In an online facilitation with a transport client, the group needed to understand the value added services its customers aspire for. To incite interaction the facilitator asks, “As commuters yourselves what are those top 2 things you wished you could do while traveling?”
An awkward silence followed leaving the facilitator wondering what’s the reaction of the group, did they understand what’s been just posed to them?
Welcome to the reality of virtual facilitation. A meeting process where you are trying to hold the attention of a geographically dispersed participants who you cannot physically see to asses their engagement and progress. Yet ensure that the meeting objectives are met.
Virtual meetings are the reality today!
Time and cost effectiveness are the main business drivers for enterprises. Virtual meetings do both. A survey of meeting and event planners conducted by CWT Travel Management Institute shows while 96% work with or for organizations that conduct virtual meetings, 80% have seen growth in this area in the past three years and 70% expect moderate to high growth in the next three years.
Additionally survey of 438 North American executives and managers conducted by Leadership Strategies finds 56% had held more virtual meetings in the past twelve months. The greatest benefits come from cost and time savings, instant access to remote participants, and ease of scheduling. And while most of the meetings still took place by phone (83%), more than half had graduated to screen sharing and about the same percentage used virtual meeting platforms.
But leading a classroom meeting is way different from virtual. How do you know you are heard, that the participants are espousing the points you are trying to drive home? All you have is a set of voices and a computer screen to look at. How do you make the best of it to turn it into an experience and effectiveness of a face to face meeting?
Following are the few tips I have been using which might come handy for you too while facilitating a virtual meeting.
Create the Connect
These are adult learners who do not like to be told, who treat lectures as snoozers! The most effective way out to connect to this group is to let go. Let the participants take control of their learning into their hands. Provoke them to do the thinking. Spur reactions and make them to find answers to their questions. A facilitator’s job is to help the group understand its common objective and ‘assist’ to draw a strategy to achieve the same.
How you pose questions also determine how well you are binding the group together. Unlike classroom sessions open ended questions in virtual meetings create confusion rather than inviting volunteers. So keep your questions direct and specific.
Give it in writing – all the activities, instructions, handouts, workbooks etc. We tend to forget ninety per cent of what we hear. Let it be visible in writing to all the participants. That keeps everyone on the same page.
Addressing people with their first name is perhaps the most powerful way to forge the connection. Address your questions to a particular participant. This will spur greatest engagement in the meeting.
Know your group well
Individualize learning objectives for each participant. Evaluate which set of people need to acquire expertise of certain skills, who are the ones who require only surface level knowledge and for which participants only awareness of a theme is sufficient. This may require you to have multiple modules, which of course can be collated together.
Assess your audience. How many participants need to go through this training, and what’s the appropriate duration? What will be the most impactful flair of interaction – real time conversations, or offline interaction or a combination of both?
Webinars hefty on slides or monologues are biggest killers. Keep the dialogue on between you and the participants and among the group. Setting right expectation as participants enter into the virtual meeting, helps spurring better interaction.
There’s a tad bit of work that needs to go into how you condition yourself for the meeting. For instance, alter voice into a more engaging tone because voice is the only mode of contact you have with all the participants. Prior thoughts into what content would you cover or flipcharts or any visual you would use helps.
Logging in a few minutes before the meeting commences helps you address any technical glitches beforehand so there’s no interruption while the actual session is on. Do not show your emotions is one advice I received my seniors and am passing it on to anyone reading this blog. Things may go wrong but stay calm.
Avoiding the Oblique
The most important attribute of successful facilitators especially in a virtual environment is they don’t let the discussion go into a directionless trans. Observation on where the discussion is flowing, intervention with relevant questions/statements or even restating the agenda are a few helpful tools.
However as facilitators you also have to diagnose if a particular topic, though not on agenda, is worth taking up. Would it lead the group to the ultimate objective why the meeting is held?
It is the onus of the facilitator to create an environment where everyone takes the responsibility of meeting the session objective. As I mentioned at the outset, here you are dealing with an adult audience that believes in co-existence, thrives in co creation. The trick is not to really lead them but walking with them as one of them.