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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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 22: Dealing with Credit Appropriation
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- When things go wildly wrong, someone is usually designated to investigate and assess the probability of further trouble. That role can be risky. Here are three guidelines for protecting yourself if that role falls to you. Available here and by RSS on August 29.
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