Three Secret Ingredients For Restaurant-Quality Online Meetings

Engaging online meetings don’t happen by accident. They’re created. 

It’s a bit like cooking. At a basic level, it’s about combining good-quality ingredients, in the right amounts, to create a decent dish – avoiding burnt, stodgy, tasteless or otherwise inedible offerings. But in the hands of an expert chef, extraordinary flights of flavour become possible.

(Things like last week’s Metaphorum, with 120+ people glued to a 12-hour online unconference.) 

The basic ingredients should be straightforward (though they seem frighteningly rare!) A good online meeting needs:

There are a few extra “cheffy” ingredients that I use a lot. Here are three “secret” ones that my participants love.

1. Breakout Rooms

The ability to quickly divide a group makes all kinds of engagement tactics possible. Liberating Structures, for example, use lots of small-group activities to make sure that everyone can actively participate.

Zoom, the best-available video conferencing tool, makes breakout rooms super-simple. For participants, it feels like a Star Trek teleport.

Facilitators tend to be nervous… until they try it, and discover that it takes seconds to learn to drive. But the breakout rooms function is buried in the weeds of the Zoom system, not switched on by default.

You can enable breakout rooms in your Pro account settings.

STOP PRESS: Newly-launched challenger VideoFacilitator allows participants to move themselves between breakout rooms. Well worth investigating!

2. Jamboard

Need a sticky-note board where everyone can post and move everyone’s stickies? The free answer is Google’s Jamboard.

Once again, this tool seems to be hidden: all the references to it that I can find online talk about it in terms of a physical screen, a “Jamboard”. That means you probably won’t find many how-to guides out there.

But for me, it’s strength is as a simple online collaboration tool for use during remote meetings. 

It’s not quite as slick and fully-integrated as other Google tools – it’s clearly been added to the suite, rather than being designed in. But it was well worth the few minutes I spent trial-and-error-ing my way to proficiency with it.

Participants don’t need any lessons in how to use it, nor do they need Google accounts. But facilitators should check ahead of time that participants aren’t blocked from accessing all Google’s tools. Phone and tablet users need to download an app.

3. Claim Host

This one’s really hidden. But really useful.

Let’s say you’ve organised an important Zoom meeting. Everyone’s invited, the plan’s made. It includes breakout rooms or recording – both functions limited to the “host” of the meeting. On the day of the meeting, you wake up with the flu. Do you:

  1. Crawl to the laptop at the appointed start time and sneeze all over the screen as you press the button to make your colleague the “host” or
  2. In your written plan, include a six-digit code so that your colleague can take over as “host” without your involvement?

I recommend option b! The six-digit code, your “Host key”, is buried at the bottom of your profile on the Zoom website. 

To use it, your colleague simply joins your meeting in the usual way, and then at the bottom of the list of participants, clicks on the words “Claim host”. A box pops up requesting the code. Voila! 

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