What’s the difference between good and bad virtual meetings?

In the past few days many people have adjusted to running and attending more virtual meetings.  Some are great, others less so.  So what’s the difference?  Here are some of the factors that make a difference.

The invitation

How not to:  Copy and paste the link from the virtual platform and send it to participants with no other explanation

I suggest: A personalised friendly invitation explaining what is going to happen, politely encouraging people to prepare e.g. by being in a quiet space, and offering help to people who are not used to virtual meetings.

The welcome

How not to:  Five minutes before the event when people start to join the meeting there is total silence and (if you’re lucky) a slide on screen with the session title.

I suggest:  Meeting facilitator arrives fifteen minutes early, warmly welcomes participants and encourages them to speak, sorts out tech difficulties and includes some guidelines for working together such as muting mic when not speaking, using hands up feature.

Who contributes?

How not to:  The usual suspects dominate conversation, go on too long, and speak over each other.  Or even:  long PowerPoint presentation of visually uninteresting slides

I suggest:  The facilitator invites people to speak by name.  Invite speakers to say ‘I’m done’ at the end of their contributions to avoid cross-talk.  Offer different ways to contribute e.g. chat box, annotating white board as well as voice.  Bear in mind that people prefer to contribute differently or may have different needs.

Participation

How not to:  Powerpoint presentations / monologue / usual suspects speaking, everyone else checking their mails or video of dog jumping into a pile of leaves

I suggest:  Think about inclusion, any barriers and particular needs.  Ask people to do things:  annotate a drawing on the screen, type comments in the chat, complete a poll, speak their minds, create a visual online.  This is not about doing things for the sake of it, but maximising the benefit of bringing people together.  Webcams help as most of us like to see people.

Timing

How not to:  Meetings drag on and people disconnect.  Later agenda items are squeezed or lost altogether.

I suggest:  keep meetings as short and focused as possible.  Signal progress through agenda items clearly – ‘that’s great.  We’ve decided x so are you ok now to move on to y?’.  Tick off items on the screen.  Always, always finish on time – and people will love you forever if you finish early.

Concluding

How not to:  ‘Not sure if we’ve covered the points on the agenda…’  ‘Sorry, we’ve run out of time…’ ‘I think that’s as far as we can go today…’

I suggest:  Crisp, clear conclusion from facilitator, ideally backed up by notes on screen, snipped screen shots of meeting production. Clarity on what happens next.  Opportunity for all to contribute to review of meeting – for instance ask ‘What are you taking away?’

Follow up

How not to:  No noticeable follow up, thank god that’s over, move on to the next thing.

I suggest:  Send round main ‘products’ of the meeting e.g. snipped screen shots of what the group has produced.  Above all, a short note with the key actions and next steps.  Thank people for their contributions.

Learning

How not to:  ‘Well, our last session was a bit of a mess. Let’s hope this one goes better…’

I suggest:  ‘Meet and greet’ session in advance to iron out tech bugs, learn a new feature of the platform every session, learning review at the end of each meeting or evaluation poll immediately after.

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