Working remotely and having virtual meetings has quickly become quite relevant, thanks to the coronavirus. For a while now we at Gofore have been interested in the best ways of facilitating virtual meetings and have trained many of our experts in them with Grape People. Having facilitated numerous virtual workshops and meetings myself I’ve found my go to way facilitating virtual workshops and here I’ll share few tips I’ve learned.
Before the meeting
There are few things you should understand before starting a virtual workshop or a meeting: the impact of your surroundings and technology available on the meeting.
Virtual space relies heavily on sound and you lose a lot of the non-verbal communication. Many prefer using video connection in order to feel more present but sometimes this can cause problems with bandwidth and cause e.g. “robot sound”. So you need to make sure participants stay focused without an eye contact. Ask participants to close all other apps on their screen and focus solely on this meeting. This seems radical but will be well worth it.
The other thing you need to ensure right from the start is the availability of good technical tools, including the platform you use. Make sure your participants know how to join in the meeting and where to get help if they have trouble. A technical check a day before an important workshop is a very solid idea. A good-quality headset or a speaker phone is a must too. Instruct your participants to join in using their own connection and microphone so everybody’s voice can be heard loud and clear.
As to platform I’ve been quite happy with Pepix, the video conference system we have at Gofore and MS Teams but there are also free tools available for use. Zoom is an online video conference platform that has a great free plan available or you can use Google Hangouts or even WhatsApp group calls.
Plan your agenda and share it with your participants beforehand to ensure all the right people are attending. Also prepare your presentation and online boards well. This will tell your guests you value their time and they will appreciate the virtual meeting more.
During the meeting
- In the beginning of the meeting go over who are present, making sure everybody can hear others and others can hear them. Say hello to every person individually, so they can reply out loud.
- Use an icebreaker to set the mood of the meeting. You can e.g. ask everybody to write in the meeting chat something easy, such as what they had for lunch, and after that, what their expectations for the workshop are. Pick a couple persons to share more about their expectations out loud as well.
- Show “the meeting rules” on screen and go over them. I usually use these instructions:
- Stay focused, and inform in the chat, if you need to leave early.
- Keep your mic muted always when you’re not speaking.
- Say your name first when you start to talk.
- Be patient in case of technical difficulties.
- Keep the agenda and meeting notes visible for all via screen sharing.
- Keep people engaged and interested by using different methods and tools. Give clear instructions on every method.
- Virtual whiteboards are very useful. My favourites are Miro and Mural, both of which have great selection of features, including voting. Miro has also screen share and chat available.
- For quickly collecting feedback, ask participants to write their thoughts in the meeting chat. Then allow few minutes for everybody to read the comments before proceeding. If needed, choose one topic to be discussed further.
- When you want to hear everybody’s thoughts about the matter in hand, ask all the attendants in turns to share their thoughts. This way you make sure only one person is speaking at a time and everybody will get an equal chance to voice their opinions.
- Make sure you ask participants to give feedback on their way out of the meeting. You can ask everybody to e.g. use an emoji in the meeting chat to represent their experience. A quick feedback round is useful too.
Virtual meetings can be as or even more productive than face-to-face meetings, so you might start to preferring them even after the current pandemia is over. Nevertheless, let’s stay healthy and safe, but still productive!