Some things to remember
- Virtual meetings are harder work for everyone – keep them much shorter than a physical meeting
- You are competing with email, games, home schooling, a nice cup of tea, the laundry, other work, the garden – make sure you are more interesting/ more important/ more fun than all these things
- Everyone taking part is operating in a different context – they may be more or less comfortable; there may be all sorts of interruptions to them – for an hour or so you have to create a shared virtual place
- If something can go wrong, it will – be prepared for that with lots of backups – there isn’t enough attention span to cope with waiting for problems to be resolved. Pauses whilst waiting for problems to be resolved seem longer when you are just sitting on your own staring at a screen!
- But everyone wants it to work – they are on your side!
Before you begin
- Open the virtual meeting room 15 minutes in advance to give time for people to arrive and settle
- Give the early arrivals something to do – a consultation question? A survey? An icebreaker game? It stops them drifting off while others arrive
- Greet everyone by name as they enter – it makes them feel free rather than invisible and alerts everyone else to who is there
- Start with a tech briefing. Deal with microphones, cameras, etiquette and any additional features of the platform you are going to use. Explain how you want the chat function to be used; how people should ask questions (hands up? Via chat? Just call out? Only at the end?); whether you will be recording the session. As organisers, if you can have one person dedicated to tech, that is ideal. That person can keep an eye on people leaving or getting locked out; let them back in; deal with slides etc
- Appoint someone to keep a register of people arriving against the expected attendance list so you know who is present whether or not you can see them
- Start within 5 minutes of the appointed time – if people can do something else they will
- Have a policy around cameras and microphones and ask people to stick to it. Some groups prefer everyone to be “present” in gallery mode throughout if possible. Others prefer people to keep cameras and microphones off to maintain the focus on whoever is speaking. Some speakers find it intimidating not to be able to see the audience; some find it distracting. Some hosts/facilitators find it hard to manage a meeting of people they cant see; others find it more efficient.
- Call on people individually by name to introduce themselves – make clear what you want that introduction to comprise (and mute them if they add to it!). But its important everyone gets used to speaking.
Presentations and other materials
- Think about how your audience/participants will be taking part – will some be doing this on their phone? Will they be able to see any slides? Are the slides simple enough to see at a glance – otherwise they will stop listening as they try to read them
- Think about sending them out in advance so that participants can download them in advance if that’s helpful to them – its also serves as a teaser of whats to come and a reminder that its coming
- Using other tools eg virtual whiteboard for comments, suggestions, reactions adds variety but make sure everyone has the equipment to support them and is quickly able to understand how to use them
Take a break?
There are pros and cons but if your meeting is going to last more than 1.5 hours it might be a good idea – it stops people slipping out to their own timetable.
If you do, play music during the break so people know they are still connected and so they can hear when the break ends
Its difficult to get much emotional feedback from participants and the atmosphere can feel quite sterile. If it’s a very formal meeting, that might not matter but if, for example, you are trying to kick off a new project, you will want more energy and engagement. A high background level of energy is important to ensure that everyone contributes but also so that it is possible to judge whether ideas are seen as good or less good or whether people simply cant hear them.
It helps if
- The facilitator has a good set up; is easy to see; doesn’t have a distracting background; has removed their own pets/children from the room
- The chair/facilitator/host sees it as their job to set a high energy level and brings energy into the room from the very beginning
- The facilitator calls on people by name – to ask questions, respond to points made etc
- Presentations are kept short
- If appropriate, use breakout rooms
- The facilitator may need to “act” and enlarge their own personality.
- Avoid jokes – they are unlikely to get the response you want
Things will go wrong!
It may help to
- Have a very clear agenda sent out to everyone in advance so everyone knows what to expect
- Annotate that agenda with a script for the organisers so that if the host loses connectivity a colleague can easily take over
- Have a phone number for anyone who is due to present or take a lead on items so if they don’t appear or if they disappear you can find out whats happening
- Have a pre- prepared email for all participants with their names already loaded so you can email them to let them know what is happening if connectivity from the host is lost
- Prepare fairly detailed minutes and/or record the meeting for any participant who loses connectivity (or even loses concentration)
You have succeeded if
You have avoided all these clichés: