It May Not Be Business as Usual, but Engagement Doesn't Have to Suffer
The workforce shift from office to home has necessitated an accelerated understanding of conducting business effectively from remote locations. This includes meetings, both in-house and with clients and partners outside your company. It may not be business as usual, but that doesn’t mean engagement automatically suffers.
Cindy Corritore, PhD, professor of business intelligence and analytics at Creighton University’s Heider College of Business, discusses in this installment of the Business Bites Webinar Series, a collaboration between the Heider College of Business and the Greater Omaha Chamber, ways to ensure online team meetings are effective and engaging for all parties.
How to Conduct an Effective Online Meeting
Two key factors for conducting effective virtual team meetings are engagement and presence. Keeping attendees interacting with you and each other is central to ensuring online meetings are worthwhile. And as host, you have an obligation to be more than just a picture on a remote screen.
So how do you keep attendees engaged? Corritore provides a few tips for maintaining engagement:
- Begin the meeting with an ice breaker. According to Corritore, an ice breaker pulls participants’ thoughts away from the “To Do” lists and refocuses their attention to the meeting. An ice breaker perfectly suited to the virtual platform uses a QR code to ask participants to respond to a simple question, such as “What do you do in one or two words?” or “What is your current mood in one word?” She then shows their individual responses collectively in a word cloud. This ice breaker gets them thinking and helps them shift gears mentally to prepare for the meeting.
- Remember to be social. Just as you typically begin or end an in-person meeting with a bit of socializing, designate a “chat time” for participants who know each other to catch up. Also, use names as much as possible, and limit, if you can, the number of attendees to a manageable seven to ten participants. It’s easy to blend into the background in large meetings; the greater the number of participants, the lower the overall engagement.
- Use the chat window as your assistant. You can keep the meeting flowing by adding links to which you have referred, to take questions, conducting polling, etc. using the chat window of your virtual platform.
Rules of Thumb to Maintain Participation in Online Meetings
Timing, as they say, is everything. And this is certainly true with conducting a productive meeting, online or in-person.
Research has indicated that highest level of interest and attentiveness occurs in the first 15 minutes of a meeting. So address the most important items on your agenda at the beginning – not the end – of your meeting.
To keep attendees’ attention and support their learning in the online environment, participants should be involved in activities or interactions every 3-5 minutes. Pose a probing question that requires them to think. Draw their attention to something on the
screen. Take a poll. Get everyone talking in a round robin. Ask them to critique, evaluate, or reflect on a situation or problem.
To maintain interest in this highly visual medium, the visual field should change every 60-90 seconds. A fluctuating field will help you avoid looking like a talking head.
Establish Your Presence as the Host
While there are certainly factors in an online meeting over which you have no control, your presence is not one of them.
- Maintain eye contact. It’s difficult to know where to look to replicate eye contact via the computer screen. It’s not your keyboard, or your image on the screen, or the faces of your colleagues. It’s the camera on your computer. Corritore says she has attached a brightly colored donut-type sticker around her computer’s camera lens as a reminder to keep her gaze on the camera and thus maintain eye contact with her meeting’s participants.
- Use a strong voice. Remember that microphones on computers are powerful, so use an authoritative, clear voice.
- Frame yourself. Within the computer screen, that is. Sit back; don’t scrunch. Your “portrait” within the screen should include your face and shoulders. You should also be able to use your hands, so keep them visible. Choose a neutral background away from a window. Position light in front of you and not behind, or you will look like a shadow.
- Behave naturally. Just be yourself and react as you typically would. A smile and laughter draw people into the conversation. Vary facial expression and talk at a normal speed
Four Best Practices for Conducting Online Meetings
Long before the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a complete shift to virtual learning, Corritore had extensive experience in teaching courses in the online format. In fact, innovative teaching technologies, as well as emerging technology in business education, are among her research interests. So, she has developed and tested a list of best practices for online engagement that include establishing a team agreement, assigning roles, creating meaningful artifacts, and utilizing technologies.
- Establishing a Team Agreement: All participants agree to test and troubleshoot the technology BEFORE the meeting. Corritore often conducts a dry run of a meeting if she is implementing a new technology. They also commit to being prepared for the meeting and have all content ready. They establish a quiet place in which to participate in the meeting, and if they are not speaking, they agree to mute the sound. They designate a time limit for individuals to talk, and if participants have a question, they raise their hand just as if they were in a physical classroom or meeting.
- Assigning Roles: Standard roles include the facilitator, who introduces participants, watches the time and keeps people on track; the technology steward, who troubleshoots problems stemming from technology; the recorder, who is responsible for turning on the recorder to document the meeting; the secretary, who takes notes, writes notes on a white board or using technology such as Osmo; the chat boss, who monitors the chat room, fields questions, tallies votes, etc.; and the Yoda, who calls out breaches in meeting protocol, such as Robert's Rules.
- Creating Meaningful Artifacts: The host of the meeting should send out an agenda prior to the meeting announcing the purpose of the meeting and listing all the business to be discussed. It is also helpful before the meeting takes place, especially if it is the first virtual meeting or new technology is being implemented, to distribute a technology troubleshooting or how-to guide so attendees know what do to if the video is not working or they can’t hear another participant speak. Keeping a transcript of the meeting eliminates the need for excessive note taking during the meeting.
- Utilizing Technologies: The constant release of new technologies are changing the way business is conducted. Platforms like Zoom and Google Hangout provide a virtual environment in which to meet remotely. Sococo is a virtual office, and it is way to give members of a team who could very well be spread out across the country or globe “a feeling of presence,” says Corritore. You can see coworkers in their individual offices, know if they are available or not, meet with them via Zoom in a conference coworkers inhabit offices. “I can see who's around, I can have a private discussion with them or five of us can have a Zoom meeting in the conference room. It's a really cool tool,” says Corritore. She also uses several assistive technologies, especially writing tools like collaborative white boards, shared Word documents, virtual sticky notes, and Osmo.
Thanks to all the technological advancements now at our disposal, online engagement no longer lags behind face-to-face engagement. In fact, Corritore has found, it can be even greater if participants take the time to educate themselves how to work the technology and leverage it to achieve similar outcomes in a more efficient manner.
This content was developed as part of our Business Bites series, a virtual education opportunity sponsored by the Heider College of Business in partnership with the Greater Omaha Chamber. Request the full interactive Business Bites session to learn more.
This blog post was contributed by Cindy Corritore, PhD. Dr. Corritore is a professor of business intelligence and analytics at Creighton University’s Heider College of Business. For additional information on being online in the workplace, Creighton University offers the Master of Science in Business Analyics program.