It’s one of the biggest challenges that leaders of remote meetings report. “How can I track the energy of the group in an online meeting?”
Managers, for example, find it hard to tell whether people are agreeing with a proposed course of action. Trainers find it hard to tell if their students are getting what’s being taught. Sales consultants find it tricky to sense whether they’re getting buy-in from their potential customers.
When I researched the fears of great-in-the-room facilitators and trainers who flatly refused to work online, tracking the energy emerged as the number one issue.
The thing is, tracking the energy of a meeting online is different from when you’re meeting in a room together. It’s not just a case of getting the hang of the technology, then doing what you’ve always done.
For example, you can’t use the physical distance between participants as a proxy for how friendly they are with each other. And you can’t smell your participants – which is what one of my research subjects wanted to be able to do.
So, here are my top tips for tracking the energy in a remote meeting:
1.. Make sure that you can hear and see everyone clearly
- Unless you have absolutely awesome tech available, that means no hybrid meetings. All-remote meetings make tracking the energy much, much easier
- It also means that everyone should turn their video camera on. Come on, this is the 2020s!
- Tracking the energy provides a powerful argument for using decent video-conferencing tech, rather than the kind that allows only the speaker, or only a few of the attendees, to be seen
- Ask participants to dial in from a quiet place, and to use a headset
- If possible (if there’s minimal background noise and everyone’s using a headset) ask people to keep their microphones open
2. Track what you can see, including
- Facial expressions
- Nods and smiles
- Other body language eg sitting forward, looking away
3. Track what you can hear, including
- What people actually say
- Silences of various kinds
- Non-verbals sounds, such as the intake of breath that precedes speech
4. Track what people are writing
- On a shared document, who’s writing what?
- Are people responding in the meeting’s text chat?
5. Devise other ways to track the energy
- Use check-in routines and warm-up activities
- Make explicit requests for in-the-moment feedback eg via polls, quick quizzes
- Have breakout groups work on documents that you, as the group leader, can see. If nothing appears, check in
- Ask for help from your group. People know this is challenging, and are often keen to learn!
And in the spirit of the last suggestion, how else might you track the energy of the group in an online meetings? Please comment below.