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.

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