We spend a lot of time in this column harping on the role of project leaders and meeting facilitators. While these roles are important, even the best planned and presented meeting won't accomplish anything if participants aren't prepared and actively participating.
Here are four ways you can help your meeting participants work better during online meetings to reach your mutual objectives:
Send out an agenda with ALL the information: A meeting agenda is more than simply the time of the meeting and log-in information. Participants need to know:
- The purpose and proposed outcome:Is it a brainstorming session? Is this a status update? At the end of the meeting, what will be accomplished and how will it help the team's stated goals or the project's progress? Don't assume they'll know this
- Anything they need to know to be prepared:If you are expecting them to contribute ideas, most people need to think about them well in advance of the meeting. Don't expect them to be able to turn it off and on like a switch. If there is reading or documents, make sure they get them well in advance of the meeting, or at least have links to where to find them.
- Expectations: It's difficult to hold people accountable for a lack of participation if they don't share that expectation. Many of us have been on so many boring and unproductive meetings, our default position is to log in and tune out.
Kick off the meeting with the end in mind: One way you can help your participants is to set a constructive tone and convince them this will be worth their time. Prepare an opening statement that sets expectations, focuses on the outcomes, explain their role, and then deliver like you know what you're talking about.
Take them on an "interactive tour" of the meeting platform: Very often we assume that participants are familiar (and comfortable) with the platform. We say things like, "just use the raise hand button if you have a question", assuming that they know where that button is and how to use it.
You will be surprised how intimidated many meeting participants are. If you're on an intact team that will work together, make sure the first couple of times you meet you not only tell them where the features like chat, raise hands and other interactive features are, but actually have them use them.
A simple technique is just to ask everyone to raise their hand so you can see if "it's working". This will not only help you identify those who aren't familiar with the tool (and help them get there) but you'll put them on notice that they are expected to being caught not paying attention.
Hold them accountable on every meeting: because so many people have been on meetings where they are allowed to "zone out", they often don't think you're serious when you say that you expect them to ask questions, answer them, and give input to brainstorms.
If you don't hear from someone for a while, call on them by name (using the name first, then the question so you give them a chance to re-engage and take their phone off mute). Check in with those who you know have something to contribute or know the answers, but might not chime in through politeness, introversion or possible laziness.
Good, consistent, meeting facilitation prepares them for the next meetings by setting expectations that become standards. If they're taken by surprise the first meeting or two, after a while it will become the norm and they'll be more prepared going forward.
Special Bonus Tip: Let them lead a meeting once in a while: Nothing is more useful in preparing people for meetings than having them co-lead a meeting. They have to be prepared and they'll learn a healthy respect for what it takes to run one. Karma is not to be underestimated here. Yes, a lot of meeting success falls on the meeting leader or project head, but setting clear expectations and helping participants get the most from these tools will help drive everyone's success.