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10 Tips For Hosting On-line Discussions

An excellent set of tips gleaned from a number of clients that are dipping their toes into the "online/real-time discussions" (think whole company same time IM and/or blogging).
  1. Ensure someone guides the group towards its purpose.
    What is the outcome we want to achieve?
  2. Help create a sense of community at the beginning - introduce fellow members, introduce the topic (include some of your thoughts) and encourage people to share their thoughts
  3. Acknowledge contributions and support discussions with further questions (eg how to achieve this etc)
  4. Stimulate/throw open discussions.
  5. Manage what's 'lost in translation':
    • its much easier for things to be misinterpreted on-line - assume goodwill/positive intent in the first instance to avoid triggering conflicts
    • check out assumptions being made in the discussion
  6. Inclusion – appeal to both common ground and diversity e.g. "has anyone had any experiences/thoughts that have been similar/different?"
  7. 'Moderating' - manage any 'over-contributors', ensure contributions meet corporate principles etc
  8. Summarise and 'harvest' - close the topic off with a synthesis/summary of what evolved during the interaction.
  9. Connecting people - Spot opportunities to encourage ongoing discussions after the on-line chat session.
  10. Provide a visible closure for the event.
    Ensure the event doesn't dissolve into nothingness and dissipate group energy.

With all of these types of "hints and tips" I think we all agree that they are mostly comprised of commonsense and politeness. The only one that warrants a little extra focus is #5, we all know that sarcasm and ambiguity thrive in the online world, be careful. Especially be careful around the trap of thinking you are closer (emotionally) to someone than you really are just because you've had a long online chat with them - you don't, and witty and clever banter usually misfires.

I also applaud #9 - the best communities are those that exist and thrive beyond the on-line world.

In essence, be polite, be focused and act as you would talking face-to-face.