We've said in this blog many times that the closer you can make your virtual meetings resemble traditional face to face meetings, the better. Of course, this assumes your face to face meetings aren't abject failures (well - are they?), but we can't solve everything at once. One of the most common ways to get feedback live is also available, in one form or another, online: the good old raising of hands.
I remember speaking to a client who was bemoaning the lack of feedback and interaction when doing virtual sales calls. "Well, what would you do if you were in the room with those people?" I asked.
"Just ask for a show of hands," he replied.
"You know there's a button there that says, 'raise hand', right?" A sudden chagrined hush came over the conversation. When we talk about how most people don't use the tools at their disposal, this is exactly what I'm talking about.
Most platforms have multiple ways to get instantaneous , informal feedback from an audience. We just have to use them:
The Raise Hand Button, Obviously
If there's a little icon that looks like a raised hand, I'm betting that will create an icon next to your name that looks like a raised hand. This is great for when you want to ask a question or contribute to the conversation.
Remember that as a presenter, you need to scan periodically to see if anyone has their hand up. Also remember to have people lower their hand once they've asked their question so you don't get confused. This is also great for quick, informal voting without going to the trouble of creating formal pools using the survey tools.
Other Icons and Emoticons
Many platforms like WebEx, Adobe Connect and others offer multiple quick feedback tools. You can give applause, offer a thumbs up or thumbs down (which is great for quick votes and getting input) or tell the presenter to speed up, slow down, or you're stepping out of the meeting for a moment.
If you use Microsoft Lync, you'll notice they don't have these specific tools, but in the emoticon list there are plenty of ways to offer feedback (laughing smileys, sad smileys, "X"es and checkmarks can serve the same purpose, they just appear in the chat window. Why Microsoft feels the need to give you all kinds of silly icons and only a few practical ones (then bury the practical ones at the bottom of the list) is a mystery but it's, you know, Microsoft.
Use The Chat
You can certainly encourage participants to use the chat to put a question in queue, or at least let you know they have one. Tell them to write in all caps if you're not paying attention to them.
Use Annotation Stamps for Quick Voting
How often have you gotten a suggested list of actions, or created a brainstorm, then need to separate the great ideas from the silly suggestions? Rather than do a roll=call vote, just let them use their own annotation tools like stamps (stars, check marks, Xes or arrows) to make their choice.
Have Them Speak up - and Don't Forget To Call On Them
Of course, the most powerful feedback tool is the human voice. If the group is small and manageable, encourage your participants to fearlessly contribute at will. Ask them to announce themselves, and that they have a question. Rarely does it get too chaotic, and if it does, you are a good enough facilitator to direct traffic effectively. Right?
If people aren't contributing voluntarilyÖ or you suddenly want to check your assumptions, it's perfectly okay to call a voice vote. "What concerns or questions do you have", "Have I got that assumption right" or "Bob, what do you think of that?". Sometimes if you want to hear from them, you have to actually HEAR from them.
It's often the simplest things that, if we are conscious of how and when we do them, have the biggest impact on how we work together virtually. Do you and your team use these tools? How well? How do you know?