From Zoom calls that last forever to meeting action-points quickly forgotten, online meetings are proving a new and challenging experience for companies across the globe. So, we spoke to facilitators David Kester and Susana Osório, to come up with 5 important ways you can improve online meetings, to increase their effectiveness, efficiency and enjoyment.
At the Design Thinkers Academy London, we’ve seen first-hand the wave of problems people have had with running online meetings and workshops. It’s a new world and one that most companies were not prepared for. Everyone was suddenly having to quickly upskill on platforms like Zoom, that most had never previously heard of before, let alone relied upon. For a lot of people, it has been a tricky transition. So, to help you turn the tide and make the most out of your online meetings, we spoke to our two lead facilitators, David Kester and Susana Osório, to get some of their ideas on how to make the most out of online meetings.
Compiled together are five of their core ideas as to how you can immediately improve your own online meetings.
All of these tips and tricks are things that we use ourselves during our own online meetings and facilitations. If you want to know more, we also teach these and many other techniques in our facilitation courses. These live courses enable you to learn the necessary skills to run great meetings both in-person and online. For now, however, let’s focus on these five wins, that are essential to any online meeting or workshop.
1. Keep it human
Crucial to every online meeting is remembering the fact that – despite the fact you’re talking through a screen – you’re talking to real people on the other end. As a result, it’s imperative to keep meetings as human as possible. This is no different to an in-person meeting. Only now there is an extra barrier, so the need to keep it human is even more pertinent.
People need to be engaged and focussed on the point and direction of the meeting, feeling like they are playing an active role in it. If participants to the meeting do not feel like they are being engaged with, then it is very easy for them to switch off. How many times have you seen all the mute symbols in a Zoom meeting popping up across the participants? That’s normally a sign that you’re talking too much and that everyone else could be mentally clocking out and not bringing their undivided attention. It’s an easy habit to fall into, but also one that is easy to change.
You need to model the behaviour that you want other people in your meeting to have. Keep the meeting short, keep it personal and keep it active. Start thinking how you can use the screen space. Why not bring props into the meeting? Why not use visual tools to keep it stimulating? Talk to people on a personal level. Think about structuring in a few minutes to the start of every meeting to have a quick catch up with your team, before you get into the nitty gritty.
One tip we learned from another designer, was to put a post-it on the wall just behind the top of your screen, with a smiley face drawn upon it. During meetings, focus on that smiley face. For one – it will remind you to smile. More importantly, it will also make sure that you’re looking at the camera – talking straight to the people in the meeting. Adding to that, also turn your own video off. You don’t normally look at yourself during an in-person meeting, so why start now? It’s a distraction that will make you focus too much on yourself and not on participants.
2. Embrace the medium
Suddenly adapting to all these new tools has been hard for lots of companies. Naturally we’ve heard a lot of feedback resenting Zoom, Teams and other platforms, as working life becomes more and more reliant on them. This is the wrong way to go. Even when life as we know it starts returning to normal, these platforms are here to stay. The whole working culture is changing. It’s important to start recognising that and embracing the many benefits that these platforms can offer. They are a valuable tool to really improve online meetings.
The medium is the message. Think about that and design your sessions accordingly, to embrace the medium. These tools should not be seen as an obstacle, but a wonderful opportunity to utilise a fully interactive environment and increase productivity as a result. Zoom is one example of this. Have you properly used the polls and Q&A functions? These are a brilliant way to bring others into the conversation, whilst also generating important written feedback and direction. What about the Breakout Rooms? These are useful in big webinars, enabling people to meet and discuss in smaller groups, before returning to the main webinar. These add-ons, that the various platforms offer, are easy ways to make meetings more stimulating and impactful.
This however does not mean you need to rely on PowerPoint. We’ve all suffered through “death by PowerPoint” and it’s even worse in an online environment. If you want to use slides, why not learn from weather presenters, and engage in your backdrop. You can change your background to a slide and then start pointing and referring to different things on it. It’s a great way to really embrace the medium and bring meetings to life.
3. Give everyone a voice
This is of paramount importance to any online meeting and also a great showcase of how to keep it human and to make the most of the medium. During in-person meetings, the more shy, unassuming members could be drowned out, even when they could be holding the best ideas in the room. Not now. Now is a perfect opportunity to give them and everybody in your team a voice.
