This guide will walk you through the steps for hosting an online support group or discussion group, similar to our Aphasia Cafe series. Whether you want to move an existing face-to-face group online or start a new support group that meets virtually, we have tips that will make your process easier.
While there are many video hosting platforms out there, we use Zoom for hosting our Aphasia Cafe series. Zoom offers free accounts with limits. Meetings can only be 40 minutes long once you have over three people in your group. (Your meeting can be longer if you’re only holding the conversation between two people.) You can have up to 100 people in that 40-minute meeting. It is a fantastic option for groups on a budget or who want to try Zoom for a bit before committing to a paid plan.
The paid plan gets you many extra features. The most basic plan is about $15 per month. You can hold longer meetings and take advantage of Zoom’s additional tools, such as gallery view or managing participants. Paid accounts also allow you to add a co-host to the event.
The National Aphasia Association has a paid plan but the choice is up to each group. We definitely encourage you to get comfortable with the free version and make sure that it fits your needs before you upgrade.
Set a time and date for your chat. If this is your first meeting, start small and only post the first date. You can add extra dates/times after the first chat. Our chats are an hour-long, and we find this is the perfect amount of time for our large group. You may want to set up a half-hour chat if you have a smaller group.
Let people know about the chat. We write a blog post and send the link to anyone who has signed up in the past for a chat. We drop information about the upcoming chat in our newsletter and post about it on social media.
Ask people to sign up so you know how many to expect for the call. Remember, a free Zoom account only allows 100 participants. That may seem like an enormous number, but if you put the link online, anyone can take up one of those slots. We do not put our links online––the dial-in information is only sent to the people who RSVP for the chat.
We use Google Forms to create our sign up form. We ask a few standard questions:
- First name
- Email address
- Your connection to aphasia (person with aphasia, caregiver, or professional)
- Whether you’d like to participate and speak or just listen
Then we ask questions specific to that week’s topic. Some of the questions are to get a pulse on the situation, such as “how difficult do you find grocery shopping on a scale from 1 – 10?” We share these findings at the beginning of the chat.
We also ask the key question at the heart of the chat. For instance, if the chat is about making grocery shopping easier when you have aphasia, we will ask people to tell us their best tips. We turn these answers into the discussion slides.
Discussion Slides, Scripts, and Emails
About two days before the chat, we create discussion slides, pulling out quotes from the signup form and attributing them to the writer. The slides remove the need for people to think on their feet. They can draft their answer ahead of time and then use their speaking time to elaborate on their words. It ensures that we don’t have long periods of silence during the chat.
The slides also provide a secondary way of communicating. People can either read the answer on the screen or hear the answer read aloud.
We also create a loose script or “run of show” for the moderators to aid our discussion. We mark down who is introducing each slide and extra follow-up questions we may want to ask. If we want to have a poll during the chat, we also mark this in the document. While everyone sees the slides, only the people running the chat see the script.
Two days before the chat, we also send out a reminder email with a unique link to the chat to everyone who RSVPed and we close the form to new sign-ups. We send a separate email to everyone who has been chosen to have their answer turned into a slide. Other people will chime in during the actual chat, but we like to give a heads up to everyone that we know will be speaking.
The moderator logs in a minute or two before the discussion. Make sure you have someone checking email in case people are having trouble logging on. We also designate a notetaker on our team to gather ideas from the chat that we can pass along to others who can’t join the chat.
We start out the chat with some light housekeeping. We ask that people mute their microphone if they’re not speaking. The moderator can also mute all participants from their control panel. We ask people to use the “raise hand” button if they want to add something to the discussion or leave a note in the chat box so we can call on them.
Of course, our chat is an aphasia-friendly space. We also open every chat by reiterating that people should feel comfortable taking all the time they need to say what they would like to say. We encourage everyone to participate. Everyone on the call has a direct connection to aphasia––whether they have aphasia, are a caregiver, or a professional––and all understand how challenging speaking can be.
We run through the slides, asking the writer to elaborate on their answer. We sometimes use their answer to kick off a yes / no poll, asking people to vote and then sharing the answers in real-time. We also sometimes just ask people to give a thumbs up or thumbs down to voice their opinion.
We always leave a few minutes at the end for people to bring up whatever is on their mind.
While we don’t post a roundup of advice and answers after every chat, some subjects clearly lend themselves better to a blog post. Our recent chat on grocery shopping brought up so many good tips that it felt like inventing the wheel if we didn’t capture them and put them up online.
We create the posts out of a combination of quotes from the slides (attributed to the speaker) and comments made during the chat itself. We make sure we add any helpful links. For instance, we had someone describe an app during the grocery store chat, so we found it and linked to it in the post.
After the first few chats, we met as a team and asked for feedback from participants in order to fine-tune the process. We are thinking about also doing more unstructured and open-ended sessions in the future, but for now, the slides have helped make our chats useful and interesting for the participants.
These are our best tips for hosting your own support group. Any you would add to our process?