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How to facilitate online meetings

In this article I explore effective strategies for facilitating engaging and productive online sessions, offering tips for enhancing communication and participation.

In recent years, many companies have adopted hybrid workplaces, allowing employees to work from home a few days per week. Consequently, in most industries now – almost all work meetings are either hybrid or fully online.

Doing meetings through a screen poses very fundamental challenges to natural human interaction – you don't see body language, no direct eye contact and audio is not aligned. Don't even get me started on the mute/unmute situation. This contributes to less engaging, productive and energising meetings. In larger meetings – many also feel less comfortable speaking up and engaging with the group. This poses new challenges for the facilitator, making it necessary to find new ways we conduct meetings in todays online and hybrid settings.

Throughout my career, I have facilitated numerous meetings and workshops, discovering principles and techniques that have greatly helped me in creating productive sessions. I will now go through some of them and hopefully it could help you as well.

Small talk & get to know each other

Start every meeting with some small talk about something not work related! If people are shy and don't really engage, share something that happened earlier in the week or something you are excited about. Then introduce everyone in the meeting. Has everyone met each other before? If not, ask everyone to say a few words about themselves and their role. If it is a longer work meeting, consider starting with an ice breaker if you have the time. Here is a link to some of my favorite ice breakers. Energizers Tailored for Virtual Sessions.

This image is created using DALL-E, an AI image generation model developed by OpenAI

Purpose and goals

In an online setting people enjoy meetings even less than when they were physical. Therefore you need to be even more clear about the purpose and the goals of the meetings. A good exercise is to write down the purpose only using one sentence, this forces you to articulate it and better understand why the meeting exist in the first place. In the beginning of the session – clearly say what the purpose for the meeting is and why you have invited them. Then ask if people have any questions or doubts about it. Make sure everyone is on the same page before moving forward.

Avoid asking non-direct questions

If you are in a meeting with more than 3 participants avoid asking open questions that are not directed at a specific person for the following reasons:

  • If nobody says anything, it makes everyone a bit uncomfortable and takes the energy out of the room
  • Many people think that someone else has a better answer – therefore they hesitate to respond
  • People need to unmute and mute themselves – people are less likely to take the space and answer your question
  • The people who are comfortable speaking up usually does and they get more attention and power to take the discussion where they want it to go
  • People who are more introverted will not speak up because it is uncomfortable when someone specifically haven’t asked them to do so

As a facilitator you are responsible that all the participants feel comfortable and contribute to the meeting. When you are directing a question towards someone you give them the space to answer instead of them having to create the space for themselves. Everyone in a meeting is there to participate so your goal is to get all their perspectives, thoughts and opinions.

This image is created using DALL-E, an AI image generation model developed by OpenAI

Avoid Unstructured discussions

In unstructured discussions it is easy to get stuck or get fixated in one track. This is is not helpful in order to move forward and can lead to frustrations and loss of momentum and energy. What I sometimes do is to run a quick mini workshop where I ask everyone in the room to take 5 minutes in Miro and write down all their thoughts about the topic on post-its. After five minutes has passed, I ask everyone in turn to share all their post-its while I cluster them into categories and groups. What I experience every time is that we get clarity and that we realise that we agree on most things. We have just been focusing on what we disagree on. Finally, if you have time - vote on it and create actions and assign responsibilities for them. 
Here is a template in Miro you could use.

I hope these tips and principles have been helpful, and that you'll incorporate them into your work for more productive and engaging online meetings in the future. This article will get updated continously with new tips and guidelines in the future.

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