Anyone who has dialed into a meeting virtually knows that it is not always as enjoyable or productive an experience as compared to being face-to-face in a conference room with the team. But, many growth companies are spread out all over the country or all over the world, and it is not always cost-efficient or feasible to have all of the right people in the same room at the same time. Thankfully, online meeting tools make it possible for all to participate in important meetings, and the facilitator can use these simple tips to increase the effectiveness of meetings where some (or even all) of the participants are not in the room:
- Choose an online meeting tool that has a video conference function. Turning on the webcam for virtual participants will help them feel more included in the meeting and will deter them from checking out (you know, giving in to the temptations around them that distract them from the task at hand.) Using video can raise the energy-level and engagement of a meeting where some or all of the participants are virtual.
- Be ready with the right technology. Set up and distribute the meeting link and call in number ahead of time, and ask virtual participants to call in five minutes before the meeting starts. Also, check the technology in your conference room to make sure that screen-sharing and audio work before the meeting starts. This way, you're not losing precious meeting time figuring out how to connect with virtual participants.
- Be clear about expectations for participants by setting the ground rules in the beginning of the meeting. This is a best practice for all meetings, and it's especially important when people are participating virtually. Is it OK to check emails during the meeting? Is it OK to step out and take a call? Remind virtual participants that you've asked them to take part in the meeting because their contributions are important and you expect them to share even though they are not in the room with you.
- Be mindful of virtual participants when you plan your agenda. When you set times for breaks and lunch, remember to explicitly tell your virtual attendants what time to be back at their computer ready to go. Once you've set the time, don't change it - even if everyone in the room is finished eating long before the half hour is over, don't start back early and expect the virtual participants catch up. Also, think about virtual participants when planning activities or ice breakers. Make sure you can adapt any activities to include people who aren't in the room.
- Make a plan for how you are going to engage people who are not in the room in discussions. Maybe your plan is to always start with the virtual participants when you go around the room asking the team to share. If you decide this upfront and mention it in the ground rules in the beginning of the meeting, you'll be less likely to forget them when leading discussions, and they'll probably be paying closer attention if they know they'll be called on first. Another plan might be to assign someone in the room to each virtual participant. That person might be in charge of turning the webcam to face the person who is talking or reminding the facilitator to call on them during discussions. This person may be the virtual person's scribe if you're doing an activity that calls for writing something down to share, and they can take pictures of all the flip charts for the virtual participant.
These simple steps and some foresight on the part of the facilitator can vastly improve the virtual meeting experience for all involved. For more tips and ideas about how to facilitate great meetings with your team, download our meeting facilitation guide.