How can virtual meetings help your charity remain effective?
Five top tips for holding meetings online
We live in very challenging times.
Right now, coronavirus is forcing individuals to self-isolate and organisations to reduce face-to-face contact, both of which could have a real impact on charity productivity and their ability to deliver outcomes.
At the same time, we’re being encouraged to cut travel to reduce carbon emissions and make more efficient use of time.
Not surprisingly then, over the last few months I have seen a growing interest in using virtual meetings and now participate in meetings online several times a week, often as facilitator.
Whilst it is straightforward to hold a meeting with one other person, the real challenges come from virtual meetings with multiple participants. But with some careful preparation, most of these challenges can be easily resolved. These are my five top tips for holding virtual meetings.
- Use a platform designed for virtual meetings. I use both Skype and Zoom, but I find Zoom.us is more stable and has some great functionality. There is a free version, which allows meetings up to 40 minutes with groups of people, or unlimited meetings with just two people. For £11.99 a month (at the time of writing) you can remove the group time limitation.
- Test the equipment in advance. By far the biggest issue that I have come across is technology failure. This can be mitigated by asking each participant to test the equipment before the meeting so that they become familiar with how it works and there’s no meeting time wasted getting everyone set up. In addition, it is worthwhile setting up an alternative method of communication (messenger or phone) in case of problems with system.
- Nominate a facilitator. It helps to have an established facilitator for the meeting to ensure that the meeting runs to agenda and time and everyone gets a chance to participate. A clear agenda is essential for a virtual meeting and I have found that meetings of under 90 minutes work best. One of the key facilitator responsibilities is to ensure that all participants get a chance to speak; being independent of the actual discussion enables the facilitator to do this. Tools like Zoom’s participant voting buttons and annotate tools help too.
- Keep everyone engaged. One of the challenges of remote meetings is the occasional tendency for participants to check out or multitask. A great advantage of virtual meeting platforms over conference calls is that you can use a webcam to see everybody and assess their level of engagement. There may be occasions when you prefer not to use webcams, such as when home bandwidth is poor, but when you can use them, do.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whilst using virtual meetings may seem daunting, its very easy to set up and try – so I would recommend giving it a go. If you want to try more complex use with multiple distributed participants and incorporate workshop tools, I recommended that you get some support.
I hope this has given you the motivation to give virtual meetings a try. Once you become proficient at it, the benefits are manifold. If you need support, Action Planning can help. We can provide you with a consultant experienced in facilitating virtual meetings, either to train your team or facilitate meetings for you.
Andrew Middleton is a Governance & Strategy Consultant and mentor with broad experience in the charity sector. He began his career as a management consultant for blue chip companies such as American Express and British Airways, specialising in change and process improvement, before transitioning to the Charity Sector in 2003. Over the last 16 years, Andrew has held roles as CEO, Trustee, Director, Governor, Fundraiser, Consultant and volunteer for local, regional and national charities.