Two of the primary goals of meeting facilitation are to maximize the engagement of all participants and to ensure that the time spent is productive. The following best practices can help facilitators meet both of these goals. For additional tips on facilitating virtual meetings, see 12 Tips for Facilitating an Online Meeting.
- Start and End on Time
- Use Group Agreements
- Engage Participants
- Stick to the Agenda
- End Strong
- Dealing with Technology Glitches
Starting and ending a meeting on time is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is to be respectful of participants’ time. Virtual meetings require facilitators to engage participants right from the beginning so they don’t “wander off” and do other things. Here are some things facilitators can do to help maintain meeting times:
- Open the meeting 5-10 minutes before its start time so others can join and test their video and audio (you may even ask the meeting organizer to include a note in the meeting invitation suggesting participants join a few minutes early for this purpose). You can also copy and paste one of the following into a slide that is displayed for participants as they join:
- Keep to the timeframe set by the agenda, unless participants agree to make a change.
- End the meeting on time (participants may have other commitments or priorities immediately following your meeting).
Whether you call them group agreements, ground rules, guidelines, or norms, setting standards of behavior for meeting participants becomes even more important when you are meeting virtually. These should include agreements on decision-making—both who will make decisions and how they will be made.
If you already have these standards for the standing meetings you facilitate, review and adapt them, as needed, for a virtual setting. If you don’t have them already, create some. Remind participants at the outset of the meeting that these standards apply throughout the meeting.
To keep participants engaged in a virtual meeeting:
- Take time to acknowledge everyone in attendance.
- Provide a question in the chat feature for participants to engage with before the meeting begins.
- If participants are going to introduce themselves, ensure they keep it short. Have a list of names posted in the chat box in order of introduction so participants are ready when it’s their turn.
- Given the stress of the current situation, consider starting with a minute or so of meditation, intentional breathing, sharing, or reflecting on opportunities this situation is presenting, or positive ways people are coping.
- If participants are not using video, ask them to identify themselves before they begin speaking.
- To eliminate background noise, ask participants to mute their audio, except when they are speaking.
Note: If you are facilitating a large meeting, the meeting organizer can mute all participants and only unmute them after they raise their hand. Here are instructions on how to mute all participants in Webex and how to mute all participants in Microsoft Teams.
The timekeeper and recorder become particularly important in helping a meeting stay on track:
- The timekeeper can provide reminders to help the meeting move along and keep participants accountable.
- The recorder can note other topics that come up and move these items to a parking lot.
You should only deviate from the agenda if everyone is in agreement.
There are some things you can do at the end of the meeting to appropriately wrap things up and set the stage for the next/follow-up meeting:
- Summarize the agenda items covered and next steps, including actions to be taken and who is responsible for each.
- Review the parking lot and determine how to handle these items.
- If your meeting is regularly held, you can create the agenda for the next meeting, following up on next steps and other issues raised in the meeting.
- Ask for feedback on what worked and what could be better regarding the meeting process. Keep a running record of these responses and use them to continually improve your meetings.
- Be sure to thank everyone for their participation.
A great way to accomplish all of these items in one cohesive, inclusive, and engaging discussion is to use the Focused Conversation method.
While virtual meeting technology has improved significantly, sometimes things go wrong. At this time, with so many people using the Internet for classes, meetings, and social connection, bandwidth can be challenged. Here are ways to address common technology glitches:
- If your connection becomes choppy, try having everyone turn off their video cameras.
- If you are dropped from the meeting or have a bad connection, try signing in again. If that doesn’t work, call in. Each invitation includes a phone number and PIN that will connect you to the meeting.
- Be sure everyone has access to materials and presentations. While you may intend to share your screen with these materials, if you have technical issues, the meeting can continue if everyone also has access.
- Be flexible and keep your sense of humor. Technical challenges are likely as people learn how to use the technology and large numbers of people tax the Internet infrastructure. Generosity and humor will help you pull off a successful meeting in spite of the challenges.