Conducting virtual meetings is not like the “good old days” when everyone was in the same room together. For example, in a face-to-face setting, when someone dominated the discussion, the facilitator would not go over to that person and say, “John, you’re talking too much.” Instead, she might simply move closer to the person. Sometimes just the presence of the facilitator over the shoulder of the dominating team member signals that a modified engagement approach is warranted.
However, you cannot use that technique in a virtual environment to facilitate an effective meeting. New ways of interacting require new methods for keeping meetings on track. Here are five virtual facilitation tips to help you tackle this challenge.
- Insist on having video cameras on. Unless you’re facing bandwidth limitations that keep the video from keeping pace with the audio, ask team members to be on video. Live images help give each participant more presence in the meeting. Also, as the facilitator, video allows you to see whether each participant is engaged or distracted. Are they listening? Are they contributing? Are they trying to join the conversation but are unable to effectively jump in? The visual cues from video help you make virtual meetings more effective.
- Invite balanced discussion. This tip also applies to in-person meetings, but virtual sessions can boost this challenge where a few team members engage in conversation while leaving others on the sidelines. The influence of those in the dialogue can lead other team members to feel left out, reduced to observing or listening as a few main players talk. This does not necessarily mean the speakers are more powerful or more important; sometimes it simply happens as part of the flow of the meeting. As the facilitator, ask the dominant talkers to pause their conversation while you seek input from others.
- Use virtual collaboration tools. Go beyond simply organizing a teleconference or conducting a Zoom meeting. Add in other virtual collaboration tools that allow people to work together and become more actively involved. One tendency we see with many virtual facilitation tools is boosting wider participation. People who are quieter in talk-only sessions will sometimes contribute more when they are able to add content to the virtual facilitation platform. They may not say as much as others, but their contributions are still noteworthy and significant.
- Use small groups. When you have a large group of people in a Zoom meeting, conversations go slower because only one person can talk at a time. If there are 12 people in the group, only one-twelfth of them can participate at a time. However, breaking the group into three subgroups of four each (which you can do using virtual breakout rooms) allows three people to talk instead of only one. Of course, not everybody hears every conversation. However, you have more people actively participating and higher levels of engagement and contribution. Now you’ve gone from one-twelfth of the group participating to 25% participating, just by using a small group breakout approach.
- Design the work to be done in a participative and action-oriented way. Recently we had a dozen people in a work session using Zoom plus a virtual collaboration platform. At one point, we took about five minutes of “quiet time” for people to consider the issues and post suggestions on our common content page. During that short break, our team members contributed 25 ideas. With this approach, everyone participated; they all had activities to complete; and we received a ton of feedback in a relatively short amount of time. Then we took another five minutes so people could read each others’ ideas and react. Since everyone could contribute (and later review) at the same time, we were able to get a lot of work done quickly.
Virtual meetings will always present unique challenges and opportunities to collaborate. Techniques such as these five tips can help you better facilitate these new ways of working.