20 Top Tips for Revitalising Virtual Meetings – Part 1

After the year we’ve all just lived through, virtual certainly feels like the new normal! So let’s take a moment to assess how vital your virtual life really is. Are your virtual meetings suffering from Zoom-fatigue and the same old breakout room routines? Do you want to host more focused, engaging, and effective virtual gatherings? 

In this series of four short articles I offer 20 top tips to help you revitalise your virtual meetings and make the most of the time, intelligence, and creativity of the people you bring together online.

Starting with 5 great tips for designing vital virtual meetings

It goes without saying that simply turning up online to run through a list of agenda items, or expecting a diverse exchange of views to follow an open question, are sure-fire ways to set the virtual tumbleweed rolling. The virtual space is already fraught with distraction and uncertainty; it pays to come prepared and ready to host a meeting that generates engagement right from the start!

Tip#1: Purpose. Set a crystal-clear purpose for the meeting and describe your desired outcomes as tangibly as possible.

Exciting new virtual applications are popping up every day, making it more important than ever to stay disciplined. Ask yourself as you plan, am I communicating clarity of purpose? Will this activity generate the interactions that build towards the outcomes I’m looking for? Am I using a varied enough range of approaches to give everyone a fair opportunity to contribute their perspectives on the issue in focus? More often than not, simple is better. It can be tempting to throw all kinds of cool new virtual activities into the mix, resulting in overwhelm and confusion. If virtual is the air you breathe, rein yourself in and avoid showing off! Think about the range of virtual experience, abilities, and comfort levels the people in your meeting are likely to have and plan with them in mind.

Tip#2: Empathy. Think about the atmosphere that will help your virtual space to achieve its intended outcomes.

This is as much about empathy as it is about being outcome-driven. Will you be inviting people into a learning environment? Then prioritise establishing the psychological safety needed to ask questions, experiment, and make mistakes in a virtual setting. Are you bringing a new team together? Then it’s all about relationship and trust-building at a distance. Is your goal to solve some problems and generate new ideas? Then your meeting needs to energise people’s diverse creative capacities and get them working together to connect their ideas. Facilitators call this ‘creating the container’. Use empathy to design the right virtual container to hold the experience you want people to have and to facilitate the right outcomes.

Tip#3: Storyboard. For longer meetings with a variety of activities, use a Storyboard to plan the meeting flow from start to finish, right down to the minute.

This might sound pedantic, but time works in dog-years online! Storyboards are crucial for helping facilitators stay on brief, for keeping things energised, and for ensuring the most valuable conversations and interactions take place. A storyboard is a document containing a multi-column table. Key messages are listed in the left column with other columns listing the slides, visuals, or links to be shown for each message. Additional columns show timing, host names, and other details. Storyboards are brilliant for staying on top of mundane yet critical details like handovers, when to screen share, and how long you’ve really got for introductions. Speaking personally, when I work with a storyboard, I feel measurably clearer and more present. The last thing I want to be thinking about while holding the space and scanning the virtual room for micro-cues, is what the exact instructions were for the next session and who I’m supposed to be handing over to. Here’s a link to a brilliant online storyboard planning resource with Sessionlab.

Tip#4: Clarity. Use Chat to broadcast clear and timely information and instructions.

Don’t make the rookie mistake of relying solely on people’s ability to listen or to recall detailed instructions. Think the old telephone game we played as kids! The message is going to get lost somewhere in the chain. Work with the visual medium and paste clear, pre-prepared instructions, questions, links, or other information relevant to the activity into Chat. Draw attention to the fact that instructions are available in Chat and can be referred to even when breakout rooms are active. As part of my preparation for great virtual meetings I draft a sheet of prepared broadcast messages, complete with links and emojis, and then test them visually in Chat. I tweak until they’re clear to follow, succinct, and visually engaging, and then paste these into my Storyboard, ready to cut and paste in the live session. It goes without saying that if you plan to screen share at any point, you want to have only those screens waiting in the background, ready to go at the right moment. PS. Check out Emojipedia – there’s an emoji for everything!

Tip#5: Contribution. Create asynchronous opportunities for people to prepare and contribute ahead of the meeting.

Not everything needs to be done live. Think about what can be done offline and ahead of time. If you’re not sure what people most want to talk about, or what issues most need to be resolved, a simple Google-form, poll, or mentimeter can generate the targeted input you need to design a focused, high-value session. If your meeting would benefit from a fun and engaging start, be creative and ask people to take 5 minutes the week before to paste a favourite image or quote into a presentation saved on a shared Google-drive, then use this as the warm up exercise for your meeting.

What other small actions help you prepare a clear, engaging, and focused meeting flow? Share your best tips with others in the Comments.

In Part 2 I offer 5 great ideas for opening well, creating psychological safety, and warming up the virtual room!

Download your complementary Checklist – ‘21 Ways to Revitalise Your Virtual Meetings’.

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