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Facilitating with Coda for engaging & inclusive learning

aka, why I’ll never go back to using Google Slides for a virtual workshop!
My name is Leah and I lead learning, development & inclusion at Coda.
Prior to becoming a Coda maker, I would facilitate virtual workshops using a slide deck, sometimes supplementing with a google doc, and leaning very heavily on the Zoom chat. Slide decks are pretty, but not collaborative. Google docs are collaborative, but not the cutest. At the end of a session, I would have to compile everything in one place to share back, and the Zoom chat would be lost forever.
Now, I use Coda docs as my primary artifact for sharing a pre-read, leading workshops, and capturing learnings & takeaways. It’s collaborative, flexible, and beautiful. And while it does have the functionality to make fancy app-like docs, as a learning tool it is super simple to use.

Here are the four ways that I use Coda’s most simple building blocks to engage distributed teams in learning

Prompt and drive participation, without extended awkward silence
Align the group and move forward with reactions
Invite participants to reflect and share with sentence starters
Keep everything on track with a simple timer
Read on to learn more about each!

1. Prompt thought and drive participation, without extended awkward silence.

At the start of any learning session, I want to ease folks into the material and get a sense of where my learners stand. Rather than give an out-loud prompt and wait for the first person to cave into the discomfort of silence, I like to give participants the space to write their answers. I collect these in a table, but lead with a filtered view to minimize the distraction of the answers of others. I get so much great feedback from participants that this helps them collect their thoughts, ease into their engagement with the materials, and feel safe not having to put themselves on the spot.

Here’s an example of personal views in action.

I recently lead a session for a group of individual contributors on “managing up” and kicked off with the prompt to pick a gif, any gif, that illustrates their experience with the practice. The silliness of the prompt really eased folks into the lesson. The card view gave us a comprehensive look at where we stood as a group on the topic and sparked some meaningful discussion that wouldn’t have just happened if we only asked folks to share their experience. Laughter was a big bonus, too :)

My experience with managing up...
Additional commentary
No results from filter

Our illustrated experience thus far with managing up

2. A low-stakes way to align your group and move a lesson forward

One of Coda’s simplest features - the reaction button
- is also it’s most powerful, particularly for driving participation in a low-stakes way. I can add reactions directly to the canvas, like this /done reading button that lets me know who has completed the pre-read material. Or, I like to use the reaction column in a table of data. I find this particularly helpful when I have a big group who might have a variety of experiences to capture, or I know that the participants will be shy to start. It also helps me take notes of where folks stand that I can revisit for future content or classes!

Here’s an example reaction buttons in action.

Teaching a group of managers about the tactical steps they can take to build psychological safety on their teams, I used this simple table to share the content (credit to for the inspiration) and give each participant an easy way to assess themselves. We followed up with a discussion on the patterns we noticed, who we could lean on where we needed support, and the feeling of “not-alone”ness in our struggle.
What can we say or do to create psychological safety?
Things you can say or do
I think I do this well.
I want to improve on this.
Be vulnerable and acknowledge your own fallibility
“I’m sorry I really messed up”
“I don’t know”
“I feel a bit worried about that”
“I felt nervous”
“I really need your help”
Be inclusive and acknowledge input from others
"Thank you for bringing that up”
“I appreciate you making that suggestion”
“Yes, that’s a great point”
Model curiosity
Ask any follow-up question...
“That’s interesting, tell me more about that”
“Can you share some more about how that idea could work?”
“If we went a little deeper, how would that look?”
Demonstrate engagement and presence
Turn off distractions
Look into the camera
Don’t try to multi-task
Frame mistakes as learning problems, not execution problems
“What can we learn from this to make sure we catch it earlier next time?”
“What can we learn here so we build a better process in the future?”
Encourage and demonstrate risk taking
Throw out a half-baked idea and welcome critique
Take an interest in other people’s ideas
Show you’re prepared to put your neck on the line for change
There are no rows in this table

3. Ease-fully invite participants to reflect

Humans have different ways of digesting information. Leading a session with an interactive Coda doc makes it easy to make space for the folks who need to write to think. While we are famous for , my favorite version of how a Coda table can make for a more inclusive conversation is the Sentence Starters template. After absorbing a bunch of content, I like to give my audience ample time to add their reactions, takeaways, and questions. Then, I give folks time to read & upvote, and I facilitate the discussion, leaning on the upvoted questions or taking extra steps to highlight the ideas that might otherwise be lost if we were having the discussion without the table.

Here’s an example of sentence starters table in action.

We have monthly anti-racism discussion groups at Coda to examine and practice the ways we can show up for racial equity in the workplace. Everyone approaches the discussions with different levels of experience and comfort. In a recent discussion of the implications of the Supreme Court decision on affirmative action, we read an article on the topic and used the table below to have a blend of written and out-loud dialogue on a potentially sensitive topic.
Add your reflections and ideas
Reflections and Ideas Discussion table
Sentence starters
Discussion Notes
💡 A key highlight or takeaway was..
The study concluded that "removing preferences for athletes and legacies would significantly alter the racial distribution of admitted students, with the share of white admits falling and all other groups rising or remaining unchanged."
Felix Marlin
“almost half — 43% — of white students who got into Harvard did so because they have legacy connections, their parents have donated large sums of money, or they are student athletes...”
Alan Chowansky
On another note. I don’t think a lot of people understand how important it is to have other people who look like you and can relate to you when going through school or work etc. There’s probably a real case to be made that a drop of x% of diversity leads to worse academic outcomes for people in minority groups.
Lola Tseudonym
🗣️ I would like to discuss...
❓ I have a question...
🔍 I found a related article/resource and would like to share...
💥 This encourages me to...
Sentence starters

4. Keep everything on track with a simple timer

Facilitation and discussion time is precious. And there’s nothing like being assigned to a breakout room to discuss a topic, but not knowing how much time you have left to do so. I add timers to all of my facilitation docs. If I forget to add it, it’s super easy to plug into a doc by typing /timer .

Here’s the timer in action

Are you facilitating virtual workshops using Coda?

I’d love to hear what works for you or any feedback you have on the tactics I’ve shared. Shoot me a note at .

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