The COVID-19 crisis may ease up in the coming months, but its legacy may live with us for many years. The need for remote work has never been more pressing, which is why more and more organizations are making the virtual meeting an intrinsic part of their operations.
Unfortunately, people just aren’t used to exchanging ideas this way. All too often, meeting attendees switch off for a variety of reasons. When we’re not sitting in the same room as the people we’re talking to, even the slightest of distractions can lead to “tune-out.” Thankfully, there are a few ways to make your virtual meetings more effective — ensuring your organization can weather the coronavirus storm.
Use video conferencing software
Engaging with people for an extended period is easier when you can put a face to a voice. Using video conferencing software such as Skype, Zoom, or Google Hangouts helps to foster the atmosphere of a real meeting. Everyone can see everyone else, which makes constructive engagement relatively easy. And there’s nowhere to hide — so tuning out is less likely.
Include dial-in options
Sadly, broadband speeds in certain areas of the world just aren’t keeping pace with video technology. While getting everyone’s face on the screen should be a priority, make allowances for people whose Internet connection isn’t up to scratch. Offer a dial-in option for those who don’t have the necessary connectivity, but only as a final alternative.
Perform a few dry runs
Your virtual meetings will never deliver the desired results if the setup doesn’t work. Technical issues, a lack of know-how or a lack of cohesion between attendees can all derail your meeting before it gets started. Before going live, perform a few dry runs with the help of colleagues. Does everyone know how to use the system? Are the lighting levels right? Can everyone hear what’s being said? Some detailed planning and testing now will ensure the time devoted to your virtual meetings doesn’t go to waste.
Implement meeting basics and etiquette
Try to model your virtual meetings on your brick-and-mortar meetings. Create an agenda, set ground rules and get someone to take minutes. Of course, meetings can be recorded, which makes minute-taking very easy. The success of your virtual meetings heavily depends on planning and structure.
Keep presentations concise
Video conferencing makes “tune-out” and multitasking difficult, but not impossible. When people are working from home, a multitude of distractions can get in the way. In order to keep everyone’s attention, set a time limit for presentations and monologues. Try to keep the conversation going; you can do this through the use of visual aids and opportunities for questions.
It’s very easy to feel isolated in the current climate. And when people feel like this, constructive dialogue becomes difficult. Loosen up your attendees from the outset with an icebreaker. This can reinforce personal relationships during these tough times — and make your virtual meetings seem more natural.
Give individuals key roles
To ensure your virtual meetings go as planned, plan every last detail in advance, but accept the fact that you won’t be able to do everything yourself. As the person leading the meeting, you need to be across every aspect of it. Assign a facilitator to ensure the conversation flows and everyone gets an opportunity to speak. This person should also be in charge of ensuring the agenda is executed in full. Also, give individuals responsibility for issues such as minute-taking, time-watching and technology.
Ensure participation by everyone
Speaking on camera doesn’t come naturally to everyone. There will inevitably be attendees who are reluctant to speak. While you probably shouldn’t force the issue, some gentle coercion might be a positive thing. When you believe that a quiet attendee might be able to add something positive to the discussion, give them a nudge in the right direction.
Take minutes and feedback
One of the advantages of using video conferencing software for meetings relates to feedback. You can gather feedback from attendees in real-time — allowing you to adjust your approach during the meeting. If you decide to use feedback or polling software, however, make sure you brief everyone on its use beforehand.
Ask for suggested improvements
Your first one or two virtual meetings won’t go exactly as planned; there will be a few technical and procedural issues. Make a note of everything that goes wrong, and take steps to ensure the mistakes aren’t repeated. At the end of each meeting, ask every attendee for suggestions on how to improve future meetings. This should be a collective experience, so don’t be afraid to reach out of feedback.
Set the date for the next meeting
Virtual meetings may play a pivotal role in the way you run your nonprofit over the coming months. Try to make them an intrinsic part of your working week. Ideally, all your attendees should know the date and time of the next coming together by the end of the current meeting. Once people learn to embed these virtual meetings into their work schedules, they’re more likely to participate effectively.
Until we’re all able to interact freely with one another, virtual meetings will remain the most effective way to facilitate dialogue between work colleagues. Devise a strategy that works for your organization, and you’ll always be ready to facilitate remote working.
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