When we are in person, we often have “ground rules, guiding principles or working agreements” that help us set expectations for participation. This concept is really important in online meetings as well. When we are really clear on our purpose and the need for our meeting, one of the next steps is to communicate how people need to show up to the meeting. For instance, those who have been in several online meetings that I have facilitated know I’m going to ask them to show their video during the discussion time. I have set this expectation so many times that our coalition members know how to show up to a meeting that I am facilitating. Join me this week as I provide four reasons why it’s important to set expectations for participation in online meetings.
Clarifies who needs to attend
When you have taken time to understand your purpose, create activities that fulfill the purpose and communicate the expectations and roles for the attendees, you also clarify who needs to say “yes” to your meeting. In coalition work, we can try to be so inclusive that we are not clear about who really needs to participate and what we want them to do when they join us. One of the ways to set expectations is to make it clear in the meeting invitation why people would want to attend the meeting and what they will be asked to do during the meeting. With this clarity, our coalition members can know whether this meeting is right for them to attend. We all have limited time and many choices to make with our time. We are honoring our coalition members and their time by clarifying expectations prior to the meeting.
In an online context, it can be really difficult to engage participants. In a recent meeting I attended, only a few people showed their video and the facilitator was unsure whether the attendees were still with her or whether they had completely checked out. While we encouraged participation during the meeting, we had not necessarily communicated that we wanted people to be ready to show their video prior to the meeting. If we set expectations ahead of time (and in real time) how we want people to participate, we promote engagement. If you are planning specific activities that require people to come prepared, take time to communicate that (sometimes in different ways – like a text message reminder!). Let your participants know that they are an important part of the meeting and guide them on how to engage (use the chat feature, call on people directly, actively participate, ask questions, be respectful, be a teacher of others/learner from others, show their video, etc.). Also, be sure that you and your leadership team and staff model this type of engagement. If you want your attendees to show their video, then your team needs to set that example. If you want your attendees to share information, participate in polls and engage in the chat, then your team and staff need to do that as well.
When we set expectations and we model those expectations, it helps reduce distractions. As we all know, online meetings can be a platform for frustration because some people are engaged and others are trying to multitask. If you set the expectation that you are going to call on people directly (in a very encouraging and supportive way of course), then folks are going to be more inclined to engage. I heard a great idea from a colleague and master facilitator, Ryan Soisson, who divides people into color groups and then calls on the “color” to participate. This is a great way to engage your meeting participants without putting them specifically on the spot — ok red team – what do you think about this suggestion?
Accomplishes your meeting purpose
When you set expectations prior to your meeting (e.g. include purpose and expectations in your invitation and send your agenda out a week in advance), you help people know how to show up to the meeting and you are more likely to accomplish your meeting purpose. Attendees know why you are meeting, the role they are expected to play, the role that you will be playing and how their participation is essential to achieving the purpose.
What have you done to set expectations for your online meetings?
As you plan your next online meeting, check out my free resource, How to Lead Your Best Online Meeting Yet