Facilitating Virtual MeetingsOct 11, 2021
To facilitate a virtual meeting effectively, make it clear who is leading the meeting beforehand. Then when the meeting officially starts, have the meeting leader state the meeting's purpose and agenda. Adult learning theory shows us that adults don't just want to know something - they want to know why. So when you are overviewing the meeting's purpose, include why it matters to the meeting participants specifically. This will pique their interest and keep them more engaged. To help with this, share a specific agenda and goal/purpose for the meeting when you send out your meeting invite. Make it clear what you're wanting from participants. For instance, if you are going to ask for their feedback, let them know it ahead of time. This gives everyone clarity on why they are there and helps them come to the meeting ready to go.
Throughout the meeting, build in opportunities for participants to ask questions. It can help to have the meeting leader specifically call on people, one at a time, to have them share their view or ask questions. While this is likely different from how an in-person meeting would be conducted, it can help in the virtual format where there are lag times. It also helps because virtual meetings only share audio from one person at a time, which can create confusion and unnecessary waiting as people check to see who is going to keep talking. Having the meeting leader specifically choose a person to share will minimize this challenge. Because some are more introverted than others, if you plan on asking questions or for feedback about specific topics make sure the participants know this ahead of time so those who are more introverted or who like longer processing time have the opportunity to formulate their thoughts before the meeting begins.
One tool that you can use to your benefit is your webcam. The meeting leader can create a sense of connection by turning their camera on. If you want participants to follow suit, then make sure you tell them this ahead of time so that they know to come camera ready. I also encourage meeting participants to hide their self view so that they aren't seeing their own video. This is a setting available in most virtual meeting platforms and it will help all be less self conscious because they'll be focused on the people speaking instead of staring at themselves, which can be distracting and draining.
One way to balance a sense of connection while also helping people to focus on the meeting content is to begin the meeting with all cameras and mics on (let them know this is going to happen ahead of time). Let participants in a few minutes early to mimic in-person settings where folks may trickle into a meeting room early. This gives them a chance to catch up before the actual topic starts. Then once the meeting agenda is shared and any introductions are complete, you can request participants mute themselves to avoid unnecessary background noise. You can also let participants know they are welcome to turn off their camera when they're not speaking if they choose. This lets people be less focused on making sure they look okay (ex., is my light good, is my hair nice, do I look pleasant, are my kids/pets distracting in the background, etc.) and more focused on participating in the meeting discussion. Always have the meeting leader and anyone presenting keep their camera on though, as this encourages engagement.
With these tips, your meeting will be purpose-led and heart-felt.