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Jan 7, 2021
Posted Under: COVID       Tags: technology

Like many organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented us from in-person activities like meeting with colleagues, holding classes, consulting with clients, and conducting facilitations and planning sessions. So we turned to Zoom. We’ve learned some practices from our Zoom experience that have helped us better communicate and carry out our work in a virtual environment. We want to share them with you.

1.Create a welcoming space.

    • Encourage participants to have their names on the screen.
    • Keep cameras on, especially if you are the host or co-host.
    • Be clear on the timing of the session.
    • Make space for introductions or acknowledgment of everyone in the room. Options include: one person conducts a “roll call” by calling on each person to say “hello” and test their microphone, or by asking everyone to introduce themselves in the chat bar.
    • Offer a land acknowledgment sincerely and appropriately.
    • Make use of the closed-captioning function and other accessibility tools as appropriate. For public meetings, err on the side of necessity.

2. Set group agreements to reflect the organizational culture and group intent.

    • Be clear on ways to engage (voice, chat bar, etc.).
    • Let people know you are recording the session or ask for a participant to record as needed and appropriate. Remember that recording the session will only capture the main room not the breakout spaces and could lessen the trust in the room.
    • Set clear expectations for muting/unmuting with mute as the default unless the meeting is very small and everyone agrees that their space is quiet.

3. Lean into people’s home experience. Expect and welcome cats walking across the screen, children popping in to look into the camera, dogs that need a break, parents who need to offer a helping hand, etc. Working from home is a blessing and a challenge. The additional layer of any admonishment lacks compassion and is a sure way to end trust and engagement. Lean in. Say “hello” to little ones, ask about the pets, create impromptu breaks, etc. Everyone is doing the best they can. You, too.

4. Focus on engagement, not just content. This is true outside the Zoom room, too. “Be in service to the people, not the content” are facilitator words to live by.

    • You can engage your participants in many ways, from asking them to use their fingers to write in the chat bar, by typing open-ended questions into the chat bar, by posting instructions in the chat bar, by asking for responses with “reaction” emojis, or by calling on people to take a turn speaking.
    • Don’t leave people hanging by not addressing their comments in the chat bar – other people will see that you’ve avoided the question and lose trust.

5. Maximize the use of breakout rooms to get people talking to one another. You can easily randomize the breakout rooms with one click, but if you need specific people in specific rooms you’ll need another person with host privileges to set up the rooms while you are speaking. Having room names assigned to each person makes movement much easier.

    • Remember that on-screen instructions are not always seen in the breakout rooms so post instructions in the chat bar before moving everyone to rooms.
    • Establish a clear process for capturing the key learnings in each room. Assign a “recorder and a reporter” or make that the first task for each group. Use the chat bar, the whiteboard, verbal exchange, or an external online tool to capture the information.
    • Broadcast time limits for breakout sessions and let participants know at exactly what time everyone will return to the main session.
    • Allow plenty of time to set up breakout rooms.

6. Think through timing in advance. Everything takes longer than you may anticipate. Rehearse if you have many moving parts to your meeting.

    • Start and end on time – even better, end five minutes early to allow people to get to their next meeting.
    • Allow time for “entering” and “exiting” the breakout rooms. Remember that this can be “jolting” for people and time is needed for everyone to resettle. Make space for light conversation as everyone comes back to the full conversation.

7. Prepare yourself – big meetings or small sessions.

    • Set the meeting to make sure people enter the Zoom in mute. It helps you keep order and ensures no one is embarrassed or distracted by background noises upon entering the meeting.
    • If you have a large group, print out a list of participants ahead of time to track attendance, help with breakout rooms, keep track of participation, etc.
    • Send materials ahead of time AND again during the session as needed and appropriate.

8. If the group is more than ten people, ideally you have two people running the show – one to advance slides and monitor the waiting room and chat bar while the other focuses on speaking and facilitating.

9. If this is a board meeting, in addition to all the other items on this list, establish a means for the CEO and board chair to communicate about the timing and tone of the meeting (text, private message, etc.).

    • Create an agenda with timings so the chair can assess the progress of the meeting and adjust as needed. We don’t recommend sending the timed version to everyone because it can stifle important conversation and cause unnecessary anxiety for others. Provide start, end, and break times to everyone.
    • As often as possible, ask for unanimous consent or the “thumbs up” emoji, which is then verbally recorded by a single person, thus saving participants from muting and unmuting.
    • Check out our resources page for agenda and minutes templates.
    • Check out our classes or facilitations on effective board meetings.

10. Remember that translating in-person experiences to online is not just changing platforms. It requires a new process, expectations, and practice. Enjoy!

We are happy to help with facilitation in the virtual environment. Big meetings or small, please let us know how we can support your goals.