So you’ve decided to convert an important meeting from a face-to-face format to a virtual one. But you’re concerned that the meeting won’t go well because it will be more difficult to engage participants and ensure that there is real communication. What can you do to make the meeting truly inclusive and to achieve a better outcome?
Key issues with virtual meetings, especially larger ones, include:
Here are several steps you can take to improve the quality of your virtual meetings.
Use Expert Facilitators: For a large, high-stakes meeting, it is advisable to have an experienced facilitator who knows the technology you are using well, and is a master at engaging audience members. Some people simply have a better virtual “presence” than others. When hundreds of people are present, the facilitator may need a technical support person as well. For smaller meetings run by a team leader, it is a good idea to at least do a virtual technology crash course and to rehearse with a small audience first to make sure everything works.
Upgrade Equipment: Minor changes make a major difference in meeting quality for organizations not already investing in an expensive technology platform with dedicated meeting rooms. Presenters can be equipped with a higher quality camera and microphone — both relatively inexpensive and easily integrated with other equipment.
Prepare Thoroughly in Advance: In general, virtual meetings require more preparation time than face-to-face ones. Particularly when meetings involve people from a variety of different countries and cultural backgrounds, we recommend asking for participant input as well as providing reference materials, agendas, and requests for contributions in advance. Global meeting participants, especially non-native speakers of the meeting language, will be much more engaged if they have had time beforehand to prepare, and see their own priorities reflected in the meeting agenda.
Prioritize Interaction: The mark of a successful in-person meeting is usually enthusiastic, productive interaction among all participants. There are a number of tools that meeting owners can use to mimic or replace some of your favorite face-to-face techniques.
Five suggestions for using some of the commonly available features of most technology platforms are outlined below:
Not all platforms allow for breakout groups, but these are a true game-changer for many virtual meetings. Virtual breakout groups allow you to move participants into smaller sub-groups with their own communication channel, chat boxes, whiteboards, etc. Typically the facilitator can move in and out of these virtual groups in order to check in.
Whiteboards are an alternative to just about anything you would do with a flip-chart (or physical whiteboard) in a face-to-face meeting. Typically these tools will allow for both text entry and drawing with shapes or free-form tools. Many meeting participants are not familiar with this tool, but become excited once they discover its usefulness! Small group use of a whiteboard also enables less vocal meeting participants to contribute actively. Possible applications include:
The chat box is one of the most versatile tools available to meeting leaders. Luckily, it is also a tool that most people are comfortable and familiar with already. Some good uses of this tool include:
Polling questions are another great tool to leverage throughout the meeting. Some useful ways to incorporate such questions include:
Most platforms have some sort of feedback symbols/icons available. The specific icons vary by platform, but they often include indicators such as speed up, slow down, raised hand, check mark, x mark, or temporarily absent. Several uses for feedback icons are:
There is no real substitute for getting together with team members in person. However, fully leveraging the capabilities of current technology platforms along with virtual meeting best practices will lead to much higher engagement and better meeting outcomes. When a virtual meeting is the only alternative, it is worth investing the time and energy to make it fully inclusive. Best wishes for all of your virtual events!
Anthony Greco serves as the Director of CORE Learning Services at Aperian Global. Anthony’s role focuses on instructional design and leading the creation and rollout of global training programs and materials. He collaborates with Fortune Global 100 companies in developing highly customized solutions. Anthony’s work also extends to Aperian Global’s web-based learning tools. In this capacity, he focuses on eLearning initiatives and is currently working on developing integrated learning modules on the GlobeSmart platform.
Dr. Gundling has worked with numerous Fortune 500 firms and is a sought-after keynote speaker and executive coach. He has lived in Asia and Europe, including six years in Japan. Dr. Gundling holds a Ph.D. and M.A. from the University of Chicago, and a B.A. from Stanford University; he also serves as a Lecturer in the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of six books, the latest titled, Inclusive Leadership: From Awareness to Action.