Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 16, Issue 42;   October 19, 2016: Toward More Engaging Virtual Meetings: I

Toward More Engaging Virtual Meetings: I

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Keeping attendees engaged in virtual meetings is a widely sought but rarely achieved objective. Here is Part I of a set of simple techniques to help facilitators enhance attendee engagement.
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Although most facilitators of virtual meetings regard attendee engagement as a desirable goal, some of their techniques for achieving it carry unfortunate risks. For example, some try to surprise attendees by calling on people unexpectedly to ask for comment. Such methods might be effective in the short run, but they can create an atmosphere of tension, because they single out individuals. In the case of surprise questions to specific attendees, the hidden (possibly unintended) message from the facilitator is that the individual designated for comment hasn't been contributing much. In effect, the facilitator risks shaming the designated individual. The facilitator's true intent is irrelevant. Attendees are free to interpret the facilitator's actions in any way they choose.

Engagement Engagement enhancement techniques that
single out individuals suspected of being
disengaged put at risk the quality of the
relationship between facilitator and attendee
enhancement techniques that single out individuals suspected of being disengaged thus put at risk the quality of the relationship between facilitator and attendee. Safer methods for enhancing engagement share two common attributes: they treat everyone alike, and they bear no resemblance to punishment. Here's Part I of a set of simple techniques to help facilitators enhance attendee engagement.

Recruit assistance
Conducting virtual meetings of more than three or four is too much work for a single facilitator. Roles that lighten the load include scribe, parking lot valet, site facilitators, action item scribe, attendance scribe, timekeeper, Designated Digression Detector, technology facilitators, and agenda manager.
Recruiting assistance also enhances attendee engagement, because people who accept these roles must remain engaged and attentive to fulfill their responsibilities.
Restrict the agenda to items that need discussion
Distribute announcements or reports (or report summaries) in advance by posting or email. We sometimes do include such items on agendas because we want everyone to hear them. But if meetings are the only reliable channels for distributing information, then there are performance issues too complex to be resolved in meetings.
Agenda items that don't require discussions or decisions can usually be removed from the agenda. Don't spend meeting time reciting what people can read in email messages, reports, or report summaries. That kind of activity causes people to disengage.
Maintain a parking lot visible to all
The parking lot is a list of topics that arise during the meeting, but which aren't immediately relevant to the agenda. We capture them for two reasons. First, we want to remember them and deal with them later. Second, we don't want them to arise again in the current meeting.
In face-to-face meetings, we maintain parking lots on flip charts or whiteboards that all can see. They remind everyone that the listed items aren't suitable for the current meeting. But in virtual meetings, we tend to forgo visibility, which means that some items arise repeatedly. Don't let this happen. Devise some way to make the parking lot visible to all.

We'll continue next time with more techniques for enhancing attendee engagement at virtual meetings.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Toward More Engaging Virtual Meetings: II  Next Issue

Leading Virtual Meetings for Real ResultsAre your virtual meetings plagued by inattentiveness, interruptions, absenteeism, and a seemingly endless need to repeat what somebody just said? Do you have trouble finding a time when everyone can meet? Do people seem disengaged and apathetic? Or do you have violent clashes and a plague of virtual bullying? Read Leading Virtual Meetings for Real Results to learn how to make virtual meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot shorter. Order Now!

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Toxic conflict in teams disrupts relationships and interferes with (or prevents) accomplishment of the team's goals. It's difficult enough to manage toxic conflict in co-located teams, but in virtual teams, dissociative anonymity causes toxic conflict to be both more easily triggered and more difficult to resolve.
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See also Virtual and Global Teams and Effective Meetings for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

An informal meeting geometryComing November 21: Make Suggestions Privately
Suggesting a better way of doing things can sometimes backfire surprisingly and intensely. Making suggestions privately reduces that risk, but introduces a different risk. Available here and by RSS on November 21.
A beefsteak, with some amount of fatAnd on November 28: Wacky Words of Wisdom: VI
Adages, aphorisms, and "words of wisdom" seem valid often enough that we accept them as universal and permanent. Most aren't. Here's Part VI of a collection of widely held beliefs that can be misleading at work. Available here and by RSS on November 28.

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