The following is the first in a series of MaRS guides highlighting tactical approaches to running effective virtual meetings and events.
Theses guides are part of the resources MaRS has put together in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This first guide outlines three considerations that will help you facilitate your online meeting or event:
Often successful remote experiences come down to how well you prepare and getting the right group of people together. As the facilitator, stay organized with your co-hosts and presenters, and with the amount of preparation and context you can provide to participants in advance.
It’s not uncommon for the most seasoned pros to struggle organizing and hosting remote meetings on their own. It’s helpful to have at least one other co-host to help you plan, structure and facilitate your virtual meeting or event.
For those running remote meetings and events for the first time, consider these strategies to have the best outcomes, engagement and timing. There’s a lot that goes into an effective virtual experiences. It’s not as simple as putting together a webinar presentation.
When you’re developing the plans, use the Purpose, Outcomes and Process (P.O.P.) method (outlined in this blog) to help guide the virtual experience.
This will help shape the overall structure, format, and outcomes/goals you’re looking to achieve. If you are pairing with a co-facilitator, create a shared document and outline the P.O.P. method and share it with guest presenters and other stakeholders.
To get a deeper structure in your agenda process, consider building around these three elements: opening, exploration and closure.
At the beginning of the meeting, take a moment to highlight the following:
As the facilitator, your role is to steer people through the agenda and activities. You don’t need to have all the answers ready, but come prepared to ask questions and provoke exploration, reflection, learning and engagement.
Experiment with different group size and meeting formats/agendas—you might try a small discussion group with 8-10 people. Keep track of timing as it’s easy to overestimate how long virtual discussion groups need.
Consider chunking your meeting into five- to 10-minute blocks of time to keep your audience engaged. While welcomes and introductions are important, keep them quick to maximize time for other elements of the meeting.
Often virtual meetings can be more fluid, and not fixed, when facilitating conversations. There are times when the needs and focus of the group can change in a moment. Be flexible and go with what you think is best for your participants. Take a light approach to intervening and keeping the discussion on track.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s likely you’ll be all-remote. That said, there may be different configurations of the locations for you (the host and main facilitator), your guest presenters and your audience. These include:
Ultimately, the best configuration for virtual meetings and events is where everyone is all-remote. Even if you’re co-located in the same building, it’s more engaging for your participants to have a view of each host and presenter on their own screen.
Ahead of time, figure out the best configuration for your remote meeting with the goal of balancing interaction between hosts, presenters and participants. Co-location brings unique technical challenges around audio and video. If your meeting has co-located hosts or presenters, take time to map out how the camera will be oriented and test the audio to ensure optimal sound for your meeting.
As a facilitator, it’s your job to make sure that all of the co-located and remote presenters and participants are part of the experience and don’t feel excluded from the conversation. Avoid a situation where the co-located team inadvertently dominates the meeting. As the facilitator, create open space for remote participants to jump in and join the discussion.
To reiterate: if possible, go all-remote. Having every participant online makes the meeting much more effective, even in the scenario where your co-hosts or presenters are all in the same workspace.
Video communication platforms are the most critical element in your tool stack for successful virtual meetings, workshops or events. These video-based platforms are increasingly able to help you in other functional areas such as event organization and scheduling, and in sharing visual content. They also feature messaging and connectivity tools to drive engaging and interactive experiences with your participants.
These platforms share a few commonalities to look for:
It is often best to start with tools that the majority of your team and/or audience are already using and familiar with.
For video communications, start with Zoom, Google Hangouts or MS Teams. The advantage of Zoom is that it has many of the key features built in to organize effective discussions and large meetings and webinars with up to 1,000 participants. Having an all-in-one solution can help keep your audience engaged in a single place without too many tools or steps to head to the next session. If you’re hosting a large conference or event with a main speaker stage and multiple smaller sessions, take a look at Hopin, Livestorm or Run the World as alternative options.
Sharing visuals during meetings? Use tools you and your co-facilitators are comfortable with, such as Google Slides, PowerPoint or PDFs. If you are sharing accompanying content in advance or during a meeting, Google Drive or Dropbox both have excellent sharing options for both small teams and larger audiences.
For collaborative discussions and workshops, consider working with Mural or Miro to add a whiteboard or post-it notes to capture ideas and feedback.
Staying organized and starting meetings on-time is critical. Use calendar tools and a project management system (e.g., Asana, Trello) to keep both yourself and your presentation team informed on the upcoming meeting or event. Booking meetings with remote participants is often easier using tools like Calendly (remember to consider a time zone check).
Should you want to pre-record presentations or instructions, try using Loom or Soapbox. And visualizing audience engagement in real-time can create a fun and interactive experience using Mentimeter and Slido.
Pulling together online events is often much quicker than it is in person. Use the advantage of speed to try out different approaches to your meetings. But make sure your presenters have enough time to prepare and your participants have enough advance notice to sign up and update their calendars.
Start practicing in small discussion groups on Zoom or lead a working session for your team or community. Always use the P.O.P. method to make sure there’s a purpose, a goal/outcome, and that you and your co-presenters know the process for both organizing and facilitating your virtual meeting or event.
Next up in this series is an instructional guide on building great visuals. We’ll discuss how to optimize your audio and video components to create the best possible virtual experience.