Taking Good Meetings Online

A good online meeting starts with a good meeting – and creating a good meeting is not necessarily easy!

Let’s look first at how to create a good meeting, and then move on to how to transfer that “goodness” online.

To boost “Perceived Meeting Quality” – where people say in a post-meeting survey that your meeting was good – you need to rate high on three straightforward measures, according to Elise Keith’s great new book on meetings, Where The Action Is.

You just need to:

  • send out an agenda beforehand
  • ensure your meeting starts and finishes on time
  • make sure everyone actively participates.

And you’re done!

(Of course, Perceived Meeting Quality isn’t all that matters. It says nothing about whether your meeting was actually useful. For that, you need Net Positive Impact, which is a lot trickier to measure – and to game. But let’s make a start here by minding our PMQs.)

When everyone’s going to be in the room together, what needs to happen for you to hit those three simple PMQ targets?

The most important thing is to structure your meeting for participation. That doesn’t happen by accident. People in meetings are risk-averse: keeping a low profile usually feels safer than participating. To nudge people into action, you might use Liberating Structures, Lean Coffee, or various pre-structured Agile ceremonies. Or you might just plan to take turns around the table, so that everyone speaks on a topic.

Once you’ve planned that structure, you can write – and send – your agenda. As Elise points out, “The agenda is the version of the meeting plan you share with the attendees… the agenda is the tip of the iceberg.” Then, starting and finishing on time should be a breeze!

So, now you know how to increase Perceived Meeting Quality when everyone’s in the room together. What’s so hard about taking it online?

  • Many experienced meeting organisers have had some horrible experiences of online meetings. Therefore, they have low expectations. With low expectations of success, to them it hardly seems worth the effort of preparing a considered meeting structure. The job gets ignored, rushed, or delegated to someone more junior.
  • An online meeting needs more prep than an in-the-room one. For example, taking familiar in-the-room meeting structures online needs extra thought (you might need an online tool to replicate a wall of post-it notes).
  • Online meetings tend to be bigger than in-the-room ones, because of their low entry tariff. It’s easy/cheap to invite additional people, and easy for them to accept. That makes it much harder to get everyone participating.
  • Participant groups tend to be more diverse online than in-the-room ones, which brings extra facilitation challenges.
  • It’s more challenging to get your participants fully engaged, and keep them engaged, in remote meetings. The dreadful 3Ds kick in – disconnection, distraction and discomfort. There are antidotes to these: psychological safety, active attention and embodied thinking. But effort is required!

So, what needs to happen to take good meetings online? As organisers, as facilitators, we need to raise our expectations, raise our game, and make an effort! Give thought to our meeting structures, send out the agenda beforehand, and start and finish on time. Simples!

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