It was the first time for me that I took an online course. I found it very effective but somehow different from a face to face course. It is certainly worthwhile … I would recommend this” - Executive Diploma on International Law in the 21st Century participant
Always have several hosts
Ensure that your chosen videoconferencing tool enables you to appoint several moderators hosting your online event at the same time, with either identical or similar control over the event. If that is the case, always have a co-facilitator during your event, as well as more than one device available per facilitating staff. This has not been pre-assigned. To maintain professionalism and avoid such situations, it is vital to have a co-facilitator who can accept you back in the session. Furthermore, your back-up staff can serve as a support unit to handle any technical issues for both participants, and hosts, hence lifting the burden for your speaker of having to worry about technical issues.
“Everything was perfect! Inevitable minor technical hick-ups were solved immediately and proved that a virtual meeting can be just as effective as face-to-face, even in the area of personal training” - Core Diplomatic Training participant.
Test your meeting ahead of time
It is important to enable all the additional functions, and test the functionalities thereof, before starting the meeting This process can take some time, and you might run into unexpected issues if you are not very familiar with the settings. It is therefore advisable to schedule the meeting ahead of time and to test out the link with other colleagues to ensure that everything works properly.
For interactive e-workshops, use Zoom tools to your advantage
It is always best that the majority of participants keep their videos on, but the microphone muted unless they need to speak, as the background noise can be highly disruptive. If their camera is on, this encourages participation as they have fewer chances to "hide" behind the screen, and the facilitator can encourage the participation of shy or quiet participants by ‘spotlighting’ their video. Depending on the videoconferencing software, you will have several options to encourage participation. Certain software include functions that enable a participant to request the floor—so-called “raise hand” functions. Use the tools at your disposal creatively. If your videoconferencing software does not have a wide range of tools, encourage participants to use the chatbox to encourage indirect participation and involvement.The content produced by those tools can be used by the speaker as material to strengthen the discussion
“Firstly, thanks to you for the excellent manner in which you facilitate this course especially the smooth execution of the online functions. It is my second experience with online learning at UNITAR and I have been pleasantly surprised by the highly interactive method that has been achieved. The Breakout Rooms have been a wonderful surprise for me and form a rich part of learning in this workshop.” - E-workshop series participant.
Mind the time
Web sessions are quite intense, so it is recommended to have a 5-10 minutes break on the hour to keep concentration and participation levels high. You can use break rooms types of functionalities to help keeping the breaks on schedule, whilst timing the break rooms to have all the participants bounce back at the end of the break. Taking into account that participants may come from different time zones around the world, it is recommended to make sure that the structure of your event takes that variable into consideration and that you choose a format that enables people from multiple time zones to join (for example, consider a 3-4 day workshop with shorter sessions rather than 1 or 2 full days);
“I am so glad I was able to participate in the workshop. Despite the early start each day, the material was so relevant and so articulately presented... The way the course was structured and material presented was very interesting and the exercises provided to the participants during the “breakout” session were so engaging.” - E-workshop series participant
It is always best to record your sessions, not only for internal purposes but also for participants who have issues joining the live session. Some participants with weaker internet connection may keep getting in and out of the e-workshop, and it would be useful to have the meeting recorded for them to catch up on the parts they missed. Some experts may have reservations with being recorded and this of course also depends on the confidentiality of the meeting. However, try where possible to convince them of the benefits.
“There's been lots of positive response from students who did join the webinar…Most of all our students have later written to thank us for the recording” - International Affairs and Diplomacy course instructor.
Brief your experts
It is vital to ensure that your speakers are very confident and well-versed in the technology, to give the impression that things are smooth and natural, as in a face-to-face setting. For example, ensuring that experts are confident in how to share their screen with or without sound, as well as keeping an eye on the chat at all times and avoid constant check-ins as much as possible (can you hear me..? is this working..?) all small changes that can have a major impact on the image of your live event.
For more information on UNITAR’s upcoming activities, please click here
Established in 1965, UNITAR is an autonomous institution within the United Nations system with a mission to deliver innovative training and conduct research on knowledge systems to develop the capacities of its beneficiaries. As the training arm of the UN, its mission is to develop capacities to enhance global decision-making and to support country level action for shaping a better future.
At the heart of UNITAR, the Division for Multilateral Diplomacy (DMD) delivers training and support workshops to address the needs of diplomats, government officials, international civil servants and students to meet complex, global challenges. UNITAR’s Division for Multilateral Diplomacy activities cover a wide range of policy domains, including bilateral and multilateral negotiation, environmental and climate change diplomacy, economic diplomacy, international law, human rights, diplomatic protocol, Agenda 2030 and other related topics, as well as capacities and skills development activities such as diplomatic report writing, public speaking, media relations and negotiation techniques, among many others.
For more information on UNITAR’s upcoming activities, please click here