We met with virtual meeting expert, Matthew Bigman, lead analyst at VT-ARC, to share his tips and answer our questions on how to host and participate in successful virtual events or meetings.
Matthew Bigman has been with VT-ARC BRICC for five years – two of which working remotely from Alaska – as a lead research analyst, facilitating and running meetings and research projects. Without further ado, here are his tips and tricks for making working from home, well, work.
What kinds of things do you need to do to prep for a successful virtual meeting (testing equipment, etc.)?
If you’re participating in a virtual meeting, and haven’t tested the software/hardware before, join at least 15 minutes early to familiarize yourself wit the programs you will be using. Have everything you’ll need within arms reach before the meeting starts.
What kinds of tools do you recommend for conducting a successful virtual meeting? (Note: this can be anything from having a good headset to software tools and a good support team)
As a good rule of thumb – have a good headset/webcam, a piece of software that lets you see and talk with participants and a program that lets you screen share important documents like PowerPoints and notepads.
Can you provide some tips on virtual meeting etiquette?
- Keep your mic muted unless talking or intending to talk.
- Recognize that the meetings are going to be different than you are used to and be open to new ideas.
- Roll with distractions (to a degree), as in this home-work environment there are variables outside of individual’s controls (irritable children, fighter jets for team members who work on bases).
- Pad your estimates for how long elements of a meeting may take in the virtual environment. When asking questions, take on sip of water to fill dead space and give people time to reply.
- Try to break up the flow of your meeting every 15 minutes to maintain engagement.
- Don’t eat on camera, even for what would normally be a lunch meeting.
What are some good practices for keeping people engaged during a meeting?
As noted earlier, a good rule of thumb is to change up the interactivity level or do some kind of activity like asking for a chat response, every 15 minutes, to maintain engagement. Ask individuals to keep their webcams on so you visual cues regarding energy and engagement levels. Use the tools in your chosen software, using digital whiteboards or breakout rooms, to also increase interactivity. And don’t be afraid to take breaks to give people a chance to collect their thoughts and reengage.
“Recognize that meetings are going to be different than you are used to and be open to new ideas”
What are your thoughts on virtual ice breakers?
Ice breakers have a poor reputation, but I believe in a virtual environment they are more important. Well-designed opening exercises provide a chance for participants to familiarize themselves with virtual tools, check to make sure their technologies are working, and provide interactive breaks and engagement. This can be as simple as introducing yourself in the chat or changing name tags to reflect goals for the meeting.
How many people does it take to run a large virtual meeting and can you give advice about logistics, e.g. do you have a person dedicated to facilitating, another to answer questions on chat, etc.?
At least two for large, interactive, virtual meetings, maybe three if you need a dedicated rapporteur. Typically, you want a lead facilitator running the meeting, keeping the agenda, and maintaining the agenda. The other facilitator will work to monitor the chat, moderate, and provide live high-level notes and recaps of major outputs and discussion points being generated or discussed. The rapporteur, if used, focuses on more detailed and precise notes.
How do you manage requests for information that come up during the meeting? Do you send people to a central portal or library?
Ideally, any documents for the meeting should have been linked or sent out ahead of the meeting. Otherwise, using a central database like a SharePoint or APAN site is the best way to share documents. The chat is a great place to place links, and documents, depending on your program. But much like your print out slides ahead of time, you likely want to share them too.
Do you record your virtual meetings?
That’s going to partially depend on the policies of your organization, but typically no. Some meetings, ones that are more presentations than interactive meetings, may be easily presented as a recording for those who missed the first meeting. But with a highly interactive event, with multiple breakouts, presenting organized notes would likely be easier. Finally, for events, like an unconference, which is a mix of the two, you may only want to record the key speakers.
What is the maximum time you would suggest a virtual meetings should last and how do you manage break times?
At the heart of the question, the answer is none per se. Any event, even an all-day conference, can be simulated in a virtual environment so long as you maintain a level of engagement and change up your interactions. Much like an in-person conference, you want to keep the audience engaged. It is a lot easier to sneak out of a virtual meeting if you’re unengaged though, so you have to work harder. As a rule, if you can change up the flow and interactivity level of your meeting every 15 to 20 minutes, you can maintain engagement and eyes on your meeting over the course of an entire day, with breaks of course.
Can you suggest some resources?
Official federal guidance – https://telework.gov/
Official state guidance – https://www.vita.virginia.gov/resources/telework-resources/