Think about the last ten online meetings you attended. How many would you rate 9+ for deep engagement, strong interaction and clear outcomes towards a common goal?
Chances are – like most of us – you’ve been invited to endless zoom calls full of monologues, distracted participants (‘sorry, you were saying?’) and limited tangible results.
As a professional facilitator, I am obsessed with delivering engaging, interactive and effective strategy sessions. And while it is an art to run a succesful face-to-face meeting, running a good online workshop is taking that art to a whole new level.
So here are five tips to increase the quality of your next strategic conversation via Zoom:
1. Set up three separate meetings for creating understanding, explorating options and for making decisions.
We tend to combine multiple goals in one meeting. “We need to get on with it. Let’s organize a four hour session to fix this problem”. But the best way to structure strategic conversations is through three distinctive steps, in separate sessions. In a first session, your goal should be to ensure everyone has the same understanding of the challenge at hand — through a deepdive in data and perspectives from the group. Second, you design a session to explore all available options to solve our challenge, through divergent thinking. Third, you focus on decisionmaking, to carefully select the best option to move forward.
It is crucial you leave some time between the three steps. The good news is that online meetings are even easier to split over a longer period since there is no travel involved.
By keeping a few days or even weeks between the steps, participants can reflect on the output, and ideas can mature — which makes for richer input for the next session.
2. Set the stage and use the room(s)
In offline sessions, a well designed workshop room layout makes all the difference. Table setting, flipovers, walls… or even a location in the middle of nature. Although online comes with a few limitations it also has a few advantages.
Just like in offline sessions, it helps to have clear, compelling visuals to share. So spend some extra time on your background, visualizing stories, using videos.
Remember that the attention span for consuming content online is shorter than offline, so you need to rougly halve the time you share information.
In addition, make sure you get familiar with screensharing, audio sharing and chat. First impressions count, so make sure the “room” is ready before the meeting starts. Pro-tip: install two camera’s and invest in good lighting. You might want to invest in a tool like OBS or Manycam so you can quickly switch between points of view.
3. Design for interaction
There is a reason post-its and sharpies are so popular when it comes to managing a room of people to share ideas and cocreate. They make our ideas tangible and easy to move around for clustering.
Depending on the number of people in your online meeting, there’s various various ways to create interaction
First, develop a habit of inviting people to “check in”. For smaller groups, after I explain the agenda, I always capture a round of expectations (verbally, on camera). For larger groups, I ask participants to answer a question by posting an answer to a relevant question in the chat.
Next, there’s plenty of virtual whiteboard tools available. Choose one that fits your organizations needs and security requirements. For smaller teams, working together in google slides could be fine, while companies with specific security standards might need to look at something like Miro.
Finally, most online tools offer breakout rooms. They are a great way to discuss in smaller teams and bring back the insights. (Don’t forget to assign a notetaker).
4. Be super strict on time
In offline interactive sessions, I found the sweetspot for a topic to be 75 minutes, followed by a 15 minute break. But online, our attention span is usually not much more than 50 minutes, anyway. So why book a 1 hour meeting if 45 minutes will do? If you run longer sessions, make sure to schedule breaks inbetween.
In preparation, carefully plan your timing, from opening, to exercises, to reflection, summary, checkout and close.
Speaking of preparation… as a rule of thumb, I follow 1/1/1 planning: at least 1 hour of designing and 1 hour of preparation for 1 hour of session.
To keep track, use timers. Zoom breakout rooms allow you to set a timer for breakout rooms, to automatically bring people back. But for your own reference, a good old time timer will also do the job.
And finally… respect starttime and endtime. I’ve made it a habit to ALWAYS close the session a few minutes early, which is usually highly appreciated.
5. Have fun
Making people smile is an underestimated powertool. Smiling releases endorphines. It can be in the little things. Depending on the audience, you may experiment with icebreakers or exercises to flex the mind.
I have been in a sessions where we challenged 100+ participants to find something red in their house and show it on camera (makes for a great screenshot I can tell you).
And one where we had icecream delivered to everyone’s door at the same time. (Surprise!). An evergreen group drawing exercise, like “draw an apple” often also ignites happiness. In working with smaller groups of executives, subtle humour can make all the difference. You’ll be the memorable positive outlier in their day of seriousness. Pro tip: aim for at least one “smile moment” every 5 minutes.
There you have it:
- Design separate meetings
- Design for interaction
- Set the stage
- Be super strict on time
- Make sure participants have fun.
Apply these principles to facilitate your next strategic conversation to be a 9+ experience.
And look forward to the moment where we can be in physically together in the same room again – I expect we will then even more appreciate the power of closeness.
*Replace with your online conference tool of choice.
Along my professional career in leading business development teams and working with C-level executives, I discovered my superpower to “read” a room. So over the past years, I dedicated myself to delivering high impact sessions with boardrooms executives and venture teams.
Need a professional facilitator for your next strategy meeting? Sign up for our free webinar or book a facilitator via www.shiftshapers.org