by Kathy McGrane
What does this mean? How does one participate in Online Meetings? What does a meeting facilitator need to consider in getting attendees to participate in Online Meetings?
There are three key pieces to creating strong participation in virtual sessions:
1. Belief that everyone has wisdom to be included in the project to get the best possible outcome.
2. Understanding that people share when they feel they are in a safe, respectful environment.
3. Awareness that there are different learning styles and providing various ways to engage these learning styles.
The client meeting for preparation and design of the online work determine the client needs and desired outcomes. Here you build client
relationships and learn the needs of the stakeholders. Then build relationships with all attendees with an invitation to the meeting and a pre-meeting orientation to the virtual tools they will be using. Give your direct contact information so that individuals may reach you with their personal questions and needs. In the orientation, build in questions that will help you know how much experience these individuals have with virtual meetings in general and in using the virtual tool intended for their meeting.
Orientation to the virtual tools will make your whole meeting an opportunity to participate. This is where participants find out how important it is to have a headset with a built in microphone to prevent the echo that happens when using internal audio systems on computers. This is where they learn the use of mute and un-mute, where raising hands to be called on allows everyone a voice and how to use emoticons as well as chat pods and breakout rooms.
An Orientation brings the attendees inside the virtual tool and now you know they have their computer setup to join the meeting. This allows the meeting to start on time and not be fussing with this at the start of the meeting. Schedule the orientation several days ahead of the meeting (preferable) or at least 30 minutes prior to the meeting.
Send an electronic reminder of the meeting date, time (with time zones or a link to a time zone converter if needed), and the URL link. Include the agenda, plus the start and finish time. Ask them to arrive 15 minutes early to get connected and do a voice-check. This helps everyone prepare to participate.
Participation starts before the meeting begins with the individual welcome and voice check for each attendee as they arrive. When a chat pod is available it is also good to welcome them by typing their name in that spot. The Welcome Layout might have a Poll Pod with a question pertinent to the topic to stimulate thinking.
The agenda must provide time for introductions at the start of the meeting. Introductions might include a chat or note pod with the question you would like everyone to answer. This could be their own name, where they are located and maybe a metaphor for how they are feeling right now or what the weather is like in their area or regarding the topic for the meeting. When they verbally answer the question as their turn comes, they will now have their voice in the room easily since they know these answers without too much thinking. You have now built the beginning of the safe container and a better chance that all will participate during the meeting.
Introductions give the facilitator a chance to introduce how individuals will participate verbally, going either down or up the attendee list one at a time and saying “I am complete and I pass to (the next person on the list)” when finished.
Webcams are great when everyone has strong bandwidth. If that is not the case, having a picture of each attendee in a power point slide will help strengthen the relationship among participants and with the facilitator. The facilitator starts by introducing him or herself to demonstrate how to do it.
Participation by emoticons: If the tool being used has emoticons, a facilitator can find out where the attendees stand on various topics or questions throughout a meeting by asking for icons such as a green check mark to indicate agreement or red x for disagreement. Also a poll might be created on the spot for quick input. This can help the facilitator know the direction the group wants to go or the level of consensus that has been reached.
An alternative way for attendees to ask or answer questions during the meeting is to raise their hand to be called on. Invite attendees to read questions or other content within the meeting room, getting their voices into the meeting as often as possible. This is their meeting, not yours.
Neutrality on the part of the facilitator is of extreme importance. This is one of the most important rules for a safe container. When a facilitator agrees with one participant and not another, participation is seriously affected. In extreme cases, the one who was not affirmed may withdraw entirely.
What I have suggested are ways in which adults learn and participate. Most of us learn visually, some learn best by kinesthetic and others best by auditory means. We all learn from a combination of all three learning styles in different degrees.
As you plan your facilitation, engage your visual learners with different images, which are changed out every few minutes. Engage kinesthetic learners by using the emoticons, having them type answers into the chat and answer polls. Engage your auditory learners by asking verbal questions, asking for raised hands to give answers as well as sharing the verbal story around the images.
Using a variety of visual, kinesthetic and auditory methods to invite participation is key for virtual meetings.