Over the past two years, many of us have relied on virtual meetings to keep business moving forward. Without Microsoft Teams, Zoom, GoToMeeting and other platforms, we might not have seen each other’s faces throughout most of this long and continuing pandemic.
And while the business community, policymakers and nonprofits are now trying to ease back in to in-person meetings, virtual meetings are – at least to some extent – here to stay.
So, what have we learned about achieving successful outcomes through virtual and hybrid meetings that should become best-practices for moderators? Here are some takeaways that guide my approach to meeting moderation in this virtual era:
Preparation is Key
Know your goal and let that guide the meeting structure. Remember that goals, agendas and meeting structure can differ across virtual, hybrid or in-person sessions.
Alignment on meeting objectives should happen well in advance. Communicate to speakers and participants regarding the meeting plan, including their respective roles. The longer and higher profile the meeting, and the greater the number of speakers and participants, the more time will be needed for preparation.
While a content “prep” call for speakers participating in moderated meetings is always advised, I’ve also found it helpful to walk through specifics of the technical platform and to answer any logistical questions.
Speaking of technology – digital bandwidth and other technology-related issues continue to plague virtual meetings, but they don’t have to determine a meeting’s success. I’ve found it helpful to both provide contact information of a “tech specialist” – an individual whom meeting speakers and participants can reach out to if they run into issues, as well as a dial-in number for any meeting that has a virtual component.
Best Practices that Drive Engagement and Success
It’s vital to set ground rules at the start of a meeting, as you would for an in-person meeting, and also address virtual considerations – e.g., will you mute participants at any point? When during the meeting will you seek questions and feedback from participants? What role will the chat function play?
Regarding the chat feature, strongly consider utilizing chat to gather additional feedback, survey participants on ideas raised, support comments made during the meeting, and share links to resources mentioned. I have found the chat feature to be invaluable for engaging participants and securing information that is more easily shared via written comments.
It’s also important to give thought to the best way to introduce participants – leaving it open for any length of time can seriously eat into the meeting time. Instead, consider asking people to share, in 30 seconds or less, their name, organization and hopes for the meeting, or to list them on a slide the and introduce them, and to ask if anyone was missed. You might also consider asking participants to provide a brief fun fact about themselves to add a personal element to the meeting.
Also, where appropriate, stop and summarize. With so much to manage and take in during a virtual meeting, participants often appreciate when a moderator takes a few moments during natural transition points to summarize the conversation and comments. Along those same lines, give the volley of conversation a break from time to time. Especially for longer meetings, the virtual medium can make eyes glaze over. Look for ways to jump start interest through tactics that change the pace. Ask speakers for their top take away from the meeting so far, or ask participants for five seconds of what they took away from the last segment of the meeting.
For any virtual meeting where consensus is the goal, consider adding at least 30 minutes more than you might schedule for an in-person meeting. People tend to be more hesitant to speak out through virtual meetings and drawing out their opinions can take more time.
Finally, whether in-person or virtual, the meeting doesn’t end when time is up. Consider generating a written “report out” after the meeting to help align participants on the key take-aways and outcomes, and spark enthusiasm for the path forward.
Happy meetings to you!
Lee Lynch is a trained moderator and managing director at Reservoir Communications Group.