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Zooming Through Pandemic: 5 Keys to Virtual Engagement

I’m a face-to-face kind of gal. I thrive on conversation and connection in the real world - like this meeting with client CJRF ( and climate activists from from five continents, held not 10 weeks ago!

But in our brave, new world of social distancing and shelter-in-place, live-in-person is just not an option. We've adapted fast, when crisis called for it. Everything’s gone virtual – yoga classes, happy hours and game nights, pop-up concerts, even my Monday creative writing salon!

And in the workplace, we now spend our lives in front of our screens – status meetings to training workshops, conferences to retreats.

We are thankful for the technology to keep us connected. We’re becoming experts, practically overnight, in Zoom, WebEx, GotoMeeting, Slack. The tools are powerful - but it’s not about the technology.

Meaningful, productive engagement, no matter what, requires thoughtful, effective communication.

Bad meeting habits and challenging teamwork issues only get accentuated on-line.

I’ve been facilitating powerful conversations – from one-on-one coaching, to group workshops and team meetings, to organizational strategy sessions and retreats – for 25 years. And here’s what I’ve learned – five keys to productive meetings that matter now more than ever:

#1 Prepare! Ensure your participants are all on the same page, contributing relevant ideas, and using their time wisely by defining:

  • A clear meeting purpose – Why are you coming together? What decisions must be made?

  • A thoughtful, achievable agenda – What topics address your meeting purpose?

  • Ground rules – Does your current set of meeting agreements apply, or do they need to be adapted to an online setting?

Provide this info ahead of time. At the beginning of the meeting, use the document share function to review the meeting plan together; refer back to it as the meeting progresses in order to stay on track. Yes, things can change, but this way you aren’t wandering aimlessly; you are and your group are anchored.

#2 Designate Roles. Be very clear:

  • Who’s meeting is it? (Who’s leading the content?)

  • Is it a complex enough session that a co-leader/facilitator in charge of the technology would be helpful?

  • Are there other roles or key players who will need to share documents or lead parts of the discussion?

Coordinate your key players ahead of time; test the technology together and decide how you want to use it. I had trouble, on a recent webinar, with Zoom’s co-hosting feature; so my co-facilitator and I were forced to improvise a less-than-idea solution: me taking over all the functions, aside from chat, in order to get the polling and breakouts to work.

This software is powerful, but it’s glitchy and evolving. Which brings us back to Rule #1. Prepare!

#3 Invite the Right People. Be more mindful than ever about who needs to participate; and don’t be afraid to exclude people. We have this problem in the real-world too – over inclusivity and over-collaboration. Ironically, the technology can make meetings even more accessible since anyone can hop on from anywhere at any time. Our work and home lives have merged. But we are getting Zoomed-OUT. So be mindful – include those with a relevant role to play in the decision making or execution. And once you have them there, be sure to take the time to invite their voices – whether through chat or aloud – into the meeting room. This gets back to your agenda and purpose, which loops back, once again, to Rule #1.

#4 Build-in Time for Movement – In virtual mode, we are NOT getting up and moving around enough. We shift in our our chairs from one Zoom meeting to the next with no breaks for cooler time, Metro rides between locations, even a stroll down the hall to the conference room. I have taken to starting Zoom meetings with a set of centering breath exercises. For longer meetings, I take a break in the middle to stand up and lead some mindful movement. See my previous blog post for tips. You can also encourage participants, at a convenient point in the agenda, to go out for a brief walk and get a breath of fresh air. Our bodies were not built for marathon sitting. And our minds won’t function optimally if we don’t get our energy flowing.

#5 Conclude with Next Steps. Make your meeting count. Don’t fritter away time and allow participants to disperse without knowing what they are supposed to do. Go back to your meeting purpose – what have you accomplished and what still needs to happen to achieve your purpose? Prioritize the items, identify target timeframes and, most importantly, assign them. An action without a lead is destined to slip through the virtual cracks.

BONUS TIP #6: Hire Help! Shameless plug, but it's true. Especially for larger gatherings, trained facilitators like myself can be a big help. We collaborate with you on preparation and setup, focusing on the process and supporting the technology, so you and your team can immerse in the content and make the most of your time together.

Register here for a free consult and see you ON-LINE!


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