Last year I set myself a goal of improving my online meeting skills. I had some previous bad experiences with online meetings both as a Facilitator and as a Participant. I considered that I was particularly bad at facilitating and managing online meetings. I found them difficult to manage – to control who was speaking, to ensure that participants did not talk over each other and every participant had the opportunity to participate. I felt that an online meeting was not a productive use of time or an effective forum to engage with others.
My Journey with Toastmasters
However, I knew that many of my colleagues were having huge success with online meetings, and not wanting to be left behind I set out to improve.
I am a member of Toastmasters and my speech pathway included a module on ‘Managing Online Meetings’. I was really excited about this module as I had been actively avoiding online meetings as I had some bad experiences.
Throughout my Toastmasters learning journey, I realised that managing online meetings required the 5 P’s. The 5 P’s of anything are: Preparation & Planning Prevents Poor Performance. I thought that I would share them with you. Along the way I added few extra P’s !
The 5 P’s of Managing Online Meetings
Preparation & Planning
Choose the online meeting platform that best suits your purpose. I had previously used Go to Meetings and Skype. I did not find either of those platforms to be reliable, stable, and flexible. Reliable enough to ensure that every person can access the platform easily using a link. Stable enough so that once they join the meeting, they can remain in the meeting and the platform does not ‘kick’ them off. After doing some research and asking for recommendations from friends, I chose the Zoom platform. Zoom provides users with the ability to easily schedule a meeting, send links to participants. Participants can easily click on the link without the need to download software.
Ensure to provide participants with an expected program or agenda for the meeting.
Share the program plenty of time in advance.
Be sure to provide participants with the opportunity to join the meeting before the meeting is formally scheduled to start to allow them the opportunity to sort out any video or audio issues.
If the formal part of your meeting is scheduled to start at a particular time – make sure you start at that time. It is disrespectful to make those that took the time to join at the required time wait for those that were not considerate enough to do so.
Send meeting invites for the online meeting. This will allow you, the facilitator, a better ability to manage the attendees. You will know who to expect to join the meeting by those that have accepted the meeting request.
Include the link to join the meeting in the meeting request to make it easier for people to find at the scheduled time.
As participants join the meeting be sure to welcome them. You can welcome them by a wave until their audio kicks in and then once their audio is operating, verbally welcome them to the meeting. This ensures that others recognise when other participants and it makes the participant feel a part of the meeting.
Don’t waste time by explaining the meeting protocols to every participant as they join. Wait until everyone joins the meeting. This ensures that every participant receives the same information at the same time.
Once all participants join the meeting, or the scheduled meeting time has arrived, it is important to set the online meeting protocols. Using the Zoom platform, I was able to improve participant experience at my online meetings by setting some simple meeting protocols:
Power -To avoid the meeting becoming a noisy rabble that no one enjoys, you need to exercise your power as the facilitator of the meeting.
Firstly, ask everyone to mute their audio. With using the Zoom platform, as the facilitator you can mute all. However, I recommend that you ask others to mute themselves. This provides meeting participants with the opportunity to contribute to meeting operations;
Secondly, if participants wish to speak, they should ‘raise their hand’ and that as the facilitator you will call on them. Even if you’re using the Zoom platform that provides a “Raise your Hand” feature I still recommend that you ask participants to physically raise their hand to the screen. This is a more physical indication that someone wishes so to speak;
Thirdly, instruct members on the use of the chat feature. When members are ‘chatting’ via the chat feature they are not focused on the speaker or meeting content;
Fourth, if you are using the Zoom platform there is the ‘Speaker View’ and a ‘Gallery View’. The Speaker View allows for the speaker to primarily occupy the screen, whilst the Gallery view allows for all participants to be on the screen, each speaker is identified by a green box surrounding their picture. The participant experience will be improved using the speaker view as they will be able to visually connect with the speaker.
Pull the strings – As the Facilitator, when managing online meetings, you need to take control of who speaks and when they speak. When participants raise their hand either physically or using the platform – acknowledge them e.g. “Thanks, Mary, you’re next Jim”, Invite people that have not spoken to speak.As the facilitator, you should have the screen on Gallery View. Watch the screen and watch the facial expressions of the participants. Does someone look like they have something to contribute? Be sure to ask that person if they would like to comment. Some people are not inclined to speak up unless they are physically invited to do so. Watch for background noise that is distracting the meeting and remind everyone to put their microphones on mute when not speaking.
Prevent Poor Performance
Practice Makes Perfect
It is safe to say that facilitating your first online meeting won’t be perfect. Even after you have been doing it for a little while things will go pear-shaped from time to time. That’s OK. Think “Continuous Improvement” . Make a note of what worked and what didn’t and focus on leveraging from what worked by repeating it and improving what didn’t work by doing it differently (better) next time. Most importantly keep going. Practice really does make perfect.
I had no idea when I set my goal to improve my online meeting facilitation, just how important this would be to my business. As COVID-19 has forced businesses to change their operations, I have had plenty of opportunities to practice managing online meetings in the last few months. The more comfortable I have become, the more I am finding that I am deferring to an online meeting in preference to a voice call.
In our physically distanced world, being able to connect face to face has become so important, not only in business but also socially. I am now also using online meetings to connect with friends and relatives. It is a total game-changer that I wished I had embraced so much earlier. I hope the tips above help by removing the fear and improving the overall online meeting experience for you and your participants.
If you would like to learn more about managing online meetings or how to incorporate online meetings into your workplace, I’d love to have a chat. Reach out to us at Bramwell Partners for effective and professional small business HR solutions across a range of employee management services today.