April 20, 2020
Eileen Pippins, M.A.
The past six weeks have caused us to face unprecedented change. As meetings have shifted from face-to-face to virtual, we have also shifted forever away from “business as usual”. In this new environment, you can facilitate highly collaborative and participatory meetings. If you want to increase your confidence as a facilitator and change the perception of virtual meetings, then these 10 steps can help you still create and deliver facilitation events that will be energetic, effective, and inclusive:
1. Know Your Technology!
Whether you are using familiar conferencing platforms, exploring new features, or using a new platform, you should be as familiar as possible with the technical logistics before entering the meeting. You want your focus to be on the delivery of content and facilitation of process, not putting out technical fires.
2. Provide Tech Support
While there are so many opportunities with transitioning into a virtual environment, there are also many challenges. Create a FAQ document that participants can access before, during or after the meeting. If possible, have a technical assistant online during your meeting to field any technical questions. This support helps keep the agenda flowing.
3. Have Clear Rational Aims
Many webinars, trainings/workshops and meetings have a general agenda, but the outcomes are not clear. Set clear outcomes that outline the rationale behind the purpose of your meeting. This will help you as a leader develop an agenda that is smart and functional.
4. Have Clear Experiential Aims
If you want to enhance participant engagement then consider how to create a “meaningful experience” for attendees. Be sure to include elements in your meeting design that includes specific moments that draw on participant experience, knowledge, and feedback. An effective online experience engages, captivates the senses, not just the mind.
5. Have a Clear Event Design
A great way to create an effective meeting event is to consider what it takes to get through the event. This includes logistics, time allotment for each meeting item, instructions, activities, breaks, speakers, and what roles you and your team, or participants will play in the delivery of the meeting event, etc.
6. Create Clear Instructions
You should have clear instructions ready for participants when they enter the virtual room. This includes any housekeeping/house rules/working agreements, activities and breakout rooms, camera and microphone, documents, breaks, etc.
7. Make It Interactive!
In virtual meetings people need more help staying focused when sitting in front of a computer screen for extended periods of time. Be creative in including interactive elements in your design such as using breakout rooms, group stretch or dance breaks, asking and responding to questions using chat, web polls, etc.
8. Be Flexible!
Sometimes you will encounter technical difficulties, communication errors, or discussions that require a bit more attention than you anticipated. Be flexible enough to adjust your time in the meeting for those unexpected moments. Just remember to keep participants informed about the impact on the remaining time for the agenda.
9. Check-in With Participants
Are participants keeping up with your training, or are they stuck on a question or topic you covered two topics back? Did they get an opportunity to participate in the poll survey, or are they still trying to access the document you asked them to refer to. In a virtual environment, you can gauge some progress from nonverbal cues, and other times you can’t. When you review your event design try and identify opportunities to check in with participants throughout the meeting in ways that make the most sense.
10 Create a Close That Counts!
Effective virtual meetings close with three elements
- Summary of the outcomes. This reminds participants of what was covered and how to access any resources provided
- Action Steps for participants. This is anything you need them to do (i.e., send emails, go to websites, sign-up for the next training, complete the survey, etc.)
- Follow-up contact information. How do you want them to contact you or how will you drive them to your website (even for internal meetings)
Hopefully, these tips will help boost your confidence in facilitating effective participatory virtual meetings. Don’t miss the opportunity to increase engagement, and foster participant connection just as powerfully, if not more so when you deliver face-to-face.
*Eileen Pippins is a ToP Facilitator. She is earning a PsyD in Organizational Psychology at Alliant International University. You can reach Eileen at firstname.lastname@example.org or https://www.linkedin.com/in/eileen-pippins-9b5b6b32