Technology is undoubtedly our best friend during these incredibly difficult times, making working from home possible and enabling us to stay connected to our colleagues, friends and family while we ‘stay home to save lives’. Those of us able to telework are certainly very fortunate.
And yet, conducting ALL our meetings via teleconference or videoconference does result in some new challenges and heightened stress levels. As many of you will have noticed by now, having virtual meetings (especially with larger groups) – is a real art. An art not yet mastered by many!
As professional facilitators, we understand how virtual meetings differ from face-to-face meetings and have accumulated a great deal of experience in ensuring they are a success.
Here are 5 rules we use to facilitate productive and engaging virtual meetings:
These could be communicated to your team in a meeting specifically about how to improve teleworking and/or sent to meeting participants via your invitation.
Examples of the kind of ‘rules’ you might establish include:
- Place your microphone on mute when not speaking. This will reduce background noise and distractions.
- Put your phone on silent in order to avoid interruptions.
- Ensure that you are in a quiet environment, ideally a separate room from other household members with the door shut.
- Be truly present i.e. do not multitask by responding to emails or texting during the meeting. (Though you may not be able to be seen by your colleagues on a teleconference or phonecall, they and the subject of the meeting require your full attention and other meeting participants will notice if you are not fully engaged.)
- Start with a ‘roundtable’ check-in, where each participant briefly says how they’re doing. That way people connect and feel ‘part of the meeting’.
- Close with another ‘roundtable’ checking whether anybody has anything left to say.
- Ensure your meetings are shorter and more dynamic than usual.
The best meetings – whether virtual or ‘in-person’ – are short, sharp and to the point and that is all the more true when you aren’t together in the same room. Of course, pleasantries and some chat at the beginning and end are still important (perhaps even more so when everyone is so isolated) but attention spans are even lower when you can’t make eye contact or ‘feel’ the energy in the room. Now more than ever, the meeting needs to be short, the agenda well managed, your voice engaging, and the summing up and next steps clear.
- Designate a strong meeting facilitator.
We would argue that having a competent meeting facilitator is even more important for virtual meetings than face-to-face/’in-person’ meetings. Their role is to enable the group to reach the objective of the meeting within the agreed timeframe. In virtual meetings, the facilitator needs to provide more structure than usual and provide more direction in order to keep the attention and focus of all participants.
- Avoid too many passive, or ‘telling mode’ interventions.
Don’t waste time in virtual meetings with long presentations or ‘speeches’. Participants will lose concentration and zone out. In general, all participants should do more preparation for virtual meetings – reading in on the subject matter, going through slides etc – than they might normally. While this requires that presentations be prepared and sent out well ahead of meetings, and that individuals spend more time getting ready, it will result in shorter and more efficient meetings for the group as a whole.
At the start of the meeting, provide a one-minute summary of what was in the pre-reads, but then move on quickly to asking specific questions that require participants to react. Avoid open questions such as: ‘Any reactions?’. Instead, ask questions like:
- ‘What’s your reaction seen from the perspective of …. (e.g. your department? the customer?)
- ‘What’s missing here?’
- ‘We are wondering about xyz, what do you think about that?’
- Avoid virtual ‘brainstorming’ meetings or workshops.
Brainstorming works well when people can bounce ideas off each other, sense body language and feel the energy in the room. These meetings are therefore particularly difficult to do via video- or teleconference, especially with large groups. You will have to find other ways to be creative. For example, do preparation work with small subgroups; send materials to all participants ahead of time; provide a very short presentation in the meeting itself followed by very direct questions that illicit clear reactions.
We are certain that by implementing our 5 rules, you will immediately improve the quality and level of engagement during your virtual meetings.
If you would like to further hone your skills in this new way of working, we provide a two-hour online training that will ensure your team’s virtual meetings are truly engaging and productive .