We’ve mastered Zoom, Teams, Google Meet, Facetime, WebEx, GoToMeeting, and even telemedicine doctor appointments. Over the past year and a half, we’ve become so accustomed to virtual connections that a face-to-face meeting seems out of the ordinary.
In fact, even our colleagues who have returned to the office have stated that they sit at their computer in virtual meeting after virtual meeting.
On the one hand, video conference meetings are highly efficient. No travel time, no parking headaches, and meetings can be recorded and shared. But on the other hand, it is very hard to read body language and pick up on cues that one can only really sense when facilitating a meeting in person.
From board retreats to professional speaking engagements, Mollard Consulting has shifted a large portion of our business to virtual platforms. Our team has received very high marks for our virtual meeting facilitation, and we offer these three lessons learned on conducting effective and engaging virtual meetings:
- Do trial runs and join meetings early to avoid technology issues.
We all have had the moment when our screen freezes or our internet connection is lost, but we must do trial runs in advance of a facilitated meeting to minimize the disruptions that can occur.
We participated in a meeting recently that did not begin on time because the featured speaker had technical issues. Again, we have all been there, but the host organization took a long time to pivot and delayed the start of the meeting. The delay was so awkward that some guests were posting in the chat trying to figure out what was happening.
To avoid technology issues, we recommend that speakers join at least 15 minutes prior to the meeting to make sure all connections work. If an issue occurs, a designated person can start the meeting while another person works with the speaker to fix the problem.
- Designate a staff person to monitor the chat.
Whenever we facilitate a webinar, we have one team member monitoring the chat, breakout rooms, and other features while another team member shares slides and presents.
As the person who often serves as the speaker, it is nearly impossible to focus on the presentation and chat concurrently. In a recent webinar, the host organization had no one answering messages in the chat during the session. It was incredibly frustrating. They missed an opportunity to be responsive and build deeper engagement.
- Incorporate breaks into the virtual meeting agenda.
Zoom fatigue is real. Allowing dedicated time for breaks increases the odds that participants will be engaged during the session.
For longer meetings like board retreats, we recommend planning an agenda with breaks, relevant content, and varied structure. For instance, alternate between whole group presentation and smaller group break out rooms, strategic use of polls to better understand and engage the audience, and varying the featured speaker so that it doesn’t feel like one talking head the entire time.
In one virtual retreat, we had a team member engaged in a dialogue with another board member in a quasi-interview format. In doing so, it elevated a board member’s voice and expertise, it took the focus from us to them, and it varied the format enough that it was novel.
While there is much more to discuss with virtual facilitation, we leave you with our sense of success. The greatest compliment is when a client believes that our facilitation was not only a good investment of time and money, but more importantly, that it also accomplished all that would have been achieved had it been in person.
The following comment was emailed to us after a virtual board retreat:
“Thank you for your leadership on our board retreat today. From my standpoint, it was a tremendous success. It was very well-balanced between pre-work and discussion during the event, as well as a great balance of you relaying our survey results while also including a few of your own insights and context. Your facilitation of the discussion was excellent.”
This is what I would hope we’d receive after an in-person retreat. It was tremendous validation for our efforts, and we hope it inspires your virtual facilitation.
Article by: Kerri Laubenthal Mollard, Founder & CEO