Keeping attendees engaged in virtual meetings is inherently valuable. But it also reduces the need for techniques to re-engage attendees after they "check out" or become distracted. Engagement prevents many other problems, such as inattentiveness, distractedness, poor decision-making, and the need to repeat what's just been said.
Here's Part II of a set of techniques for keeping attendees engaged.
- Solicit agenda items from attendees in advance
- Some meeting chairs distribute agendas for their meetings without first soliciting suggestions from attendees. In effect, they're imposing an agenda on the meeting.
- Even when the agenda is obvious, soliciting suggestions in advance enhances attendee engagement. Attendees who suggest items tend to feel an affinity for the items they suggested, which can enhance their sense of engagement.
- Publish a "Not Agenda" in advance
- Items on the Not Agenda are off limits for the meeting. They're less likely to arise during the meeting, less likely to be appended to the parking lot, and less likely to waste valuable meeting time.
- Including the Not Agenda along with a solicitation of agenda items keeps attendees from suggesting items that are known in advance not to be agenda items for the meeting.
- Track who is actually present
- If you don't know who's present, it's Even when the agenda is obvious,
soliciting suggestions in advance
enhances attendee engagementdifficult to keep them engaged. Ask people to "check in" when they arrive, or when they return from breaks or from stepping out. Ask that they announce their departures if they must step out during the meeting. This custom lets everyone know who is present, which can be important for conducting discussions.
- But it can require a bit of bookkeeping. For meetings of more than a few people, designate an "attendance scribe" who tracks this information, and posts it on screen in a manner visible to everyone. Two columns work well: Present and Not Present. When people know that everyone else is aware that they're present, they're less inclined to succumb to distractions, because they realize that anyone might address them directly at any time.
- Don't maintain a queue of people who want to speak — use rotation
- The speaker queue is widely used for allocating speaking time. Whether executed by catching the facilitator's eye in face-to-face meetings, or by technological "hand-raise" tools in virtual meetings, speaker queues have limitations. They tend to scramble discussion threads, especially for complicated or controversial topics. And the queue can get very long indeed.
- Rotation addresses both issues. Using Rotation, the facilitator asks each attendee, in turn, for a contribution, perhaps in the order of the "Present" list (see above). Attendees who have no contribution say, "Pass." The facilitator repeats the poll until a round completes with everyone passing. Rotation has the added benefit of providing a natural reason for the facilitator to ask each attendee for a contribution, without the risks attendant with singling out individuals.
Most important, don't meet unnecessarily. Taking up people's time for no good reason leads to disengagement that can't be overcome by even the most powerful techniques. First in this series Top Next Issue
Are your virtual meetings plagued by inattentiveness, interruptions, absenteeism, and a seemingly endless need to repeat what somebody just said?
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More articles on Virtual and Global Teams:
- Virtual Communications: III
- Participating in or managing a virtual team presents special communications challenges. Here's Part
III of some guidelines for communicating with members of virtual teams.
- Email Ethics
- Ethics is the system of right and wrong that forms the foundation of civil society. Yet, when a new
technology arrives, explicitly extending the ethical code seems necessary — no matter how civil
the society. And so it is with email.
- Virtual Termination with Real Respect
- When we have to terminate someone who works at a remote site, sometimes there's a temptation to avoid
travel — to use email, phone, fax, or something else. They're all bad ideas. Terminating people
in person is not only a gesture of respect. It's good business.
- Virtual Conflict
- Conflict, both constructive and destructive, is part of teamwork. As virtual teams become more common,
we're seeing more virtual conflict — conflict that crosses site boundaries. Dealing with destructive
conflict is difficult enough face-to-face, but in virtual teams, it's especially tricky.
- Communication Traps for Virtual Teams: I
- Virtual teams encounter difficulties that rarely confront face-to-face teams. What special challenges
do they face, and what can we do about them?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 17: Overt Belligerence in Meetings
- Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern. Available here and by RSS on October 17.
- And on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
- Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.