By Mindy Forsyth, PMP and LSSGB, Communications Specialist and Manager at Evans Incorporated
In today’s digital era, teams are increasingly remote, and running a virtual meeting can present multiple challenges – from unengaged participants to technological limitations and different power dynamics. As a facilitator in the global marketplace, how do you ensure that your meetings engage everyone – even those who participate by phone or through video conferencing?
In May 2018, I led a session titled “Increasing Engagement in an Increasingly Digital Workplace” at the International Association of Facilitators Conference in Ottawa, Canada. At this workshop, I presented proven facilitation tools and strategies to increase engagement when facilitating meetings virtually, and equipped participants with a toolbox of activities and platforms to increase collaboration among remote teams. Below, I will highlight two strategic techniques from that session.
The first strategic technique to improve virtual meetings is simple, yet not often accomplished successfully: Find a way to connect people. At Evans, our team focuses on approaching every project with a Human-Centered framework. Building connections among remote teams is critical to the group’s ability to develop trust in you as a facilitator and in each other. At the very least, this means learning names; a virtual introduction can be as easy as drawing a table in PowerPoint or Notepad. Participants can view the facilitator’s shared screen when using a web-conferencing platform such as GoToMeeting or Zoom, allowing everyone to see the virtual “table” and other participants’ names. This visual of who is in ‘the room’ allows remote participants to know who is with them in the meeting. A great way to build even deeper connections is to have each person introduce themselves at the beginning of the meeting and ask an opening question such as “What are your expectations for today’s meeting?” As the facilitator, you can type their response next to their name in the virtual table.
The second strategic technique to improve your virtual facilitation is to effectively draw out information and present it in a way that is valuable to both live and remote participants. Using sticky notes is one of the simplest visual approaches when working with groups. Sticky notes can help a team visualize ideas, consider multiple options, and make the shift from divergent, brainstorm-type thinking to convergent decision-making. Facilitators of virtual meetings often glaze over these powerful brainstorming sessions because of lack of access to an easily visualized whiteboard with layers of input from individual team members. Leading a brainstorming session in real time with virtual participants can be achieved with Boardthing, a powerful (and free!) platform that is easy to use. Boardthing’s sticky notes are not only great for collaboration and brainstorming; I have also used them to vote on a proposal and to create high-low grids to conduct a stakeholder analysis.
These two strategic techniques are just a start to improving your virtual facilitation toolkit. Learning to use and encouraging your meeting participants to take advantage of tools such as Boardthing, as well as creating connections among your remote and in-person team members through the simple use of a virtual introduction table, can lead to increased trust, motivation, and efficiency. In Evans’ free webinar Building Connections in a Virtual Meeting on July 26th, 2018, my colleague Ellesse Krall and I will highlight additional tools and techniques that improve virtual meetings – I hope that you’ll join us!