Meeting Virtually—COVID19 Doesn’t Have to Stop You

With #COVID19 changing the way we meet, many companies are adapting to, or even moving long-term to, a virtual office model. Whether you sell to the public, manage projects or teams, or manage the whole company, you are no doubt thinking about how you can hold successful virtual meetings and interactions. .

People want to go to a meeting, whether virtually or in-person, and feel like it was a good use of time and that they accomplished something. Here are three tips that will help you use Zoom and hold meetings that are most engaging, efficient, and effective.

But, before we get to the tips, have some fun checking out this example of a bad virtual meeting.

Now, on to the tips—Your meeting doesn’t have to be like our example.


1.      Design a Great Meeting

The first thing to remember is that you are conducting a meeting. Whether virtual or in-person, it is critical that you spend the appropriate amount of time developing a solid meeting purpose and agenda. Then, based on your developed agenda, identify the people that should be invited to the meeting and think through the logistics, both to best prepare participants and to best execute an engaging and successful experience.

We have a great resource on running effective meetings and always recommend using a design team to plan your larger meetings or conferences; A design team is a team that represents the whole group of stakeholders that need to be at the meeting. Diverse design teams help plan more effective and holistic agendas, and, as a result, more successful and meaningful meetings. Find more information on the importance of design teams in my recent blog on Engaged Change™ model and in the Design Teams Episode of S&G Connections.

Some things to keep in mind when designing your virtual meeting for Zoom include:

Define the meeting purpose—What will be different for the participants because they have attended your meeting? By defining an overall purpose for your meeting and a specific purpose for each agenda item, you will be able to help participants focus, eliminate distractions, and more easily stay on track with your agenda. In addition, the purpose helps you craft effective and inviting communications that help people understand the reasons they want to attend.

Design a solid agenda to guide you–What conversations need to take place to accomplish the meeting purpose? Your agenda should identify the overall meeting purpose, duration, date, and ways to participate in the conversation (Zoom information, in-person location). In addition, for each agenda item, define the purpose, duration, related preparation needed. A good purpose tells participants the goal and/or result of the conversation (to learn, to vote, to approve, Etc.). A good purpose also helps identify the successful approach (panel, small group conversations, lecture, Etc.).

Audience – Who needs to be part of the conversation? Think about the purpose of the meeting and of each conversation you have defined. I like to start with a quick conversation around the question: what stakeholder groups need to be present to best inform and drive productive and results-oriented conversations (think widely, increased diverse participation results in more informed conversations and effective decisions). Then, I like to identify the people who should attend to ensure appropriate stakeholder groups are included (more is not necessarily bad, see below).


2.      Identify the needed logistics to succeed.

To me, A GREAT design FOR A meeting is like having the team members and team goals needed to score more homeruns, and to ultimately, win the game. Following this logic, the logistics of the meeting is like having the right equipment or calling the right plays needed to score those homeruns to win.

I use a three-pronged approach to good logistics planning:

Promotion—What needs to happen to get people there? It’s critical to put together inviting and inspiring messaging and to develop communications that you can use to invite people in multiple ways—for large meetings, it may take eight or more touches to get them to attend. Think about what information you need from participants, driving whether you want people to RSVP or Register. Do you need to collect more information (through a registration) to make the meeting more effective or to better serve the needs of your participants?

Preparation—what do participants need in advance to make the meeting most effective? Will participants need time to process certain documents to have a more informed discussion? Is there information that can be sent in a report, which then creates an opportunity for more discussion instead of participants listening to someone talking at them? (they will check out).

Delivery—what should we do to have the most effective conversation at the meeting and to best follow up on the meeting? What will make people feel most engaged and actively participate in the meeting? Using an approach that engages people in small group conversations helps people stay engaged, identify long-term solutions, and make better decisions. Spend five minutes teaching your participants to facilitate and capture outputs. This will keep your small group conversations focused and productive; it also teaches successful meeting skills to participants. Remember, you can still capture data and hold small group discussions, even when you are holding a virtual meeting (see below for more).


3.      Know what tools you have and know how to best use them

Remember, having great team goals and players (the design) and having the right people and equipment (the logistics) could help the Orioles have a winning season. However, having the right tools in their toolbox, and knowing the best way to use those tools, is the third component in the trifecta to both win more games and to make your meetings work.

Event bright, google Calendar, Zoom, and Google Docs are my four most used tools when holding virtual meetings. I use Eventbright to capture registration information when needed, google calendar to ensure someone gets an email for the meeting and that it is blocked on their calendar, and Google Docs to create shared workspaces to share materials and capture outputs from small group and large group conversations9.

Zoom is what I use for my primary tool or “vehicle” to hold an online meeting. A complete list of Zoom features is available, and, I have covered some of my favorites below in terms of considerations to holding a great meeting:

Zoom Rooms and Zoom Webinars: Many people like the zoom Webinar format; however, I feel it limits participation and connection, as participants are only able to ask questions, use a limited chat to communicate with others, and listen to the panelist or speaker talk at them. Participants are rarely able to share their own video, resulting in a decreased feeling of connectedness to other participants.

The Zoom Room, on the other hand, helps increase connectedness and collaboration, as people are able to break into small groups for deeper discussion, see each other through video share, and more actively participate.

Chat: The chat room is a great place to handle questions from participants, allow participants to quickly respond to a question from a presenter to the whole group, or facilitate quick introductions while everyone is coming into the meeting.

Video: Video is a key component to increasing collaboration and participation. When we can see each other and when someone can see us (on camera), we pay closer attention to the meeting, participate more in discussions, and feel more connected to the other participants.

All Mute V. Participant Muting: There are times when I might mute everyone right before a panel is speaking. At other times, I may want participants to mute or mute, based on their desire to participate in the conversation.

Waiting Room, Locking the meeting, and Entry Chimes: If I have back to back meetings or want to be cautious with who is joining an ongoing meeting, I can enable the waiting room feature (which allows me to decide whether I want to admit someone to the meeting). I can also lock the meeting, which closes the meeting and prevents anyone else from joining. Related to these features is the entry chimes, which if on, plays a chime when someone enters or leaves the meeting (or the waiting room).

Small group break-outs: I’ve mentioned small group activities a lot, and this feature, alone, makes me so happy with Zoom. I can assign people to specific groups or randomly create small group conversations. Participants can facilitate and capture the outputs from their small group conversations (in Google Docs). Then, I can bring everyone back to the main room and debrief/report out what happened. This process of individual thoughts driving small group thought and whole group decision-making is a key to the planning I do and the meetings I hold.


I’m Ready—Let’s Meet!

Whether you meet with people virtually or in-person, one-on-one or as a large group, designing a good meeting, identifying the right logistics, and knowing how to use the right tools is a trifecta for your meeting’s success.

But you aren’t alone!

In fact, I’m here to help. Schedule a free consultation with me and let’s make your meetings a winning success. Don’t let your day be killed by bad meetings but instead, show your coworkers that meetings can inspire us, re-energize us, and help your team win the ball game.


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