If you live in Colorado, especially Denver, it is likely you will still be conducting the majority, if not all, of your team meetings virtually, even as some states and municipalities begin to chart their gradual paths to recovery.  

As we adjust to the new reality of virtual meetings as the new norm, we’ve been gathering some tips, tricks, and resources for all of you who are having to adjust to conducting meetings online and to developing a new facilitation skill set you never knew you had or needed.

Photo by Allie on Unsplash

3 classic facilitation tips that will optimize your virtual meeting (in other words, these always apply):

  1.  Start with the meeting goals or desired outcomes. We see this a lot with clients, and we get it; you are ready to get to work and start making things happen. However, any successful meeting requires careful patience and planning – start by thinking through 2-3 outcomes or goals you must achieve by the end of the meeting.
  2. Think about both human experience and technical product. Many of us are wired to think, first and foremost, about the specific decisions to be made or questions to be answered during a meeting. While this results-oriented approach often gets things done, it does not always bring your whole team along in a satisfactory or meaningful way. You also need to think about the human experience, the collective journey, of everyone in the group. This requires the need to think about how the group participates in the decision-making process and balancing the needs and opinions of each individual in the (virtual) room with reaching a final decision. While more challenging in virtual meetings, this can be accomplished with thoughtful process design beforehand that prioritizes group participation and consensus-based decision-making (small groups might help – see below).
  3. Start and end on time. It may seem like no big deal since most people are at home right now, but, in my experience as a facilitator, this is easily one of the most frequently mentioned pet peeves for meeting participants. Do your best to start and end on time by thinking through a meeting beforehand – try mapping out your meeting in half or quarter segments. Also, be sure to keep an eye on the time and be ready to adjust and re-prioritize if you are falling behind on time and achieving your meeting goals.

7 virtual facilitation tips for you right now:

  • Give everyone a moment to check in. This world is crazy right now and people are more isolated than ever – participants need a minute to get settled in the “room” before you begin. When you first start the meeting – once everyone arrives – take a minute to allow everyone to settle in and recognize the space they are in before jumping into business. It helps everyone be intentional with their immediate focus.
  • Do more with less. An hour seems like a lot of time (so does 90 minutes) but expect each agenda item to take longer than you might expect right now. The bigger the group is, it more likely it is that decisions needing group consensus will take much longer and it is important that you give the group the time and space it needs to reach consensus. You can’t force consensus.
  • Design a process with check-in points. Everyone should participate at least once in a virtual meeting, make sure you clear space for this by doing more Round Robins to hear from everyone in the meeting.
  • Use breakout rooms for small groups. Small groups allow everyone to participate a bit more meaningfully while also helping a group cover more ground in less time (so important for virtual meetings). Fortunately, Zoom has the breakout room feature (see here to learn how to turn it on) to create small groups virtually. This takes some intentional process design beforehand and, ideally, is not something you spontaneously decide to do mid-meeting. It needs to be designed prior to your meeting to ensure people clearly understand what they are to do in a breakout room and why it matters. 
  • Capture the group’s thinking. It is critical that you capture the key decisions, discussions, and questions that arise during a meeting. To ensure the facilitator can focus on facilitation, designate one person in the group as the recorder. This person might: 1) record the meeting on a phone or computer and (potentially) transcribe it later; 2) take detailed notes on a personal screen; 3) take live notes on a shared screen or using Zoom’s whiteboard function. You could also hire (or create internally) a graphic recorder to capture the group’s thinking in a more dynamic fashion.
  • Leverage the group’s time before and after the meeting. Creating a pre-meeting questionnaire or post-meeting homework to get input on ongoing discussions might allow you the ability to focus your online meetings entirely on the discussions and decisions that need to happen during the meeting.
  • Check out these resources to learn more. We have worked with or taken trainings from various facilitation-focused organizations who might have more resources, trainings, or information for those of you looking to learn more about online facilitation. We recommend the following resources for you right now:

Of course, we’re always more than happy to help you think through your next meeting or serve as your virtual facilitator – just reach out if we can help you!