Connecting online


We are all starting to get used to meetings online now, and it looks like it will be our ‘new normal’ for a little while yet.

Now, more than ever, we need to think through how our get-togethers before they happen – what do we want to get out of our meeting, and how are we going to make getting there easy.

The word ‘facilitator’ comes from the Latin, facilis, “to make things easy”. As a facilitator, my role is to make processes or discussions easy. Indeed, this is the role of anyone who is hosting a discussion - whether they are the Chair of a Board, a project or team manager or someone hosting Friday night drinks.

So I thought I'd share some of my tips, tricks and tools to help you make online connection engaging.

1. Set your objectives for the meeting: Don’t start with all the bells and whistles of new technology. Start with thinking about the goal of the get-together. What do you want to get out of this meeting? What questions need answering? What ideas need exploring? Be as clear as you can in what you want to achieve. For example, if you want to “identify stakeholders for project x" don't just say you are ‘discussing stakeholders’

2. Set the agenda Now that you know what you want to achieve, plan out the time you have together. Make sure you are very realistic about the time required for things. If you have six team members and you want everyone to give an update first, estimate how long each person will take. If it’s even just five minutes, that’s half an hour of time. If it’s a large meeting and you want people to introduce themselves you will need more than 5 minute at the start.

Things I always have on the agenda:

  • Set the ground rules: I always – always! – have time at the outset for a discussion about ‘ground rules’. What does the group need to do to ensure the discussion is a success? If your meeting is a regular weekly session, you might not need to do this each week, but it is a good idea to do it regularly. And it is worth reviewing your ground rules for working in a virtual environment.

  • Outline the agenda – what are we going to discuss and how long on each item? The agenda should be before the session, along with roles (ie: who might be speaking).

  • Where to from here? - have time at the end for ‘where to from here’. That is, to review the actions that have been agreed and what the next steps are.

3. Processes and tools Now that you have your goals and agenda, the next part is to work out the processes. It’s now you get to use some of the ‘bells and whistles’. Some I have used include:

  • Zoom break out rooms – a fabulous way to have small group discussions. I'm a big fan of using smaller groups before larger group discussions. And the earlier in the discussion the better - it encourages engagement later on. You could even have the discussion about ‘ground rules’ in small groups. Pair people up and put them in a break out room. Ask them to consider what the ground rules for the group should be. Give them a few minutes to discuss and then bring everyone back to the main group to bring it together.

  • Regular breaks – it’s hard work staring at a screen all day! If you have a longer meeting or workshop, schedule regular breaks. My recommendation is no more than 90 minutes in one go.

  • Activities away from the screen - for example, paired discussions can be had by phone. I encourage people to get outside in the fresh air if possible. I text them the question to discuss, and the time they should be back at the screen. It gives eyes a break, and also gives our bodies some movement.

  • Brainstorming – mural allows everyone to ‘post it note’ ideas, and then do sticker dot voting in a virtual environment. It’s great and very easy to use.

  • Google doc’s – allows everyone to collaborate together on a document. If you have people in different break out rooms, give each of them a different document to work in.

4. Don't default to postponing your get together

Many postponed group discussions when we our COVID-19 restrictions began. And whilst restrictions may ease some time soon, that easing of restrictions will very likely take some time. This means it still might be months before we are in large meetings again. Some thinking and decisions cannot wait that long particularly when there are so many great ways to have an engaging, collaborative and strategic discussions in the virtual world.

What tools are you using? How are you engaging in the virtual world? I’d love to hear from you how you are successfully connecting online!

Feel free to get in touch if you want any further advice, or if you need someone to facilitate your virtual gathering.

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© 2020 Helga Svendsen