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 attendeeenhancement 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.
Are 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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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
- When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
- And on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
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