Five tips to increase engagement and impact in your virtual meetings
With the exponential rise of virtual collaboration there's been an instant need for virtual facilitation skills. But as more companies move towards online meetings, the opportunities and challenges associated with remote sessions have been thrown into sharp relief. Henrik Horn Andersen, Kåre Ronex and Iben Nelson, authors of Virtual Facilitation, explain how to get more out of your online sessions
During the past year the meeting format has changed – suddenly a meeting is an event where you are sitting alone, facing the computer and collaborating in a virtual space – and as we write, this is still likely to be from home for most of us. It’s a new reality for many and a steep learning curve. You probably also know the feeling of being stuck to the chair in ‘back-to-back’ meetings without much engagement, a single break to recharge, or the urge to check the mail or even do other work during a virtual meeting.
As a consulting firm with 800 consultants, and to keep our business running, we were faced with the challenge to transfer our engaging and impactful touch points into the virtual world – and so we did. Based on our experience, we have gathered our learnings and best advice into our new book Virtual Facilitation.
Below we present some of these tips to help you create more engaging and impactful virtual meetings.
Tip 1: Be on top of tech
It is a fundamental prerequisite that you are on top of tech if you want to create engaging and impactful virtual meetings. As the facilitator you need to have a technical setup with camera, sound and screen to support your meeting.
We recommend a two-screen setup, so you can both show slides and see the participants during the meeting. It makes a huge difference on both engagement and focus that you can use the webcam while also being able to see each other. And a small note on the webcam: do ensure that you are broadcasting a nice visual to your audience. Light from behind or a messy background from your basement rarely supports your message.
To be on top of tech, you must know your software. You must know how to use it and how to troubleshoot for your participants. Our advice is to use a few pieces of software and learn how to get the most of them instead of spending time searching for the perfect one.
Finally, as a facilitator, it’s also your job to help your participants to be on top of tech. You can advise them prior to the meeting that they should be ready to use the webcam, expect interaction and sit in a quiet place, where sound is not disturbing to all of you. Or you can share a tutorial if they are unfamiliar with the software.
At the beginning of the meeting, you can provide your participants with a short guide to ensuring an appropriate appearance on screen (just as described above) and give them two minutes for adjustments. Or you can give them a tour on the platform and how to use the functionalities if they are new to it.
Tip 2: Prepare your meeting
Another fundamental for engaging and impactful meetings is to prepare participants well. We use a tool called the design star to have a structured approach to all meetings. Using the design star, you always start by defining the purpose and success criteria and then align the participants, platform, process and roles during the meeting to match this.
When you spend time on the design of your meeting you dramatically increase the chance that you’ll spend people’s time wisely and reach the purpose of the meeting. We have put a link for our free extra materials at the end of the article where you will also find the design star tool.
Tip 3: Create energy and engagement during the meeting
We are often asked how to engage people in a virtual meeting. Our best tip is to have various engagement ‘tools’, use them often and ensure variation. An important rule of thumb is that the attention span in a virtual setting is limited to approximately 10 minutes. Then people start ‘zooming’ out, potentially checking their email or doing other work simultaneously.
Of course, the engagement tools you use depend on your platform, but the most common are: raise hand, inputs in the chat, polls, breakout rooms, shared documents, whiteboards and individual reflection. Ensure that you use one of these to activate people every 10 minutes at least.
Another tip is to have everyone active within the first 10 minutes of your meeting. This creates engagement and sets an expectation for the rest of the meeting. It can be a check in in the chat or a breakout room, or a question of why the meeting is important to the participants.
Tip 4: It’s all the small things that do the trick
Energy is often not very high during virtual meetings but with a few simple tricks you can boost it.
You can create good energy even before you start your meeting by playing music and actively welcoming participants as they enter the room to signal that you ‘see’ all participants from the very start, overruling the physical distance.
Another tip is to remember the breaks and give people time to find a cup of coffee or a snack to ensure physical energy. No one builds energy from virtual back-to-back meetings without a break – the brain simply gets tired and unfocused. As a rule of thumb, you need to have a seven-minute break for each 45 minutes of meeting. One organisation we worked with started their weekly meeting with a five-minute break to ensure time to stretch the legs, grab a cup of coffee and go to the bathroom.
Finally, we use ‘energizers’ – short activities that often involve a physical element to get all participants out of the seat and provide a little ‘air to the brain’ and maybe even a smile on the face. One example is a one-minute competition to find five elements with a specific characteristic (ie five blue things), another could be physical stretching or a short breathing-exercise. Be creative!
Tip 5: Create clarity
Finally, due to the physical social distance the virtual room can be a silent place, where no one speaks up. Therefore, the role of the facilitator is even more important here – it is your job to own the meeting and create engagement both in the design and the way you guide your participants during the session.
Instructions and slides must be short and clear. You should also visualise key questions and instructions on your slides. And always give time for reflection – alone, or in groups in breakout rooms. Also do not ask if someone would like to chip in but take a ‘tour around the table’ using the participant list. Ask your participants to write their inputs in the chat and elaborate on some of the inputs or ask what the participants talked about in breakout room number two, for example.
We hope you can use some of these tips to take your virtual meetings to the next level. Good luck!
Henrik Horn Andersen, Kåre Ronex and Iben Nelson, pictured below, are from Implement Consulting Group, a Nordic Consulting Company with 900 consultants dedicated to creating change with impact, and authors of Virtual Facilitation: Create More Engagement and Impact. Find additional material on virtual facilitation here