Are you a meeting facilitator? Are you sure? Do you make meetings easier or not? If not, then you're not a facilitator. Let me explain.
I'll be honest. When I'm in a meeting or class, and someone introduces themselves as "the facilitator", I get a bit of a twinge. Usually, that's code for "I'm the instructor or meeting leader but it's politically incorrect to say so". Truly, though, the word "facilitator" comes from the Latin for "one who makes easier".
Here are some of the things good facilitators do to, well, facilitate. And they apply equally well online as in the same room:
Keep the meeting objectives in mind. This sounds obvious, but the biggest complaint meeting participants have is about too much time being wasted or spent on things that don't accomplish the stated goal. A facilitator is responsible for getting everyone where they need to go. You have to help keep things on track, rein in those who want to take off on tangents and monitor the time. If the discussion is moving towards your goals, great. If not, call a process check and move things along.
Watch for who's participating and how often. Too often, we're so grateful when someone pipes up in a meeting or on a conference call that we let them say their bit. The problem, as most of us know, is that the people who are first to speak up aren't always the ones we want to hear from or will add the most value. A real meeting facilitator respects input, but also limits it when it becomes repetitive or impacts other participants in negative ways. Don't just pay attention to those who put their hands up.
Repeat and clarify as necessary (and it's frequently necessary). We've all been in meetings where we can't understand the person talking…and it's even worse on line. I don't mean you just can't hear… I mean you can't make @#$%@ sense of what they're saying. Since your job is to make it easier for others to understand and take part, you may be required to help translate, clarify or simplify.
Online you should repeat or rephrase questions anyway, since not everyone can hear clearly when they are in an airport lounge with a phone pressed to their head. One technique I've learned is to always listen as if you'll be called on to repeat the key points…because as a meeting leader you often are.
Help people help themselves make sense. Many of us start to speak, thinking we have a point to make, but often have trouble getting there. As someone responsible for moving things along it's tempting (but seldom constructive) to just shout "what's your point!".
A much more positive idea is to summarize for them (sometimes as soon as they stop to take a breath) and check that you have it right. Very often when people are rambling, if you just stop them and ask "so how does this impact _____" they can often spit it out in a much clearer fashion . Help them help themselves.
Choose the right method to reach closure. If the point of a meeting is to achieve something like choosing a course of action or solving a problem you need to help people do it in a way that achieves the goal and doesn't involve endlessly circling the topic until people scream from frustration. There are different techniques for reaching different kinds of solutions.
For example, if you just want a solution that everyone can live with, you might call for a simple vote. If you're looking for the best possible solution regardless of egos, that might require something like using a ten-point scale, or a multiple-solution voting method like the "Nominal Group" technique. Learn more about those and understand how to get the best from your people.
Being a facilitator and making things easier is ironically hard work, but will get you and your team the best results.