Social distancing means that most of our communication is now done via online meetings using tools such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Whether work meetings, family face time, or online training, many people spend a significant amount of their day in front of a screen.
With increased screen time comes difficulty in staying engaged and focused. Online meetings can be stressful, especially for introverts, and the standard rules of meeting etiquette are sometimes ignored when participants are out of their usual work environment.
It can seem daunting for those chairing online meetings to ensure that everyone can thrive and contribute. Here are some tips to make your online meetings more effective.
1. Make sure you have an agenda
Online meetings often seem less formal than face-to-face, but it’s a mistake to do away with sending participants a formal agenda ahead of the session. A formal agenda allows everyone to think about the areas to be covered and do any background work. Preparation is particularly helpful for introverts who can struggle when put on the spot in social settings.
An agenda also provides a timeframe that allows participants to plan their workspace and gives the Chairperson a simple reference point to keep discussions focused and ensure that overall objectives are met, and action points agreed as necessary.
2. Give everyone an equal chance to contribute
There is a risk that some participants will overwhelm others and dominate the meeting due to the lack of the controlling effects of body language or simply because they tend to be more outspoken.
Asking everyone to mute microphones and only unmute when talking helps people to stop talking over each other. Turning on videos makes it simpler to observe everyone’s engagement level and go around each individual seeking their opinions. If necessary, in the case of any disruptive participants, the Chairperson can usually mute individuals themselves.
3. Use the multiple communication tools available
Keep the “chat” option open so that participants can comment or pose a question without disturbing the communication flow. It isn’t easy to manage an online video conversation alongside the chat, so it’s good to have a moderator who can read and respond while the meeting discussion progresses.
Use “share screen” options to display a previously circulated document for discussion or highlight specific text. Some systems allow interactive engagement with participants via whiteboards.
In many systems such as Zoom and MS Teams, participants can raise a virtual hand to indicate that they want to contribute without interrupting the conversation.
4. Chairperson Leadership
How the Chairperson handles communication determines if participants will contribute to the meeting. People should feel safe to express themselves and feel that their contributions are valued.
It’s important that people are not cut off when speaking. It can be hard to allocate time in virtual meetings as issues such as poor connections and participant’s unfamiliarity with the system can impact duration. If someone is taking too much time, the Chair can interrupt at a natural break and say something like, “Thank you for those points, let’s move on to the next person for comment.”
In summary, for everyone to thrive in an online meeting, it needs good planning, comfort with the tools, respect amongst participants, and good communication skills.
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