Making partner meetings work by video – now force majeure

By Steve Blundell - Head of Acritas Advisors

It’s interesting that even by the end of last year, when most of us had never heard of Coronavirus, the majority of the partner meetings and workshops I facilitated had several people dialled in from multiple locations around the world.

A growing number of people “dialled in” are now using video – which certainly makes the facilitation role a lot easier.

Now we are all going to have to get much better at it.

Getting these sessions to work requires some proper planning and thought. That’s where things often seem to go wrong. We find ourselves ranting about the technology or the much-maligned technician – but in truth most of us need to take more time to ensure that the meeting is created to be virtual or partially virtual. 

Failing to plan it properly and get it set up right just results in a lot of wasted time, and exasperation which invariably has a detrimental effect on the meeting before it’s even got started.

Here then are a few of my tips for the coming months

  1. How: Use one of the well-established video platforms – and crucially make sure all the invitees have downloaded the necessary software plug-ins etc to get it to work on their machines. The most common platforms we come across are Skype; Blue Jeans; WebEx; Zoom and GoToMeeting. They all seem to have their quirks as well as pros and cons.
  2. Video not just voice: Encourage people to use video as well as dial in. This ought not to be optional except where there are really good reasons not to. Not only does it make the job of the facilitator much easier because you then know who is speaking, it is also easier for colleagues especially for whom English is not their first language. We need to remember that more than half our communication is non-verbal. Not having video means we lose all of that.
  3. Locations: Make sure it’s clear to the meeting organiser who is going to be in which location – it sounds obvious, but I often start meetings with some partners calling in from their office and a bunch of their colleagues in the same building in a meeting room on another floor. Also, instruct people to input their full name and location/business unit when calling in. Just having John is not helpful to the facilitator.
  4. Audio: If people are calling in just on their own, get them to use a headset – it makes the sound quality much better for all (and cuts out the dog barking next door!). If people are in a room together, I usually find it’s better to dial into the meeting using a conference phone as well as connecting to the video. That means if there are interruptions in connection quality, at least people can still hear one another.
  5. Screen sharing: Think about who is going to want to share what during the meeting – and make sure the meeting is set up to allow this. If the meeting is going to be interactive, you probably want several presenters/contributors of content. Make sure they have the right permissions to share their screen. Again, you don’t want people having to email their stuff to the organiser at the last minute because this wasn’t sorted. 
  6. Making it really interactive: A lot of the applications above have really good functionality that mostly doesn’t get used. Acritas uses Zoom for its meetings. That offers us the capability to have break-out rooms – so we can have buzz group discussions and then bring the group back together to share ideas. 

It also has whiteboarding – so you can use it like a flip chart and polling so you can get people to vote on ideas or suggestions as you go. 

All of these mean that with good advance planning, you can set up and run your meeting just as you would gathered in a country hotel somewhere (except you won’t have the coffee and biscuits laid on for you!)

I’m not going to pretend that facilitating one of these meetings on-line is as easy as it is with everyone in one room: It needs practice.  But to my earlier point, I think fewer and fewer of these meetings happen with everyone in one place anyway. I recently took a 5am flight back from Frankfurt to run a workshop for a client in their London office, only to discover that they had more people dialled in from Frankfurt than they had in the London meeting room. If only I had known!

I also had a client in New York fly me there business class to run a one hour meeting for them. 

In both cases, with better planning and more confidence in the technology on the part of participants, we could have held the meetings completely virtually and done our bit for the planet.If you are having to rethink some of your meetings now and would value some input into how to make them work, we'd be very happy to chat to you. 

You can read more of Steve's blogs here >>

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