Because companies are online, it means that they can now use virtual whiteboard tools, like Mural, to run interactive workshops that help support these processes. Effectively using these platforms is something we teach on our FastTrack Online Design Thinking course, teaching participants how to bring Design Thinking to the online world. One of the easiest and most effective tools from that course, and a real favourite at the Design Thinkers Academy London, is “Silent & Solo”.
For this technique, give everyone a set number of minutes to all silently think about the question at hand and note down their ideas and opinions. Participants can do this on Post-it notes, or even better (both in an empowering sense and an environmental one) using platforms like Mural and Miro. There you can write your suggestion on virtual Post-its. Then share and cluster them with your colleagues, getting everyone’s ideas out on the table.
From coming up with ideas to reflecting on a previous project, “Silent & Solo” should be made an essential part of every process. It is the best way to give everyone space to think, whilst also empowering them with a voice. It also makes the most of the online environment, whilst also building up the strength of your teamwork, despite the physical distance.
4. Recognise the art of facilitation
Just because you’re online, it doesn’t mean you can fall back in your facilitation. In fact, now your facilitation needs to be better than ever. This is something we address on our Online Design Thinking Facilitation course; guiding facilitators to expertly master this new environment. However, here are some simple steps to take right now:
– Good communication is even more important online. You might be behind a screen, but does that mean you need to slouch back in your chair and talk in a monotone voice. Be engaging, use body language, hand gestures
– the lot. People are still looking at you, so keep that in mind as you talk. This is where the Post-it notes behind the screen can come in really handy. You could leave little reminders on them, to keep you focussed on your facilitation throughout the session.
A strong structure is another necessity to any online meeting. People need to know why they are spending their time in the meeting and how they fit into it. Send out a structure in advance, to let them know the details of the meeting. This can also help participants’ preparation. It’s important to make the structure flexible, as sometimes it’s impossible to predict exactly where meetings may go. This does not mean it cannot be strong though. Guide the meeting, giving allotted amounts of time for each segment. If you’re running over in one segment, identify it early and look where you could make up the time. It’s important to keep to meeting timings. If your meeting goes over time, you will begin to frustrate participants and lose their trust.
Planning ahead is paramount to any good meeting. Think about what could go wrong (and when you’re so reliant on technology it’s good to assume that things can and will go wrong) and try and ensure that any damage that could cause, is minimised. It’s now even more important to be proactive, not reactive.
On all of our courses we do an on-boarding session, to make sure participants are aware of how to use the new online tools and are also set up with our tech support. We have someone on call, to make sure problems can be dealt with as soon as they arise. Obviously, we can’t always have tech support for every meeting, but we can be prepared for different eventualities.
If share screen stops working, make sure you have a written set of notes to work off. If a participants internet cut outs, make sure you’re recording the whole thing, so you can share it after. It’s this kind of forward thinking that can be the difference between a great meeting and an awful one.
5. Build trust
For any good facilitator or host, gaining the trust of the participants is vital to an effective meeting. This does not come immediately, but can be built up through sessions. Try and get to know your participants and break the ice. This could involve energisers to loosen things up and get everyone comfortable. Don’t throw in a daunting, share-all energiser right at the start though. It’s about starting small, especially if you’re facilitating workshops, and then building that trust throughout the sessions. We teach a wide range of energisers on our Facilitation courses but for now, check out this handy list of online energisers put together by Mural, to get you started.
Another way to build trust is to get everyone aligned on the goals of the meeting early on. Always explain why you’re doing something. Sharing that reasoning enables participants to feel more comfortable in the meeting, knowing the purpose and role they bring to it.
Keeping it human, giving everyone a voice and facilitating well, all work together to build trust, so start implementing them. Once you have that trust, a successful online meeting is so much easier to achieve.
Improve online meetings
Going forward, online meetings are only going to grow in importance. It’s important people and companies recognise that now or risk being left behind. Covid-19 has thrown up a whole host of difficult challenges to businesses around the world, but it’s also provided an opportunity to reset. Now is a chance to think about the very way we work and innovate upon it. These are just 5 of a whole host of important methods and techniques that will help improve online meetings.
If you want to learn more techniques or find out about our training courses, then please do not hesitate to get in touch. We offer a variety of courses focussed on these areas, including our new online courses. If you would like to find out more, please get in touch.