I recently flew across the country to attend a brainstorming meeting with a client I’ve worked with consistently over the last two years. The meeting was enjoyable and successful. It was a pleasure to finally meet this team face to face, there was a lot of positive energy in the room, everyone participated, and we all left with a feeling of real accomplishment and excitement about the course we plan to develop.
I had another design brainstorming meeting with this same client that was done virtually that I would not describe in quite the same glowing terms. The training development meeting felt too much like a presentation, not a collaboration. There were technical difficulties that caused participants to join late or talk over each other, and the sense of camaraderie and joint purpose that was strong in person seemed to be missing in the virtual environment.
There are real constraints to conducting meetings in person on a regular basis, or the obvious answer would be to just get everyone together in a room when a new project is ready to start. Because expense and timeline make this option unrealistic much of the time, I wanted to take a closer look at how to conduct a more successful virtual meeting.
As I compared my experiences with the two brainstorming meetings, I could see there were some attributes of the face to face meeting that I wanted to mirror in the virtual environment. Here’s what I came up with:
|Attribute||Adaptions For a Virtual Format|
|Sense of time and preparation invested in attending the meeting||• Finalize an agenda and send to all participants with the expectation that they review it prior to the meeting|
|• Assign different discussion leaders for portions of the agenda so preparation from all attendees is required|
|• Outline clear objectives for each session and revisit them at the end to ensure the time has been well spent|
|High level of participation and engagement||• Schedule several short meetings instead of a full day to give participants a chance to move around and catch up on other work, hopefully preventing multi-tasking|
|• Send pre and post work or questions for each session so participants think about the topic before and after each discussion|
|• Take advantage of the meeting software’s collaboration tools like drawing boards, question indicators, and polling features to increase collaboration|
|• Direct questions to specific participants to make it clear who should respond|
|No technical difficulties||• Send out technical specs required to use the meeting software and have all participants test their access prior to the meeting|
|• Identify the voice option you want all participants to use (VOIP or a conference number)|
|• Start the online meeting well in advance of the time participants will join and make sure audio and visuals are working|
|• Test all presentations, links, and demos prior to the meeting on the machine you’ll be using to lead the meeting|
|• Send a cell phone number or other way participants can contact you if they have trouble getting in to the meeting|
I’m sure none of these adaptations are completely new to you, but it’s easy to forget to allow yourself time to strategize and prepare for a virtual meeting the same way you would for a face to face meeting. It’s something I’m going to pay more attention to over the next few months. What best practices can you share for optimizing online meetings?
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