Virtual Engagement—How to Run an Effective Online Meeting

April 8, 2016
5 minutes

In a world where meeting options are many, virtual meetings still face barriers when not properly planned out or facilitated. Technology being probably the number one issue, quickly followed by engagement. Rounding out the rest of the barriers would be connectivity and participation. 

It is natural to expect that moving to virtual modes of communication and collaboration will mean losing the strong cohesion and intimacy that physical meetings bring. This will make it hard for meeting participants to stay fully engaged with each other.

Let’s look at a few best practices to have your meeting run well.

Prepare a Virtual Meeting Commitment Statement

This is a document of standards that refers to practices of preparation and communication that would apply to all virtual meetings. For example:

  • Using technology that can be accessible to everyone
  • That technology is tested in advance to avoid last-minute issues
  • To have clear and stable audio sound
  • Users and facilitators will not multitask during meetings
  • All will follow the line-up prepared, so everyone has an opportunity to comment
  • Each to find a quiet space to set up and participate
  • The mute button will be used all times unless it is your chance to speak
  • For each person to freely speak up to get attention should they have a comment or question
  • Video must be ready whenever possible

It is a good idea to share these with each meeting agenda sent. It serves as a good reminder. Try to keep the list to about six points. All parties need to own them in order for it to succeed.

Virtual Meeting Design is Different from a Regular Meeting Agenda

Regular meeting agendas will require the standard topics to be discussed, who owns them, by when and by who. Virtual meetings, on the other hand, take a bit more to bring online. Purpose of the meeting, roles, meeting norms, facilitator agenda, materials, scheduling, technical tools, and finally, communication all need to be addressed accordingly.

Gain more engagement by rotating roles that support the virtual meeting. These could include:

  • Facilitator—The individual who will design and facilitate the meeting
  • Scribe—Takes notes of all actions and comments. These are emailed as minutes post-meeting
  • Support Person—Point person to handle technical issues
  • Moderator—Individual who assists participants in a F2F meeting or for members who cannot use the video conference platform or facilities in the chat
  • Timekeeper—Keeps all on schedule

Add a bit of humor to the session by assigning a “Yoda” to the meeting. This is the person that brings up the elephant in the room or calls out anyone not following the meeting norms. You can even try to add a “Distractinator” who will call out “ELMO” when the topic drags on (Enough Already, Let’s Move On).

Avoiding Scheduling and Technical Issues

In short, technical problems will pop up, and it is always suggested to have a Plan B ready just in case. As a start, if possible, ensure everyone troubleshoots their own issues prior to the meeting time. Many of the virtual meeting platforms will have a section devoted to support where the meeting participant can speak to someone for guidance. This website has a good list of issues and possible solutions to help you out.

Virtual Icebreakers

This is a great way to start a virtual meeting or training session. Icebreakers can be activities or discussion questions that help relax participants and hopefully ease your group into a meeting or learning situation. This is something that deserves time to be allocated to in the meeting plan. The point is that it can create a positive atmosphere for the group, break down any social barriers, and get people thinking about the topic of the day, perhaps. It will build trust amongst the group and possibly even motivate them.

Evaluating Each Meeting

The more you host virtual meetings, the better they will become. Over time you will all tools that will engage members to vote, brainstorm, give instant feedback, and even do simple energizers to keep them refreshed during long meeting sessions.

Allocate five to ten minutes near the end of the meeting using any number of useful tools (sticky notes being one). Sometimes a simple Glad or Bad emoji would work.

Watch That Hybrid Meetings Don’t Exclude Virtual Participants

It is always natural to look at your meeting attendees in the face and speak to them as they are in the same room. For virtual meetings, especially hybrid meetings, this is when a virtual moderator will benefit you most. They will act as a liaison between the two worlds and use each side equally so neither will be forgotten.

Follow-up with Credible Meeting Notes

Most nonprofits are all too used to the fact that meeting minutes never get read and, at best, only arrive late, long after the meeting. Have someone designated as the Scribe or note taker summarize in an email the main points mentioned verbally in an effort to minimize any miscommunication.

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