5 Top tips for boosting engagement and participation
In Part 3 of this short series I share 5 practical and positive tips for how to make the most of synchronous and asynchronous working to boost the engagement and participation people bring to your meeting.
Tip#1: Master asynchronicity! Make the shift away from mirroring the 9-5, in-person, office-first approach to working.
This is an important one, so I’ll say a bit more. The times when colleagues gather virtually should be valued as the most precious time – time that cannot be spent as effectively any other way. When we focus on how best to use synchronous (together) time, we start to see the asynchronous potential for people to make choices about times for reflection, preparation, collaboration, connection, and creativity. Whether you’re planning a relatively focused one-off meeting, a day-long offsite, or a longer programme of activity, think creatively and empathetically about how to weave synchronous and asynchronous working together to best achieve your aims and make the most of the time, intelligence, and creativity of the people you bring together.
I’ve previously talked about how Slack, Teams, and Google-suite are obvious examples of ways to support asynchronous collaboration. It’s easy to get a conversation started, run a quick survey via a Google form to target themes and finalise a useful agenda, or to send out a Google doc or slide presentation to complete written or visual tasks ahead of a virtual discussion. Live polls in Zoom offer instant feedback to fuel decision making.
But there are many more effective and creative asynchronous approaches to consider! A few examples follow:
- For a longer programme of activity, use Mural or another visual canvas to map the asynchronous and synchronous elements and show how they work together to achieve the programme goals. To engender commitment, show how each work unit has purpose and builds towards a whole and meaningful picture.
- Float the idea of blocking time in peoples calendars to do certain kinds of asynchronous work. This works well as part of a programme, where these agreements can be formed upfront.
- Not all activities need to be done in front of a screen or with video enabled. You can invite people to find a comfortable place in their home to take 30 minutes to read an article, to journal, or use a creative medium to reflect on a question, such as sketching, doodling or free-writing.
- Consider inviting people to do some elements of asynchronous work as buddies. This doesn’t always have to mean actively collaborating. It can simply mean that every Wednesday at 2pm you and I have a quick tea break on Zoom and then keep the room open for 2 hours while we carry on with separate work, occasionally breaking to share an aside. For those spending an enormous amount of the day living solo or working alone, this can help to recreate a sense of collegiate presence and alleviate loneliness.
Tip#2: Liberate your meetings! If you’re not yet familiar with liberating structures, take a good look at the menu of 33 (and growing) simple yet disruptive techniques.
Many of these structures can be transferred into the virtual space and are designed to enhance trust, lively participation, and creative collaboration with groups of any size. For example, try Impromptu Networking to rapidly share challenges and expectations, and build connections. Troika Consulting is a brilliant method for sourcing immediate, practical, and imaginative help from colleagues. User Experience Fishbowl is a simple yet sophisticated way to share know-how and experience with a larger community.
Tip#3: Plan intentional spaces for quiet reflection. Times of planned silence can be powerful ways to facilitate individual reflection and sense-making and to diminish the effects of power differentials.
Giving people a moment to write down their personal thoughts and ideas in relation to an issue or question – before hearing anyone else’s viewpoints (especially those of the boss or resident expert!) – can really help to expand the diversity of inputs and ensure everyone has a chance to be heard. Just as in analogue spaces, trust needs to build in virtual spaces. Some of the asynchronous ideas shared above are relevant here, but another simple way to build from personal reflection, to group discussion, and then plenary sense-making, is to use the 1-2-4-All Model. This is another great Liberating Structure that is worth a mention. It works, no matter how large the group. Plan a minimum of 1 minute for timed personal reflection on a question or issue before moving into pairs in breakout rooms. Then merge pairs into groups of four to share and build on ideas. Back in plenary, invite each group to share 1 to 2 ideas or reactions that are different to anything shared by others.
Tip#4: Don’t be a Lone Ranger! For virtual gatherings with a more diverse, complex, or extended agenda, avoid going solo.
A little collaboration can have a big impact on the success of your virtual event. Give yourself some breathing space by partnering with a co-facilitator with whom you can hand the baton back and forth. While one delivers the content or leads the discussion, the other can be reading the room, scanning for reactions, noticing the energy, and anticipating questions. Use short breaks to check in with each other on energy and pace. Too fast can hinder depth; too slow creates disengagement. A little trick for the facilitator reading the room is to pin individual videos and briefly scan expressions and body language. Not to be intrusive, but as a source of valuable information we would naturally pick up during in-person meetings. At the very least, offload the stress of managing the tech and set yourself up with a fielder – someone who can run the tech and meeting admin for you and respond to any issues participants may be encountering. Co-facilitation, when well planned, energizes the experience for participants and will be a big boost to your own energy and confidence too.
Tip#5: Get out of your head! And into your body. Create space to connect with the body, boost energy, and get the blood flowing.
Virtual events can still be vital events! For longer events, timebox transition time to allow for mental space and physical breaks between gatherings. Encourage people to change posture or location by going for a short walk around their neighbourhood, putting on some music to energise their mood, or during a break post a link in Chat to a 15-minute Pilates stretch video. In-session, you can ask people to respond to a simple ‘energy meter’ by voting thumbs up or down. If thumbs are down, get everyone up for a quick stretch and move around, a virtual wave, or, if you’re up for some fun, a 30 second ‘videos-off’ dance party (silent or otherwise)!
What other creative ideas do you have for boosting engagement and getting everyone participating? Share your best tips with others in the Comments.