In the world we’re living in right now it’s become even more important to use technology to meet online. Online meetings can be a robust equivalent to face-to-face ones if you know how to facilitate them well. If you have a scheduled face-to-face meeting coming up that you now need to move online, and you’re new to the process or would like to do it even better, here are some tips to follow.
#1 – Get the tech
Every computer at your organization should have a webcam and capability for sound. You’ll also need a headset or earbuds. Your organization should have Internet access and be paying into a cloud-based web conferencing system so you can have meetings synchronously online. I use Zoom and have long been impressed with its quality and low annual price at the Pro level. (There is also a free Basic level.)*
Once you’ve gained access to a web conferencing platform, you need to learn how to use it. Spend time exploring it to see what it can do. You’ll almost certainly have the ability to share your screen or a slide deck and type in a chat. Sometimes you’ll also have annotation tools, polling tools, whiteboards, or the ability to divide a group of people up into virtual breakout rooms. Get comfortable with the platform so you can use it to its full advantage and increase the interactivity of your meeting.
If you’re collaborating with others and need to brainstorm or create work together, get comfortable with collaborative tools such as the apps within Google Drive (Docs, Slides, Sheets, etc.) and Miro, a collaborative whiteboard space. (And make sure your organization supports accessing them!)
#2 – Consider the purpose and start accordingly
Get clear on why the meeting is happening and if its purpose involves interaction between the people involved. If it’s a group meeting that is usually full of status updates, you might consider sending those updates by email instead and cancelling the face-to-face meeting. However, if your meeting involves collaborative discussion, ideation and sharing, it’s a good reason to move it online rather than not have it at all.
To encourage relationship building, include a short check in at the beginning of your meeting to see how people are doing. This goes for meetings between two people as well as group meetings. What we want to do is mimic in the online meeting the time that we spend just before a face-to-face meeting starts, when people are engaging in casual chit chat. If you have time for it, allow space for it to happen. It will help everyone feel more comfortable and remember that they are working with real people with real lives going on in the background.
#3 – Turn your webcams on
If your computers have webcams (and we’ve already established that they should), then use them as much as you can. I was part of a few web-conferencing meetings and training events last year where I heard some version of “We never turn our cameras on”, and this really saddened me! We don’t have the ability to turn our faces off in person (even if we’re having a bad hair day) so let’s use the visual technology we have when meeting online. As long as the bandwidth can support it, try to have everyone’s cameras on as much as possible. When so much of the way we communicate is through body language, cutting off this part of our communication process has negative effects. Don’t use your web conferencing technology as a phone, use it for its video capabilities to help you have a meeting experience as close to real life as possible.
#4 – Toggle your microphone actively
Unlike when you spoke at your sister’s wedding and had to deal with a live microphone for your entire speech, when you’re having a meeting via a web conferencing platform you have the ability to turn on and off your mic as you need. Develop the skill to use it actively and wisely. Keep your mic on if you have little to no background noise happening in your environment; turn it off if you have to cough, a siren happens nearby or someone is loudly talking in the background. (Choosing an appropriate place to sit to have the online meeting in the first place will help with this.) Your platform may limit the number of mics that are on at one time. Work within this constraint to try to have as collaborative a meeting as possible, with all voices being heard. The “dead air” that happens when only one person has their mic on can be a little disconcerting! Being an active “toggler” of your mic can help meeting participants feel like you all are still in the same room together.
#5 – Be an inclusive meeting facilitator
It’s easy to see who is contributing to the discussion in a face-to-face meeting. In an online environment, we must pay closer attention to who is involved and who is not, especially if it’s a larger group. If you’re the meeting facilitator/chair, devise ways to draw everyone’s ideas into the discussion. This could involve: inviting people to contribute ideas in the chat box; giving people one minute of silence to think about something before you ask for ideas and contributions; putting pairs into break out rooms for ideation and then debriefing ideas after as a larger group; asking everyone to contribute something to a virtual whiteboard brainstorm; and asking for contributions in “round robin” style (going around the circle of who is in the room). When just two or three people are meeting, it’s easy to pay attention to who is involved. But as your group gets larger, you’ll need to raise your awareness to inclusivity even more. Plan in advance of your meeting how you are going to structure the processes of the session to engage everyone in the virtual room.
Face-to-face meetings are wonderful but sometimes just aren’t possible for many reasons. Use online meetings to your advantage to keep your work going smoothly. If you have any additional strategies that have worked for you to create a robust online meeting, I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below.
*No one is paying me to mention their products.