Tip 1: Step into the shoes of your audience
As you design your virtual meeting, take a moment to consider your audience and factors that may influence how they participate in these virtual meetings. Will your audience:
- Be distracted (by their work environment, family, dog, etc.).
- Need more flexibility (e.g., are working reduced hours so long virtual meetings are difficult to attend).
- Need to be engaged and may need to physically move around from time to time.
- Find it hard to concentrate on a screen, listen to voices without actual interaction, and find new technology challenging and frustrating.
Tip 2: Get yourself organized in advance
When virtual meetings are executed well, there is a greater sense of accomplishment, collaboration and engagement. Doing your homework in advance will allow you to better plan for the “anticipated” and “surprises” and allow participants to understand what to expect and how they can contribute to the conversation.
- Provide a clear agenda with well-stated objectives and timelines.
- Provide clear logistical information as part of your invitation (e.g., hyperlinks to the meeting; instructions on dialing in if needed; contact information for those that need help; etc.). If you anticipate challenges, encourage participants to log in a few minutes early so that technical troubleshooting can occur in advance.
- If appropriate and helpful, get your participants to do some pre-work (e.g., survey, pre-read, discussion questions to consider, etc.).
- Have two hosts, especially for bigger groups. An extra set of hands can be helpful in managing the technical elements of the meeting, while freeing the other person up to manage the content and interaction/feedback stream.
- Practise! Practise! Practise! Do a dry run, especially if it is a big group of participants with many moving parts to the meeting.
- Keep people engaged - never go longer than five minutes in a meeting without giving the group another problem to solve or opportunity to interact. Otherwise participants will retreat to being observers.
- Don’t overwhelm your participants with too many new tools all at once. As a facilitator be comfortable with one or two tools to start, and then build your repertoire.
- Videos may be more impactful. If you turn on the camera, ensure you have professional attire, a tidy background and good audio/video. Explore “blurred backgrounds” or “virtual backdrops” for more privacy and/or creativity.
Tip 3: Help people with “virtual etiquette”
As people participate in virtual meetings, be it conference calls or video platforms, there is always room for improved meeting etiquette. Here are some basics to keep in mind:
- Mute and unmute - remember to leave up to three seconds for participants to unmute! Gentle reminders may also be required by the host for participants to “unmute” or “mute” as needed. For video conferencing, decide in advance if you are going to “mute all” if there is a big group and lots of background noise, or if you are going to leave it up to each individual to manage their mute buttons.
- If your group is relatively small, offer a “speakers list” that lets participants know when you will be coming to them (e.g. East to North to West; or alphabetical by first name) and give people the option to “pass”.
- Where these features exist, use the “hands up” function to help manage conversation flow. Use the “chat” function if it is a larger group that may not be conducive to having everyone jumping in at random.
Tip 4: Pose effective questions
Asking participants questions keeps them engaged and depending on your meeting objectives will be the most effective way to gather information, input and/or decisions.
- Plan out your questioning strategy. Think about when to pose your questions. In the heat of the moment, especially online when you can't see the participants eyes glaze over, it's very easy to just plow through and not create opportunity for engagement.
- Don't just rely on questions by voice. Use the tools like the “hands up” button (if your platform has one), and written questions through chat or Q and A tools. Many people are more comfortable writing their questions than speaking about them. Allow private chat so people don't have to ask their questions in front of everyone.
Additionally, here are four types of questions you may wish to use:
- "Anyone" type questions. These are also known as "overhead" questions. You just throw them out and someone will likely answer them. The good news is that you should be able to get lots of input. The problem is it's often answered by the same people, everyone speaks all at once, or there is silence. To help participants, remind them that these are NOT rhetorical questions and you want their answers. At the same time, don't be afraid of silence. Participants may need time to think or even to unmute their phone.
- Reframed questions. Sometimes we ask questions such as: “Did everyone receive the document we are discussing today?” That can result in chaos. Reframing the question to be something like “Did anyone NOT receive the document?” results in a much more accurate and helpful response!
- "Someone we haven't heard from" questions. As the leader, you often have to direct the conversational traffic. If you're hearing from the same people over and over, the introverts and the less confident will be left out.
- "Directed" questions. In smaller meetings, don't be afraid to call on people by name. Sometimes this will be because you know they have valuable insight. Sometimes it will be just be a way to help them stay engaged. Either way, be aware of the dynamics of the meeting and facilitate everyone's participation.
Tip 5: Provide clear meeting follow-up
Depending on the meeting purpose, it’s often helpful to provide a meeting follow-up. This may be a record after the event, which helps to provide clear and consistent messaging about actions, decisions and discussions. It could also be a feedback survey for participants to share insights about their experience.
- Explore the “recording” option – for virtual meetings, a recording of the meeting maybe helpful, especially for future reference are if there are those that missed the meeting.
- Consider a meeting summary note – as you would for an in-person meeting, consider designating someone to capture the discussion highlights so they can be included in meeting notes shared after the event.
- Offer a follow up feedback survey – using online survey tools, you can solicit input from participants not only on the meeting experience, but also on specific content-related opportunities going forward (e.g., how do participants want to engaged in the future; what are their opinions on a particular topic or decision, etc.).
For a PDF version of this tip sheet, click here.