Tips to Creating Rapport in Virtual Facilitation

Tips to create rapport online

Rapport is the ultimate tool for producing results with other people. No matter what you want in life, if you can develop rapport with the right people, you’ll be able to fill their needs, and they will be able to fill yours. -Tony Robbins-

We have heard the word rapport and how important it is when dealing with people. Be it in sales all the way to the mundane such as asking for direction, rapport is a pre-requisite. There is even a poster we use in our sales training that says “No Rapport No Permission to Create”, which means without rapport we can’t create anything with a particular engagement.

Rapport is defined as “a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well.“ by Oxford Languages. While Merriam Webster defines it as “ a relationship characterized by agreement, mutual understanding, or empathy that makes communication possible or easy”. In both definitions, we see the emphasis on the need for rapport to engage others.

In the world of people development and learning and development (L&D), we are always engaging others. It is said rapport is what makes or breaks an engagement. Therefore, rapport building is a skill that must be mastered by executive coaches, trainers, process facilitators and educators. In my own coaching practise, we are to treat every coaching session, even with the same person, as also a rapport building session. It is something that you do all the time not only when we first engage a person.

The same is true as well when we are facilitating online. In fact, to some, it is even more crucial because of the added element of virtual. To some, it is difficult because the screen is somewhat a barrier that is added onto the engagement which otherwise is absent in the usual face-to-face physical facilitation. It is thought to be such a daunting task that there are many facilitators that refuse or resist doing virtual facilitation. To them, you can’t create engagement because it is difficult to create rapport in the virtual space.

Here are a couple of tips that can help you build rapport when facilitating virtually.

1. It is an ongoing concern
Rapport building never ends. It is a fallacy that rapport is needed to be built only at the start. Remember, what can be built can be destroyed. The same goes with rapport. It can be destroyed by as simple as a word we use out of context. We must build and nurture rapport constantly. The more we do this, the stronger and more durable it becomes. Remember to not lose sight of the importance of not only building but also nurturing rapport.

2. It can be designed
Since it is important to build and nurture rapport, it is therefore important for us to be deliberate about it in our engagement sessions. This can be done by building various activities, touchpoints, engagement opportunities etc. into our session design. Be deliberate in your design. Pepper rapport building and nurturing moments throughout your engagement sessions.

3. Be welcoming
One of the greatest advantages of being in virtual is the ability to let someone into the class one at a time and the fact that you know them even before they walk into the session; at least their name. Therefore, welcome your participant by name in a cheerful and friendly manner. If they have not changed their name yet, it is another opportunity for you to create rapport by inviting them to rename themselves and then greeting them by their name. It goes a long way for people to feel welcomed and more importantly feel they are seen and not just another computer screen.

4. Name before a question
In physical face-to-face facilitation, our body language, movement, eye contact can be a partner to us when prompting responses or even readying someone to engage. For example, I might move towards a table to ready someone on the table to engage with me. This micro duration can be a huge support in avoiding embarrassing someone with a surprise. However, the absence of these physical cues is a huge disadvantage when facilitating virtually. Therefore, I find calling someone by name first, then asking the question helps a lot in preparing the person. Some of us will need some practice since this might not be the common way we ask questions or engage someone.

5. Be early and generous in your acknowledgements
Acknowledging someone is a sure-fire way of creating rapport. However, that acknowledgement must be sincere and true. Do this as early as possible once they have entered your virtual room. I find that if we look for it, there are actually plenty that we can acknowledge someone for especially for the positive actions that they took. We can acknowledge someone for asking a question or commenting on something in the chat window. We could acknowledge someone for coming in early or on time. The simplest thing that we can do in a virtual session is acknowledging someone for switching on their video or even for muting themselves. Acknowledgement can also act as a reminder for others to model positive behaviour without reprimanding negative actions. Who doesn’t want sincere and honest acknowledgement, right?

6. First to say hi, last to say goodbye
Being on time and ready to greet someone is one of the simplest ways to create a positive first impression that leads to great rapport. Everyone loves the fact that the host is at hand to receive them. The same goes for virtual sessions. You being early speaking volumes on the importance of the session and the participants to you. When you allow your audience to wait for you, you are giving them an opportunity to draw some negative conclusions about who you are and who they are to you. Build a wonderful first impression that leads to great rapport at the very beginning of your virtual session. Be the first in the room to greet them and the last person to say goodbye to them.

7. Two ears and a mouth
There is a famous adage that says “There is a reason why God made two ears and only a mouth; is for us to listen more than to talk”. Well, as far as rapport is concerned, this is true 100%. Listening is an act of giving; giving time, attention and care. Listening also delivers a message; a message that says you matter, you are important, I want to understand and I am here for you. How can all these not build and nurture rapport? This is why in virtual facilitation, same as physical face-to-face facilitation, listening to your participants is very important and must be done more than you talk. Thank God for the practice of enquiring that makes listening easier to do. Therefore, ask more questions to understand when you are curious. After the question has been asked, pause to listen to the wonderful answer that reveals to you the person more and more.

As we start practising and thinking of other ways to create rapport online, always remember what Tony Robbins says about rapport, “Rapport is the ability to enter someone else’s world, to make him feel you understand him, that you have a strong common bond.” It is the glue to any engagement. Ignore it at your own peril.

Building a Healthy & Robust Community of Practice

Intent & Characteristics of a Community of Practice

If I were to look back at the progress neOOne has made these past 11 years, I would attribute it to three major factors which are, clarity of intent, faithful to a principle and the support of a Community of Practice (CoP). The first two are intrinsic while the last one is extrinsic.

