Swoosh. That is the sound of conferences and on-site meetings being canceled due to the coronavirus. It has happened to me, and many others, and now we are all quickly scrambling for Plan B – a virtual meeting. In the ideal world, conference organizers would redesign the flow for remote participants, such as multiple sessions, engaging virtual activities, and independent pre-work. Having to move quickly, however, many organizers are holding onto the time already blocked in the agenda, and turning all-day conferences into all-day virtual meetings. It may not be the ideal set-up, but people are canceling plane tickets and gathering in one virtual place.
To make the most of the global virtual meeting, you may want to incorporate some of the tips below.
– Turn on the video. The geographic distance makes everyone feel psychologically distant as well. If your technology allows you to use the video, and you choose not to, then you are sending a message that you want to maintain the distance with the other participants. Comb your hair, turn on the video, and show that you are present and want to engage.
– One person, one device. This means that everyone is virtual and no one is sitting with a colleague such as two or more people with one computer. Unless you have fantastic, cutting-edge technology, the other participants will struggle to hear you well. Split up, and each person join the meeting on their own.
– Producer for the meeting. One person should be responsible for working with the technology, monitoring the chat, supporting the facilitator, answering process questions, and any other support to make the meeting a success. This person is NOT the facilitator(s). Running a virtual meeting is a two person job – Facilitator and Producer.
– Everyone sit in a quiet location. Help us to hear you and not the background noise.
– Use the best technology you have available. This may mean you invest the money from the canceled flight ticket to increase the internet speed or purchase a better headset.
– Use a variety of ways to keep everyone engaged. Use the chat function which the producer can monitor and summarize for the facilitator. Use voting tools – I like Menti Meter https://www.mentimeter.com/ because it is easy to use. Use break-out rooms if the software allows. Many meeting facilitators prefer zoom.com because of the breakout rooms and other great functions.
– Check that everyone can hear and see the visuals.
Practices during the meeting.
– Stretch. Sitting behind a computer for hours can be physically tough on the body and eyes. Give regular stretch breaks every hour for 10 mins.
– Show how you feel. As participants are limited in what they can see of the others, each person needs to communicate what normally would be seen. For instance, extra nodding when in agreement, thumbs up to show approval, raised hand to speak, or a piece of paper with a question mark if not sure.
– Opinion Gathering Moments. Facilitators should incorporate moments to gather everyone’s opinion. This helps the facilitator to check in and to ensure everyone has a chance to speak. This is critical on global meetings, where some cultures show interest by speaking first, and others show respect by waiting until everyone else speaks. For instance, in the beginning of the meeting, ask everyone a question such as ‘how are you feeling today’ or something about the topic at hand. This is a way to encourage participants to be active and help them feel like they belong. Continue asking various questions throughout the meeting so that everyone contributes.
With an attitude of inclusion and engagement, you can make the best of the situation. The geographic distance causes participants to feel disconnected, but with regular check-ins, activities, and interesting content, they will consider the virtual meeting a success.