Being a good facilitator of meetings is an artform, and skill that needs to be intentionally cultivated for the morale, efficiency and productivity of your team. No one wants their team walking away from a meeting thinking, “Well, that could have been an email.” (TBH, most of us have been there.)
Properly facilitating meetings in this day and age, as we’re video conferencing as the result of social distancing, is more important than ever. We can’t rely on the same social conventions and cues as in-person meetings, and we have to be purposeful about including each participant–it is easy to tune out and be distracted by other tasks we can do on our screen.
What follows are a set of best practices for facilitating meetings well on Zoom (or any of the other online platforms out there). Here at Ruby Porter, we are meeting with clients as much as we’re meeting with our internal team, so below we’re taking both scenarios into consideration.
- Invite: It’s a good idea to practice redundancy to make sure everyone has the needed information to log in. In addition to putting the meeting invitation link and phone information in a calendar invite, it’s a good idea to add that information to an email. This ensures that if you miss someone on the calendar invite, they will still have the information; additionally, in case a client isn’t familiar with a calendar app or doesn’t use one, they can log in confidently.
- Prepare: Prepare your notes and share materials with participants. Sometimes it’s easiest to do this directly within the chat feature, especially for links to shared documents; we don’t recommend sending files through the chat. Make sure your other teammates know the order of items on the agenda, and give them jobs: note taking, keeping track of time, moderating questions, etc. Situate yourself well. Make sure you’re presenting in a professional way, even from home. Find the calendar invite and get yourself at the screen to join 10 minutes prior to the meeting.
- Begin: That being said, wait a reasonable amount of time to start the meeting, if not everyone is logged in exactly on the mark. Since we’re all remote, any number of things can interfere with joining. Make small talk before launching into the meeting subject matter, if necessary. You can use internal chat or texting to make sure that your colleagues are in the way. This avoids awkward late introductions that disrupt the flow of your meeting.
- Model: Start the meeting with introductions for all of your present colleagues. Explain that “when it’s your turn, you’ll tell us your role in the company, and the responsibilities you have with respect to the client’s project”–or however your role relates to the meeting subject matter. It’s important that each person do this themselves, not one person introducing everyone. This is modeling the behavior we’re expecting next.
- Break the Ice: Continue with introductions of all the client team members in the same way. You can say, “Now let’s have everyone from (company) introduce yourselves–tell us what your role is with the company and (something else).” The ‘something else’ can be how long they’ve been with the company, what their goals are for the project, what they had for breakfast, etc. This step is extremely important for several reasons: it breaks the ice, it makes them feel comfortable to talk about a familiar subject (that can be funny), and it also gives us as the meeting hosts a chance to assess their sound setup, so that we can advise them how best to be heard.
- Sound Check: If any audio adjustments need to be made, this is when you and your team can suggest them. Does someone need to move closer to a microphone or turn up the volume? Is background noise from one user distracting? Oftentimes, asking everyone to mute themselves unless they are speaking is the best course of action. As the facilitator, you can also do this–just be sure that you announce that you’re doing it with a smile.
- Agenda: Start with some housekeeping details, especially for anyone unfamiliar with Zoom or whatever application you may be using. Point out the chat function if you plan to use it, the mute button, and any conventions/hand signals you’d like to use for contributing or asking questions. Outline the agenda: “We’re going to start by asking you a few questions about your brand, then move to some technical questions, followed by an outline of our process and next steps. Any questions* before we begin?”
*In general, open-ended questions directed at everyone do not work over Zoom. However, if you establish a system for calling on participants to speak, especially in big meetings, or for people to submit questions via the chat, attendees will feel the ability to speak up and be heard.
- Signing off: Once the meeting is over, signing off is just as important as the introduction. Imagine the steps you would take before leading the client to the door: Make sure they have your contact information to follow up with questions, explain your availability if needed, and sincerely wish them well before ending the meeting. Wave goodbye! We don’t want them to feel awkward about an abrupt disconnection. Good luck!