Many people have recently moved to having most, if not all of their meetings online, until the COVID-19 pandemic is under control. Many organizations are already comfortable running meetings online, but others are not. Here are some tips for running meetings online.
- Being asked to move meetings online is a good opportunity to examine whether the meeting is needed or not. Sometimes we having meetings because they are routine. Before you move a meeting online, take a minute to re-examine the need for the meeting. If there isn’t a strong reason or an ample agenda, consider canceling it. However, remember that if your staff are all working from home for the first time, the purpose of an online meeting may be to get your people together and comfortable with the format.
- Choose an online meeting software that is easy to use but also gives you a variety of tools. While it may be tempting to use a call-in option, online tools give you the ability to manage the meeting in different ways. For example, the visual screen allows for people to see each other which in turn, gives them the capability of better understanding body language. There are many excellent online streaming options, some of which include Zoom Meetings, GoToMeeting or WebEx. Any of these can help with online meeting issues, and a few of them offer basic free or inexpensive options. If possible, encourage people to use the cameras so you can see everyone in the “room.”
- Designate a lead. If you have a team that frequently works together or meets often, it is common to not have a leader. The team manages the meeting to get things done. This approach is much more difficult to do online. We recommend designating a leader for the meeting; someone who can keep things moving along, while managing the discussions. The group needs to be in agreement on this process so to help the meeting be a success. If you are not comfortable with the online environment, we also recommend having a producer. The producer is a person who assists in larger meetings but not necessarily needed for smaller group meetings. Producers can also monitor the online system, ensure questions are being answered, and help people with technical issues. The producer is constantly monitoring the software and managing the technical components of the meeting.
- Have an agenda and send it out ahead of time and considering posting it so people can see it in the meeting as well. This is a best practice for all meetings, but as we start to move into a more, virtual environment, we tend to find this is a rule that many people ignore. An agenda helps people stay on task and follow time. This helps when not everyone can see each other and gives the person leading the meeting a tool for moving things along.
- Get online about 10-15 minutes before the meeting is scheduled to begin (especially if everyone is fairly new to online meetings) so you can work through any technical issues. It may be helpful for the lead and person/volunteer to do a trial run ahead of time to see how everything works. The more you use it, the easier it will become.
- Don’t be afraid to play around with the tools your software offers. Many options provide tools like whiteboards. Whiteboards can be used for taking notes, brainstorming information or just sharing ideas. There are also tools that offer multiple screen sharing. This allows for discussions on multiple topics or ideas. You can even use tools that put your team into virtual breakout rooms, allowing for small group discussions. Get creative and if you need help, let us know!
- Don’t forget to use basic, facilitation techniques. Just because you have moved to an online format, it does not mean these techniques are no longer valid. This includes setting up rules of the room (no side conversations, keep your attention here, etc.), setting up a parking lot for ideas so you do not lose relevant topics and “round robin” techniques in order to hear from everyone. For meetings where everyone is providing input or giving report, call on them by name rather than just having people jump in. This will prevent people from talking over each other, awkwardly trying to figure out when to jump in and also ensures everyone is given the opportunity to contribute. Make sure you also learn to use the mute function, especially for larger groups where background noise can be very distracting and make it hard to hear.
- Wrap up your meeting with action items and a recap. Again, this is a meeting best practice. However, many of us do not follow these guidelines for an in-person meeting. This is especially helpful in virtual meetings as it gives a sense of closure and is easy to send out at the end of the meeting.
As we continue to work in this capacity over the next several weeks, we believe you will find it easier to do meetings online. In fact, we encourage you to find a way to incorporate this online meeting approach into your work.
If you have any questions or issues, let us know. We are happy to jump in and see how we can help.
Brittany Ashby for the Align Team