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Online meetings: How are they different?

One of my favorite things to do is facilitate a small or large group meeting. I know it may sound completely crazy to some, but I am totally energized by active discussions and participations, “aha” moments and seeing a group move to collective action and a plan forward.  While these skills are also important in online meetings, there are some differences. If we are able to successfully facilitate an in-person meeting, that doesn’t necessarily mean we will be successful in online meetings. With our current telecommuting staff structure, limited time and travel for volunteers and overcommitted schedules, in order to continue to be successful, we have to recognize and adjust to what is needed for facilitating online meetings. Join me this week as we consider three ways that online meetings are different than in-person meetings and a few ideas on how to build your confidence in facilitating online meetings.

  1. More Distractions. While we can be distracted during an in-person meeting, the potential distractions for participants during an online meeting are even more tempting!  We may have our phones, our computers or even other people walking into our office or room. If we do not show our video, then we are even more likely to get derailed into attempting to multitask. As much as many of us like to think we can multitask, the reality is that none of the tasks are done as well as they could be if we focused. And when it comes to participating in an online meeting, when we try doing something else, we are only half-participating.  When I facilitate online meetings, I encourage participants to show their video (if it’s fewer than 10 people) and I always share my screen – or have the presenter share their screen. This at least helps us focus the conversation in the midst of endless distractions.
  2. Lack of nonverbal communication. One of the challenges with online meetings, particularly if you cannot see everyone, is that you cannot read the “non-verbal communication.” As a facilitator, the non-verbal communication is one of the best ways to read your audience and know how to adjust. This is one of the reasons, I try to persuade my colleagues to show their video. When I can SEE them, I’m much more likely to be able to accurately assess the situation and facilitate the discussion more effectively. If you are unable to see your participants, you have to listen very closely to how the participants are sharing information and whether they are participating at all. If you find that only one or two people are participating, you may need to modify and adjust your approach to engage others.
  3. Different energy. As we discussed in last week’s post, we often exhibit either “high-vibe” or “low-vibe” energy and we experience these energies in our meetings. When we are in-person, it is easier to build trust, rapport and create a “high-vibe” energy situation. When we are online, it’s often difficult to know what is happening with the rest of your participants. We can’t always see participant expressions, understand the intent of the chat messages or recognize why there is a lot of silence.  And it is also very possible for one particularly “low-vibe” person to dominate an online meeting and cause the rest of the participants to completely disengage. As meeting facilitators, it’s particularly important for us to bring our “high-vibe” energy to an online meeting and to recognize when there may be energy differences. It is important for us to acknowledge the contributions of others and sometimes even redirect the conversation toward a more productive and positive place. Since you can’t always see everyone, you need to be even more diligent as a facilitator to recognize the energy and address challenging situations strategically!

While I addressed three ways online meetings are different, I recognize there are MANY more. What about you? What are other ways that you have found facilitating online meetings to be different than in-person meetings?

Since online meetings are such a critical part of our work in teams, coalitions and nonprofits, we will spend the next six weeks discussing specific practical ways to successfully navigate online meetings.

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