After spending years helping people to improve their online presentation and meeting-leadership skills, I am amazed at how many people continue to avoid them out of fear. This fear seems a bit extreme, since there is absolutely no identified physical threat to life or limb from a bad web meeting. True, over-exposure to bad Powerpoint can leave you praying for the sweet release of death, but it's unlikely to happen. So what, exactly, are they afraid of?
First, let's identify that fear. I call it Glossowebinaphobia… (from glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, and webinars) and it's very real. While it's seldom debilitating, it makes people think twice about attempting to run really effective webmeetings and is a very real barrier to team success.
So what are the five reasons people worry about their webmeeting success?
1. Nobody's really listening or participating - they're all answering their email. This is not an unreasonable worry; after all you've probably been guilty of this yourself. The only way to truly get over this is to lead meetings that engage people. This means you have to take the time up front to explicitly state ground rules and expectations, then hold people to it. Don't be afraid to call on people (with fair warning) and encourage participation. Also, don't answer the emails you get during the meetings (and why are you checking them?)
2. Everybody is going to chime in at once and talk over each other. This is the polar opposite of fear 1, and we should all have such problems. We have been managing the flow of conversation on conference calls for an awfully long time. Virtual meetings actually have some advantages, such as a button to raise your hand which helps control the chaos of Q and A. Having everyone want to participate is a very good problem to have. Quit complaining and take charge.
3. If we open the chat, people will make silly jokes and talk to each other. Don't these things happen in your regular meetings? In fact, they're often what make meetings bearable. This is the kind of activity that lightens moods and encourages interaction. People get to know each other best in unstructured, casual situations. Actually, I encourage this behavior. This fear stems from a fear of losing control. If you set groundrules and hold people accountable, they learn the rules of the game very quickly.
4. Webmeetings and webinars are great for one-way, informational meetings but not much good for real brainstorming and problem solving. This one is partially legitimate: the reason most webmeetings aren't interactive is they aren't planned well. Most importantly, encourage people to unmute themselves at will to encourage input. If you limit the ways to interact, why are you surprised that people aren't participating?
5. The technology is too difficult to use and run the meeting at the same time. No matter which platform you're using, there are two ways to overcome this fear. First is to actually learn the features and functionality of whatever tool you're using. My clients' experience shows it takes about half a dozen times of using the tool for it to become muscle memory and you'll find the stress level drops exponentially.
Secondly, there's no law that says you have to lead the meeting and run the technology at the same time. Share the duties. It will take a load off your brain and help develop skills in your team members. Delegation is a key skill and this is a prime opportunity to use it to your selfish advantage.
While these fears are very real, they can all be overcome by remembering two things. First, as you develop experience, the successful outcome will outweigh any concerns you have. The second thing is that, big as these fears are, they shouldn't loom larger than the fear of your project failing, or your team becoming a dysfunctional mess.