Carol Vernon is a certified executive coach and trainer at Communication Matters: Executive Coaching & Training in Washington, DC.
With staff, volunteers, and vendors often dispersed across the country, virtual meetings have become indispensable for getting work done in many associations. To ensure your virtual meetings are successful, follow these three tips.
Thanks to a wide range of technology tools, virtual meetings are now a reality for many associations. Communication barriers that once prevented people from interacting or collaborating online in real time are a thing of the past, and virtual meetings that bring together remote staff, member volunteers, and vendors have become routine.
But virtual meetings are different from the face-to-face variety in many ways. For online collaboration to succeed, participants need to communicate differently than they would if everyone were gathered in the same room together. Here are three tips to help you facilitate effective and productive virtual meetings.
One of the biggest challenges of an online meeting is that you can’t read attendees’ body language when they’re connected virtually. But this doesn’t mean that virtual meetings should feel less inclusive or personal.
While it’s important to keep the meeting on track, don’t ignore the need to use a collegial and engaging communication style. An intentional approach to how you communicate at the opening of a virtual meeting will help set the tone. Visual cues, such as a smile or direct eye contact, can go a long way.
Make sure participants are introduced at the beginning of the meeting and encourage all attendees to participate. Live chat can be a great feature for virtual meetings. As you begin the meeting, you can use it for an icebreaker activity, asking participants to share something interesting about their location or line of work.
When you facilitate a virtual meeting, you may have to shift between a directive and supportive voice more than you would in an in-person meeting. You might ask more open-ended questions (supportive voice), followed by more pointed questions (directive voice) to engage different participants.
When you facilitate a virtual meeting, you may have to shift between a directive and supportive voice more than you would in an in-person meeting.
Sharing an agenda with participants ahead of time helps everyone understand the tasks, goals, and intended outcomes of the meeting. While this is also important for in-person meetings, it is even more essential when participants are virtual because it can be more challenging to manage participants’ different personality and communication styles. An agenda is a useful tool for doing this. For example:
Again, because you can’t see attendees’ body language, you need to look for other ways to monitor the group’s progress. Regularly remind participants where you are on the agenda and check in with them throughout the meeting to see if they have any questions about what’s been discussed so far.
You may find that your directive voice is needed at the beginning of the meeting, when participants might prefer someone to take charge and get the meeting going in the right direction. But as it progresses and your participants begin to engage in conversation, you may want to step back into a more supportive role.
Online meetings require some additional prep work. Consider assigning simple premeeting tasks to individual participants and sharing materials ahead of time. As with most meetings, doing some advance work for a virtual meeting helps spark conversation and gives everyone an equal opportunity to prepare to contribute.
Also, be prepared for when things go wrong. Online meetings rely on technology tools that can be unpredictable. In the prework, advise attendees what to do if they have technical issues logging into the system you’re using. If tech glitches arise during the meeting, be ready to do a little troubleshooting, but keep it short. Don’t make your participants sit for minutes on end while you try to remedy the problem. If the problem persists, be prepared to reschedule.
Virtual meetings have become an essential tool for getting work done in an economy that increasingly relies on connecting professionals in far-flung places. An ability to facilitate them is becoming a core competency for association leaders, so be intentional about cultivating the skills you need. The more you practice, the more successful your virtual meetings will be.