The power of the white board

Mar 15 2012 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

One of the most powerful reasons to use a webmeeting or virtual conference over a simple conference call is also one of the least-utilized features of these tools. I'm talking about the "white board".

Using it properly can make your meetings more engaging, increase participation and actually help keep people accountable for their action items.

So why is this tool so powerful?

Something is happening visually. I've said before that people are a little like raccoons: we're attracted by color, light and motion. When there is something interesting to look at, we engage. When there isn't, we go off and answer email or try to beat our best time at Free Cell Solitaire. White boards are powerful tools for keeping people visually connected to the conversation at hand.

The dynamic of creation engages people a lot more than PowerPoint. One of the simplest things a good meeting leader can do is use the "real time" power of these tools to make a point. Let me give you a simple example: You want to show how much money can be saved by holding a good meeting. You can put a number up on a PowerPoint slide and explain how you got it, or you can start with a blank sheet, ask the participants for numbers (probably the same numbers you were going to use anyway) and demonstrate how you got to that number.

This works on several levels. First, something is happening on the screen. Secondly, you're using their numbers which makes the figure seem more real to them. Thirdly, you're getting them actively involved by giving you the input. Same information, but a much better cumulative result.

They can't weasel out of action items. To many people, if it's not written down, it never happened. At best, they have plausible deniability that they ever made that commitment. When who does what is written down for everyone to see there's more buy-in. Most platforms allow you to save the white board as either a text document or a picture. That's an advantage over a real whiteboard, where once it's gone, it's gone forever.

There are plenty of alternatives. Once you get used to the many ways you can use a white board (brainstorming, as a parking lot for other issues, , creating a list of questions, working a "fish bone" problem solving diagram) you realize that there are plenty of alternatives. You can simply open a Word document and share the application. Use the text tool to actually write on a PowerPoint slide or other visual.

What you're doing is showing something and using it dynamically. If you would use a white board or flip chart in a meeting or training class, there's probably a corresponding way to use it online. Get creative.

A couple of things you might want to consider if you're going to use this feature. First, determine what your program allows you to do. Does it let you save the white board? In what format? If you don't know, find out. Like, now.

Another thing to consider is that as the meeting leader you don't have to run the white board yourself. It's difficult to lead a discussion, really listen, call on people AND type at the same time (and there's a Nobel Prize for whoever invents one of these bad boys with spellcheck).

By getting other people to act as scribe for you it serves the same purpose as it does in the real world… co-opting the easily bored and engaging your kinesthetic learners.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.