Online meetings can be a lot of fun! Here are a few ideas to make your meetings exciting, educational, and effective.
A meeting—whether online or face-to-face—is a precious use of time.
Only schedule a meeting if you are clear on why you need one and what its goals are. If you have an online meeting of 30 people for an hour, that’s 30 people hours! That’s a lot of time if you’re wasting it.
To reduce wasted time during online meetings, make sure to:
- Test the online system (Skype/conference call/Google hangout) ahead of time. Try to know it as much as possible so that you are comfortable using it and can explain it to others;
- Teach people to learn to use the “mute” button—especially for large groups—so they get used to being on mute when they’re not talking;
- If you do a lot of online meetings, encourage people to use headphones since Skype and many conference calls create an annoying echo without them;
- Instead of asking “who has something to say about this” you can use mechanisms like a go-round (see below) or small groups. When they do a go-round, have people get into the habit of calling on the person after them (“And now onto Hakim…”) rather than waiting for the facilitator to un-mute themselves, step in, and say, “Hakim, are you ready?” If they don’t remember who comes after them, they can finish by saying “check” so it is clear they are done speaking.
People learn by acting, not by hearing someone else talk, so get people engaged as much as possible.
For example, rather than spending 30 minutes talking about a time management technique, one climate change organisation decided to just have people try it. They explained it very briefly in the first 10 minutes, gave people a chance to practice the tool in small groups for 10 minutes, and then debriefed the experience for another 10. The same amount of time resulted in far deeper learning than if people had just heard it talked about.
Here is a sample agenda to help you create your own online meeting:
Before the Call
• Make sure everyone has been sent information about when and where the meeting is (and any technical needs they have);• Create an agenda ahead of time (send it out if you can).
(5-15 minutes, depending on your group)
• Arrive online a few minutes early to test the technical specifications;• Welcome folks as they arrive and keep track of who has and has not arrived (decide when to start);
• For large groups, delegate a second person to be present for technical problems.
Warm-Up / Get to Know Each Other
Offer ways for people to check-in or get to know each other (see go rounds). For example:
- Ask each person to share honestly, for example, how they are doing, a lesson from their work, or one thing they’re proud of at work;
- Ask each person to share something silly (“If you were a vegetable, what kind of vegetable would you be and why…”)
This is after the warm-up so if people are late you don’t have to keep repeating the agenda;
- Review the goals of the meeting;
- If you need notes for the meeting, make sure there is a note-taker.
If you have the time or if it’s helpful for your goals, you may want to add a group-building activity. For example:
- Create an online circle (See Creating Online Small Groups) Ask each person to draw a circle on a piece of paper. Establish a place for each meeting participant in the “circle” by asking each person what number they want to sit at on a clock face. (This can be used for go-arounds and as a way of choosing people.) You can also create an online circle via the drawing tools on Google Slides, with a drawn circle and people “sit” on the circle, e.g.
Meeting Agenda Items
- If at all possible, start with something that can be dealt with reasonably easily. This will give the group a sense of accomplishment and energy;
- The harder, longer and more urgent items come next. If there are several, plan to have quick breaks between them to restore energy and attention (for example stretching, singing, a quick game or a bathroom break);
- A big item may be broken into several small items and discussed one at a time to make it easier. Or it may be helpful to try presenting the item with background information and clarification, breaking into small groups for idea sharing and making priorities, and then returning to the main group for discussion;
- Finish with something short and easy to provide a sense of hope for next time.
Announcements / Closing / Evaluation
- Depending on your goals, you may want to provide some time for announcements and an evaluation, which allows people to express their feelings about the meeting and a chance to learn how to have better meetings in the future. Evaluations should be done immediately before the end of the workshop because people may forget to fill them out later or forget important details about the experience (see Evaluations);
- Try to close a few minutes early—it creates a sense of abundance and energy to end the meeting a few minutes early.
Daniel Hunter has drawn from resources by Jeanne Rewa and Berit Lakey from Training for Change and Kate Ogden from Greenpeace. Also see Getting Started with Online Training and Facilitation.