Is it possible to design virtual meetings that are actually engaging? To spur real participation, even in remote working conditions? The answer is yes, but…it requires preparation.
Telecommuting was forced upon us without warning. For many of us, what was supposed to last just a few months has now become our daily reality. Still, telecommuting has proven to have its benefits (greater productivity, saved commuting time, etc.) as well as its challenges in terms of collaboration and engagement.
We have all experienced the proliferation of meetings (“meetingitis”), poorly prepared, sometimes chaotic meetings and, above all, attendees who barely participate because they are drained from spending their days in front of a screen, attending meeting after meeting. So, how can you be sure to engage your attendees? How about starting by facilitating meetings designed to achieve the group’s objectives?
For that, we need to refocus the meetings on people rather than technology. Think about your attendees’ emotions, experience and needs. It is much more difficult to create bonds remotely or even to get a sense of the values that could engage a team. Consequently, we need to pay more attention to these opportunities for discussion and prepare them well.
Here are six tips to help you design more engaging virtual meetings:
One of the biggest problems with our current meetings is that we forget to prepare a very important element: the experience.
Meetings are often limited to the presenter sharing information while scrolling through an hour-long presentation. Meanwhile, attendees are answering their emails and text messages and checking their notifications – it’s tough to hold people’s attention or interest, especially when we tend to want to cover multiple topics in a very short time.
You can start by determining your MVP (Minimum Viable PowerPoint*) and showing the least amount of data needed to inform and engage your group. Make the agenda a bit less ambitious to allow more time for discussion. You can also structure the topics discussed in the form of questions to encourage participation.
Example of a purpose: To reassure a team about an issue, to align with elements of a project.
Example: Participants leave the meeting feeling confident and with answers to their questions; participants leave the meeting clear on the schedule of expected deliverables and the RACI matrix; etc.
Make sure that only those whose attendance is essential to the meeting’s purpose are there. On one hand, you won’t be wasting time on people you don't necessarily need, and on the other hand, as the meeting facilitator, you can focus on the attendees who will enable you to achieve your set purpose.
Body language speak volumes, anyone can see that, but we also need to pay attention to what is being said, and what is not being said. Look beyond the screen.
Should webcams be on or off? Depending on the team culture, webcams are generally all on or all off. Advocates of webcams will want them on for every meeting or call. Before we began intensive telecommuting, though, it was normal to have phone calls without seeing each other. Depending on the nature of the meeting, I highly recommend having webcams on so you can see your attendees and better interact with them. We also have to acknowledge, though, that staring at a screen for hours on end, over the course of multiple meetings, is exhausting for everyone, so perhaps for some calls, especially informal discussions or quick questions, webcams could be optional.
Knowing the emotional state of your attendees can help you better engage them. Ask questions: What do they think of the project? What are their expectations for the meeting/training course? This will also help you determine whether it is a like-minded group.
Do you want your attendees to be more energetic?
To get them to adopt the desired behaviours, provide activities that encourage those behaviours. Don’t just hope they will adopt them naturally.
Who hasn't experienced the dead silence when a presentation ends and you are finally given the floor after an hour-long monologue by the presenter? If you want people to express themselves, create that dynamic by giving them opportunities to contribute early on.
And don't forget that you can utilize your body language and tone of voice to convey the desired positive energy and thus encouraging participation.
Create a plan for your meeting based on the above points, and don't forget to communicate the logistics to your participants. Make sure you don't cover too many topics in the allotted time, leave yourself extra time and avoid starting a meeting by talking about logistics.
You can't control the state your attendees are in when they arrive at a meeting, but the more care you take in preparing your meetings, the more you'll set the stage for engaging and collaborating with your attendees, whether they're working remotely, in the same room as you, or both.
Don't forget to survey your attendees. Did they find the meeting relevant, well run? How would they rate their ROTI (Return On Time Invested) from 1 to 5? If the result is less than 3, ask them for more details so that you can improve future meetings. In the end, the success of a meeting depends on each of us.
Responsible for marketing and digital projects