It is extrinsic that requires careful consideration, unlike the intrinsic elements which are fully within our control. So, what is a CoP and what is required to build one?

By definition, a CoP is

“ a group of people who share a common concern, a set of problems, or an interest in a topic and who come together to mutually grow, develop and advance in a shared domain. Community members have a shared domain of interest, competence and commitment that distinguishes them from others. This shared domain creates common ground to achieve the common objective of inspiring members to participate, guides their learning, and gives meaning to their actions.”

Therefore, according to the definition, the intent of a CoP is to mutually grow, develop and advance in a shared domain.

Within this definition, there is three main characteristics of a healthy CoP. These three characteristics are what is needed to be present in a healthy CoP and can help guide us in building one.

The first characteristic is “ a shared domain of interest”. For me, it is a prerequisite to becoming a member of a CoP. Without this primary characteristic, it will be difficult to be in a CoP. This characteristic can be used as a selection criterion for the members of the community. This doesn’t mean as a member of a CoP, you can’t have individual views and opinions. In fact, the diversity of thoughts, ideas and approaches within the shared domain of interest is encouraged for each member of the CoP to benefit fully from being in.

The second characteristic is “competency in the domain of interest”. Each member of a CoP has their very own competency in the domain of interest. This factor creates a mood of collaboration among the community. Members will inadvertently create symbiotic relationships with each other within the community rather than outside of the community. This is due to the given fact that they can trust each other due to the shared domain of interest as well as the open knowledge of each other’s competency.

The third characteristic is “commitment to enhancing each other’s development”. This commitment allows the free flow of information, insights and wisdom within the community. A sense of contribution also arises in the CoP. It is common to see the free exchange of ideas, input and knowledge in a CoP. When this characteristic is strong, you will see the CoP will grow mutually. This can be most rewarding.

As a CoP embodies all these three characteristics, authenticities, trust and genuine support will naturally develop within the community itself.

These characteristics can be created and built by anyone who is interested in building a CoP. These are not characteristics that come together coincidently. These characteristics can be nurtured deliberately.

There are five keys to building a CoP. These five keys can be represented by the acronym S.C.A.L.ESelection, Collaboration, Application, Learning, Engagement


Paramount to building a CoP is its membership. Therefore, the selection is an important task. It is vital that the members of the CoP have all the 3 main characteristics of a great CoP; a shared domain of interest, competency in the domain of interest and commitment to enhancing each other’s development. These characteristics can be detected by the CoP builder or nurtured before initiating into the CoP. Formal CoP will have built these characteristics into the joining criteria formally. However, for non-formal CoP, the builder will need to carefully sense who are eligible to be in the CoP. If the selection is done well, the CoP will grow healthy. Therefore, quality is more important than quantity when it comes to the membership of a CoP.


It is important for the CoP to be able to collaborate freely and autonomously with each other. Therefore, a CoP builder needs to create opportunities to collaborate among the members. These collaborations should be as far as possible self-governing among the parties collaborating, away from any stringent governance of the community. Maturity and a high level of trust are needed in this aspect. The aspect of collaboration must also be a natural and organic progression. It must not be an agenda to benefit only the CoP builder. The organic growth of collaboration will also nurture deep trust. This kind of trust is impossible to be doctored.


Since one of the intents of a CoP is development and improvement, therefore, it is important for a CoP to be a fertile ground for application & deliberate practice. This can be achieved by having opportunities to apply their competency through requests and offers. Members of a CoP are ideal to be a focus or practice group because of the shared domain of interest. This allows robust and potent feedback for improving others’ competency. Members are free to request or offer opportunities to practice and improve. These opportunities can be for formal work or pro-bono. It is a “ willing buyer, willing seller” type of situation. These opportunities can come directly from members of CoP or indirectly through information and the connection of members to other opportunities out there.


Opportunities to continuously learn is vital in keeping a CoP fresh and relevant. As a builder, this can be achieved through a well-curated learning program that gives opportunities for the member of the CoP to participate and learn from each other. These opportunities must be varied and various so that everyone in the CoP feels Members of a CoP are ideal to be a focus or practice group because of the shared domain of interest. This allows robust and potent feedback for improving teaching others’ competency. Their learning need is taken care of. The learning opportunity can also come and be contributed by the member of the CoP themselves. When a CoP reaches the level where members contribute learning to one another, it indicates that the CoP is reaching maturity and ownership is beginning to be established because contribution becomes intuitive.


As a CoP builder, it is important that engagement is continuous, deliberate and purposeful. One of the initiatives to engage that can be done is establishing a communication platform that is well managed. Some schools of thought discourage social interaction within the platform. I find a platform void of social interaction can be quite clinical and does not embody the spirit of a community. At the same time, an over social platform can also negate the intent of the CoP. Therefore, a dose of social interaction is encouraged and must be governed by mutually agreed rules of engagement. The other factor that also needs to be taken into consideration in managing an engagement platform is the frequency of the engagement. A nice balance is ideal; not too active and not too sparse. Engagement is also important in identifying the right individuals for a CoP. This kind of engagement also provides an opportunity for the public to be enticed.

With these five keys, the three main characteristics of a healthy CoP can be nurtured. The three main characteristics will also provide us with indicators of whether our CoP is healthy or not. Hopefully, building a CoP will no more be a guessing game but one that can be done deliberately by using the five keys to building a healthy CoP which is represented by the exitance of the three main characteristics.