As most of us are now having to work remotely, it may feel like we are unable to connect in the same way as we can in-person to drive the same richness of dialogue. However, by practicing and leveraging three core facilitation habits, successful meeting facilitation is still possible in any scenario, be it in-person, or online.
The goal of facilitation, in any case, is to advance the agenda and drive the progress of a purposeful meeting. As facilitator, your role is to structure the meeting, support the conversations, value everyone’s time, and capture the outcomes well. Although virtual meetings may be more complex to facilitate, your role doesn’t change – and your meetings can still be effective.
Get the most out of your meetings by practicing these three core facilitation habits:
1. Plan & Prepare for Success
Taking the time to plan and prepare in advance is essential to structuring an effective meeting, designing a meaningful agenda, and ensuring a productive discussion. Your preparation needs to include purpose, participants, pre-work and process:
- Always be clear on the purpose of your meeting. Know why you’re having the meeting, what success looks like, and plan your meeting accordingly
- Ensure the right participants are involved to achieve your goals and be clear on your expectations of them in the meeting
- Provide necessary pre-work or relevant contextual reading materials in advance to support participants to come prepared
- Determine the process around how you will collect and capture perspectives and input from the participants and the tools required to do this
2. Actively Manage & Move the Discussion Forward
It’s important to keep in mind that visual and behavioral cues can be absent without in-person interactions. In virtual meetings, there’s a heightened need to ensure everyone is engaged and that momentum is felt. This is most effectively managed by providing clear and confident verbal communication and the following techniques:
- The start of a meeting is when you naturally gain every participants’ attention. Begin your virtual meeting by confidently articulating the purpose (“we are gathered here today…”), process, and expectations of the participants. Outline the methods you will use to ensure clarity, input, and agreement where required.
- Create an environment of engagement and a platform to contribute. As these types of meetings may not always allow the facilitator to see the participants, use names in order to reinforce who’s speaking and to provide them the chance to respond, react, and be heard.
- Clearly and consistently articulate where you are within material being covered (“As you see on page 4…”). This ensures everyone’s focused on the same aspect of the conversation.
- Make a brief pause before and after you make an important point or transition between ideas. This allows others to process your comments and fully appreciate what you’re saying.
- When asking for input, be sure to use the “round table” approach which means asking each participant for their input on each question or idea being presented. When you ask an important question, you want to ensure you get everyone’s feedback.
3. Capture Actions & Decisions
Without effective meeting documentation, your spoken words simply “fly away”. Timely, and accurate documentation supports momentum and drives the agenda forward. During the meeting and as you close out, ensure you do the following:
- Capture and distribute all decisions and progress made
- Listen for and document decisions and actions (a simple ‘Who, What, When’ action plan is very effective at recording all next steps)
- Distribute the documented meeting output in a timely manner
OTHER TIPS & TRICKS
Use Digital Tools to Enhance your Discussion
In order to enhance your virtual meeting experience, consider dynamic tools that include complementary capabilities to video conferencing like screen sharing, virtual whiteboards, polling systems, chat boxes, and co-editing features. Leveraging these options provides different avenues to focus the discussion, contribute in real-time, and ensures momentum.
Some dynamic and effective tools worth exploring are: Microsoft Teams, Webex, Zoom, Adobe Connect, Tencent Conference, DingTalk
Technology can be a significant enabler of a virtual meeting but only if it’s being utilized consistently by all participants. The use of multiple tools can essentially turn a meeting into a conference call.
When Challenges Arise:
As virtual meetings include participants in different locations, facilitators are sometimes faced with distractions, awkward gaps, and a need to maintain the integrity of the meeting agenda. Here are some things that can be said and done in different scenarios to move the agenda forward:
When There are Technical Difficulties:
- Use a confident voice to address the matter and provide periodic updates on the technical challenges being addressed to ensure all participants are aware of what is happening.
When There is Background Noise:
- “Can we just pause and have everyone mute / take care to reduce the noise?”
When There is Silence:
- “It’s rather quiet, could you all let me know if you understand / have questions?
- “John, we haven’t heard from you in a while. What’s your perspective on…”
When Someone is Dominating the Conversation:
- “Those are some really important points – I’ll collect them and suggest we table them for further discussion. For now, let’s continue to focus on…”
- “That’s a valid point…What do others think of this?
When You Want to Ensure Commitment / Agreement:
- “Is everyone comfortable with these next steps? This plan? These actions?”