Not only has the popularity of virtual meetings been sharply increasing, working together online is definitely here to stay. As everyone in the workplace knows, there’s an artform to facilitating and managing meetings of any type. And while lots of those skills can be seamlessly transferred to the online meeting experience, virtual meetings present their own specific challenges and require specific group facilitation techniques.
So, let’s take a look at some virtual facilitation best practices and the effective meeting strategies that go with them.
1. Effective Meetings Require Setting Ground Rules
Ground rules are an online meeting facilitator’s best friend. Not only do they tell participants what to expect and how to be prepared, they also provide an essential framework for keeping everyone on track.
What should be in your ground rules?
This will vary based on your organization and the purpose of your meeting, but there are some best practices that are nearly universal for online meetings. These include asking participants to keep their microphone muted when they aren’t speaking in order to cut down on background noise, and asking people not to multitask during their virtual meetings.
Other types of ground rules for online meetings – such as those about dress codes and participation locations — may need to be more flexible. While it would be ideal if every participant could sign on to a virtual meeting from a quiet, dedicated work space, the reality is that the Coronavirus has resulted in many people working from homes where multiple children and adults are engaged in virtual meetings throughout the day. While it’s important for virtual meeting participants to try to minimize distractions, it’s also essential to recognize that interruptions from children and pets may happen and do not need to be dealt with punitively.
2. Virtual Facilitation Best Practices Mean No One Gets Left Behind
Inclusivity in online meetings can mean a lot of different things. It means making sure your organization is using an online meeting solution that works well with the technology your participants use. It also means making sure any accessibility concerns are addressed, and that time zones are respected in scheduling.
For hybrid meetings, in which some participants are meeting in person and others are joining remotely, it can be particularly challenging to make sure the remote participants can to full participate.
What group facilitation techniques should you use to overcome these hurdles?
First, make sure meetings are planned in advance. Allow participants to weigh in on what times work best for them, any technology concerns they may have, and what accessibility accommodations they may require.
When it comes time for the actual meeting itself, the facilitator should start with a check-in. This allows everyone a chance to speak and helps participants identify who else is in the meeting and what their role is. Check-ins also help facilitate team building, especially if in person meetings haven’t been possible lately. Finally, check-ins are a great way for people to share personal information if they wish, before putting that aside to focus on the business at hand.
For meetings involving people who are less familiar with each other or new teams that are just coming together, ice breakers can also be helpful. In general, ice breaker exercises should be quick and easy to do, fun, and be relevant to the meeting in some way. They shouldn’t be overwhelming or put people on the spot to perform or share personal information.
3. Effective Group Facilitation Techniques Are About More Than Having A Meeting Agenda
Let’s be clear, a detailed virtual meeting agenda is important, but that’s where good online meeting facilitation starts… not where it ends.
Online meeting facilitators are, among other things, referees, making sure the meeting is conducted efficiently and clearly.
To do this, not only do participants need to know what will be covered in the meeting, they need to know how it will be addressed and for how long. This includes clarity on when a meeting participant will be leading a discussion, and when it’s time for group discussion or decision making.
Virtual facilitation best practices include having a plan to call on meeting participants as they have input to add. Asking participants to raise their hands-on camera, use a virtual hand raise in your online meeting tool, or indicate that have a contribution to make in a chat window are all options than can work well.
When working on your group facilitation techniques, you’ll also want to develop your skill at redirecting comments that get off track and enforcing time limits on contributions so that everyone gets a chance to discuss the topic. Utilizing a virtual meeting solution with moderation features can help make this easier.
Effective meeting strategies and virtual meetings also require having a mechanism for decision making. In many cases, that can happen through discussion or it’s clear from the beginning that ultimately the decision will rest with one or more executives. But sometimes, a group vote is necessary – whether informally or through technology that allows each meeting participant to keep their position secret.
Ultimately, it is the online meeting facilitator’s job to not only open discussion, but make it clear when a decision has been made and discussion is closed.
4. Meeting Facilitators Should Be Prepared for Technical Difficulties
Even if you have great virtual meeting software, sometimes things don’t go as planned. For example, one of your meeting participants might experience a sudden power outage. Or another attendee might be experiencing particularly slow internet due to multiple virtual meetings taking place in their household.
Effective online meeting facilitation techniques require having a plan in place for when disruptions happen. How long do you wait for a participant to be able to rejoin a meeting? And do you carry on without them or do you reschedule?
Despite the necessity of being prepared for these types of issues, there are ways to cut down on concerns of this nature. This includes using a virtual meeting tool that works on multiple types of platforms and devices – from desktop computers to mobile phones.
5. You Need Facilitation Techniques That Will Keep People Engaged
Let’s face it, virtual meeting fatigue is real, and a centerpiece of online meeting facilitation strategy should always be about how to keep participants engaged. This means thinking beyond a virtual meeting set up where participants just watch each other’s faces. And sure, screen sharing can be great, but why stop there?
Ideally, the most engaging meetings – whether in person or virtual – are about solving problems and generating new ideas. To do that, you need the right tools. Which means looking for virtual meeting options that include virtual white boards, breakout rooms, and virtual spaces for continuing the discussion after the meeting is over.
6. Online Meeting Facilitators Should Always Follow Up!
An essential part of effective virtual meeting facilitation is follow-up. Follow-up falls into two categories:
- Getting feedback about the meeting experience, so you can make future meetings even better
- Making sure everyone knows what happened in the meeting and following through on agreed upon action
As a virtual meeting facilitator, it’s your job to follow up with participants about their experience. What did they like? What would they improve? Did they enjoy the ice breakers? Did they feel discussion proceeded fairly? Was enough time scheduled to address the agenda thoroughly?
It’s also your job to make sure the decisions and findings from your online meeting are shared. Get notes to all the participants and any one else involved in the topics discussed. While taking meeting notes can be an onerous task, it doesn’t have to be. For example, Kaltura’s virtual meeting tool has a shared notetaking option, which allows the whole team to contribute in order to develop a more complete record of the discussion.
Also be sure to move forward on action items. That may mean scheduling another meeting, but it may also mean continuing to develop ideas asynchronously in your virtual meeting space through discussion boards and the previously mentioned virtual white board.
7. Figure Out Your Next Steps as a Virtual Meeting Facilitator
Maybe you’re a team leader who will always need to be the online meeting facilitator for your projects. But as a facilitator it’s important to consider whether you always need to hold that role, of if it’s a responsibility that should rotate through your team or based on the subjects of upcoming meetings.
Either way, just as it’s important to document the experience of participants in virtual meetings, it is also important for you to document what you have learned about virtual meeting facilitation so you can pass this knowledge on to others in your organization. While many of us are learning group facilitation techniques on the fly right now, online facilitation training is going to become important to all organizations going forward, and you have the opportunity to be a part of that.
Virtual meetings are here to stay, and while in many ways they’re just like traditional meetings with a little bit more technology, they also represent a new way of doing business. While you continue to develop the nuances of your online facilitation strategy, if you always remember the basics of planning ahead, staying organized, and communicating before, during, and after your meetings you’ll be well on your way to being an expert facilitator.