Maximize Virtual Collaborations

Conference calls often seem as unpro­ductive and dull as watching an infomercial. However, virtual meetings don’t have to be frustrating nor time wasters, says Paul Axtell, corpo­rate trainer and author of “Meetings Matter: Eight Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations.” With proper preparation and clear communication before the meeting begins, a successful virtual meet­ing is definitely attainable.

“Participants, whether in-house or virtual, need to feel welcome and connected to others at the table and know how to dial in to interact and contrib­ute input,” Axtell says. “That means the moderator needs to explain prior to the meeting how par­ticipation will be managed and provide a clear explanation about how those who are dialing in can provide their input.”

Once everyone understands how to partake in the conversation, managing the conversation to gain broad participation becomes crucial. For each topic, give some thought to who you want in the conver­sation says Axtell. “Deliberately choose someone to begin each conversation. Determine who will be affected most by the topic and who might have an unexpressed perspective that needs to be shared.” In large groups, keeping track of who has spoken and calling on participants strategically helps broaden a virtual meeting’s participation and engagement.

Having few verbal cues is a participation killer for both the moderator and the virtual attendees. To help engagement, Axtell suggests all participants have a camera device on their computer or tablet for the virtual meeting. “This is where the size of the meeting becomes another key factor,” Axtell contin­ues. “Small groups of four or five can rely on sound alone. Seven or eight participants are a tipping point for a virtual meeting. Twenty is nearly impossible because it really presses the amount of available time people can self-express.”

A few minutes of casual talk before beginning the agenda is another important element toward mak­ing participants feel comfortable and included. “An effective virtual meeting should begin with 10 min­utes of friendly chatting, followed by compelling content presented within about 20 to 30 minutes by a moderator who should have a clear handle on the flow of the meeting,” says Geniecast CEO and YPO member Keith Alper.

Perhaps the most important task in preparing for the meeting is ensuring the technology works. Tech­nology issues can almost guarantee an unproductive meeting. “Don’t leave technology to chance; test it before the meeting,” Alper says. “This has to be taken seriously. If meeting participants aren’t able to get the platform to work, the meeting will be like the print of an article. If it is smeared, it doesn’t matter if it was a good article. It won’t be useful to anyone.”

Since virtual meetings have become a standard tool in global communications, having a skilled moderator as guardian of the meeting adds value. So does having participation protocols that are clear to participants, notes YPO certified forum facilita­tor and member Michael Bloch. “Where virtual connection is standard, businesses need to create norms that will make a meeting as valuable as possible,” he says. “If the content is good and technology problems have been addressed, I think the only other critical step to an efficient vir­tual meeting is to create protocols that eliminate distractions such as those related to texting, social media, children and dogs barking.”

As long as virtual meetings are carefully timed, well presented and free of distractions, participants will be able to fully engage. “While virtual meetings can never be as intimate as a traditional meeting, there are some easy things that can be done to make it at feel more like an in-person meeting,” Bloch says.

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