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  • Kate Ainscough

Five Free Tools To Run Online Workshops



Up until a few months ago, I had never run an online workshop and to be honest I just wasn't sure that I would be able to manage the tech and facilitate at the same time. I've been experimenting over the last few months and I would now recommend these simple tools. The best thing is that at the entry level, which has been fine for me so far, they are all free.


1.Miro – Collaborative Whiteboard Platform

Miro is just awesome; it’s so much more than a virtual whiteboard. It’s an online space where you can invite your clients to collaborate using virtual flying post-it notes. It also has so many great preloaded templates, e.g. business model canvas, empathy map, retrospectives and a complete set for running a design sprint. This means you can design a complete workshop on Miro and then open up the board to your clients. As the facilitator you do the design work beforehand; all your clients need to do is turn up and collaborate. The free version only entitles you to three boards, but there is no limit on space on each board. However, the inbuilt video communication is not available. I’ve been using it in conjunction with Zoom and it works like a dream. Using Zoom you can also set up separate breakout rooms allowing people to work on different parts of the board at the same time.


Below is an example of a simple board I created. I’ve also been inspired by the amazing boards the Design Council created for their recent roundtable on Sustainable Living. They have blended the digital and physical environment beautifully, even incorporating digital hanging plants.





I hear good things about Mural too, which has a free 30-day trial but this video from AJ&Smart about running remote design sprints made me think I should give Miro a go.

2. Mentimeter - Real Time Feedback

Mentimeter is a slick tool for receiving feedback as you are facilitating. Before your session begins, using the free version you can preload three questions for your audience. Each question has a unique code; I ask delegates to answer the questions on their phones. The answers appear as if by magic on your presenting screen, displayed in one of the various templates you can use such as word clouds, bar charts, open-ended or scales. I often use the open-ended template to capture feedback at the end of the session and bar charts to check in on how comfortable people are feeling with the content I’m introducing.


Here is an example from a recent workshop; it’s great for driving engagement and capturing feedback in real time without going around the room.

3. Paper (by WeTransfer) – Digital Flip chart

This is the tool I use when I want to draw a quick sketch or write a quick list during a session, I think of it as my digital flipchart. The free version Paper has limited design functionality but still an amazing range of drawing tools and perfectly adequate for my needs. The way I make this work is by inviting my iPad to the Zoom call and sharing my screen. I’m absolutely not an artist and didn’t want to invest in an Apple Pencil so I bought this stylus and I’ve been delighted with the results. During a workshop it looks like I’m just drawing off the top of my head, but I have actually practiced many times beforehand so I know exactly what colour changes and tools I’m going to use. It can be tricky for me to draw and talk at the same time!


Here’s an example of the design thinking double diamond I drew in a recent workshop using my stylus and iPad.



4. Slack – Communication Tool

Remote workshops work best if you can get your audience warmed up beforehand. I’ve been setting up Slack Workspaces prior to a workshop; Slack is free for small teams. This provides me with a way of building engagement, answering any concerns and building momentum before the event. Some of my clients use Microsoft Teams and I’ve used this for the same purpose, but I find Slack much easier to use. During the online workshop you can also use Slack as a back channel to communicate with your client or sponsor to make sure everyone is happy and the workshop is delivering.

5. Word – Planning Document

OK, technically not free but we all use something. I’ve always been a meticulous planner of workshops and for face to face sessions I’ve always had a detailed minute by minute plan. For online workshops this planning has now increased significantly; sometimes I feel like I’m directing a full-scale production. I’m also using a lot less PowerPoint so my Word planning document now includes script notes, e.g. thank sponsor; reminders to smile and look at camera and a lot of technical ques like reset Mentimeter slide or open up break out rooms in Zoom. On the day this planning document is probably the most important tool in my toolbox.

I’m getting more confident running these online workshops but I’m yet to deliver the perfect session as something with the tech always goes a little wrong. The first time I sent out Zoom invites they ended up in my clients’ junk folder, in my last session the YouTube video I was sharing just wouldn’t stop. However, when I start the workshops I always explain to my clients that I’m experimenting and learning and they should expect something not to go to plan; so far my clients have been really understanding and the feedback has been great.


I’m absolutely no expert but really happy to share my learnings so far with any freelancers/contractors/ self employed who are looking to take the first steps. Please drop me an email at Hello@freestyleinnovation.co.uk

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