Though holograms haven’t exactly entered mainstream yet, our methods for connecting virtually are getting better and better with each passing year. A lot of the technical headaches we used to experience with online conferencing technologies are slowly fading, thank goodness. But as we start to rely more heavily on virtual meetings, the human skills of facilitating these meetings will only become more important.
The fewer participants the better
You know the famous anecdote about Steve Jobs throwing people out of meetings because they didn’t really need to be there? ("I don't think we need you in this meeting, Lorrie. Thanks.")
Though it may sound harsh, this strategy is even more important to employ when gathering people for a virtual meeting. The more you have on the call, the more difficult it is to
1) control for problems like background noise
2) have a worthwhile discussion and reach decisions as a group
3) keep everyone engaged throughout the duration of the call (no one benefits if there’s a big crowd of people on mute, zoning out).
Just be kind and make your moves before even scheduling the meeting. Before you send out calendar invites, have a look at the intended list of participants. Could you cut it in half? Or remove one person? This will get you thinking about the work you really need to be doing in your virtual meeting and what you expect each individual to contribute. Then when you invite your participants, you can communicate a clear and concise purpose for the meeting.
Set an agenda
Even if this virtual meeting is a just a team catch-up, an agenda can have transformative effect, helping everyone cut to what’s important straight away. An agenda also has a critical role in facilitating virtual meetings. Simply because it’s easy to lose people. If the conversation is even the slightest bit unfocused, attention goes out the window. You want to keep the conversation moving at a steady clip, with each person contributing at regular intervals. If everyone knows where the conversation is headed at any given point, they are more likely to stay engaged. Or if they drop out, they can re-engage quite easily.
Hot tip: put the most important items on the agenda first, so you can address them when everyone’s energy is still high.
Hot tip #2: In the agenda you send around, include (or reference) all the important documents participants should read or think about before the meeting. The more prepared everyone is, the more engaged and involved they’ll be.
Test your tech
Though the tech is evolving in the right direction, issues can always pop up. It’s essential to test your communication method before the virtual meeting starts. Is the call-in number working? How’s your wi-fi connection? Is your microphone connected?
Have a back-up plan too. Or even a few back-up plans. If video is freezing, ask everyone to turn their cameras off. If the platform you’re on is glitchy, have the next best one in mind. It’s often a good idea to have an alternative to wi-fi, by enabling people to call in over their mobile network. Is tech not your strong suit? Tap someone on your team to be the “technical producer” of the call who can identify and fix issues in stealth ninja-like manner.
Be a proactive, decisive facilitator
Virtual meetings come with a lot of unseens and unknowns. You can’t “read the room” because you’re not “in the room.” Awkward moments abound. Facilitators have a key role to play in controlling for these unknowns, keeping everyone on the same page and feeling good.
Here are a handful of virtual facilitation tips:
- As the call is starting, steward the small talk and make sure everyone who joins the call gets properly introduced.
- Start the meeting within the first 5 minutes, even if everyone hasn’t joined yet. Being late is on them — they will have to catch up.
- Introduce the agenda, make sure everyone has it in front of them. Get rolling on the items for discussion as quickly as possible.
- Call out specific people to ask for input or opinions where relevant. It can be hard for people to pipe up, so make sure you regularly make space for everyone’s voices.
- Use people’s names regularly when moving through discussion points — this will keep people on their toes.
- Remember your 2-step formula for blissfully effective meetings: ABC, DD.
- Wind down the call with a summary of action items and delegated responsibilities
There you have them — our top tips for running awesome virtual meetings. If we have one more parting thought, it’s this: appreciate the limited time in a day. Meaning, don’t let time go to waste in poorly thought out, poorly led meetings. Step up, prepare and have a game plan to make sure everyone can obtain maximum value in the least amount of time.