With thanks to Susan Shrubb, Merilyn Childs, Sally Purcell, and Bill Ashraf who were generous with their notes and advice on online meeting protocols.
This post was not written on an assumption that many of us don’t already know how to hold online meetings, and/or that we aren’t already comfortable creating effective and inclusive online working spaces.
Ahead of the train station closure next week (after which you may start to have more online meetings), this is best considered a checklist: reminders on how to make online meetings more effective and inclusive, with some suggested protocols for online meetings and phone-conferencing from experienced online meeting chairs and participants from HDR Professional Learning Skills, HDR Supervision Enhancement Program, and the Library.
Holding an online meeting?
Before everything else, check the following:
What’s the purpose of the meeting? Professional development / training? A regular project team meeting? A team check-in? Brainstorming? Team bonding?
This will prescribe whether web or phone-conferencing is better, and what tool /platform is most appropriate. Note that ‘most appropriate’ will often mean ‘as simple as will be effective’. That is, why do a webinar when a phone-conferencing call will do the trick?
The Tool / Platform
What online meeting tool/s or platform are you using?
Zoom is good for multiple attendee meetings, and you can also share screens, record the session for later use and use breakout rooms. Skype can be used for 1:1 ‘coffee catch-ups’ or check-ins.
For larger meetings / webinars, Zoom allows participants to put a virtual ‘hand up’, and you can also run polls. Zoom quick guides can be found here >.
Remember: Keep it simple. For example, does it have to be a Zoom meeting or will a phone call be sufficient?
Will the technology selected work for all participants and their diverse tech set-ups? Is the technology:
and (most importantly)
If the tech fails, is there a Plan B? (for example, letting participants call in and putting them on phone speaker)
Once you’ve identified purpose and selected tools and tech, check:
Will all attendees have access to
- sufficient wifi connection
- (quality) headsets (if required)
- whatever else is required for full participation?
! Don’t assume participants are familiar with the meeting tool you use – include set up and joining instructions before each meeting.
If you are going to be regularly holding online meetings, establish codes of conduct / participation protocols in the first meeting, such as:
- Limiting background noise
- Limiting side conversations (see Sally’s comment below)
- Talking clearly and at a reasonable pace
- Not speaking over others
- Listening attentively
- Not dominating the conversation
- Limiting in-jokes (they break down cohesion of meetings)
- Confirming expectations around the use of other channels in meetings i.e. participants may need to text for further information during meeting
One thing that I do is to have each member of the meeting sit [by themselves in a separate space] to connect online. This means that each person is focused on the meeting and each other. When I was at Another University, I often was frustrated as the sole team member at one campus where the rest of the team sat together; chatted amongst themselves; didn’t sit in front of the monitor so I only saw an elbow or side of someone’s head (I created the attached cartoon as a result of my frustration) and I often missed what they were saying. I often experienced online meetings where the discussion shifted to something that was only relevant to that campus or focused on details that were unfamiliar to me because I was based on another campus – Sally
Before the meeting:
Provide an agenda to
- structure the meeting
- provide (and keep to) time allocations
- focus the meeting
- choose (at least one) facilitator to
- keep meeting on track and to time
- ensure all participants get ‘speaking space’
- use the following phrases: “Let’s hold that one over for the next meeting”, “Keeping an eye on the clock here, let’s move on to the next item on the agenda”, “Let’s hear from you in Canberra”, “This is ‘off schedule’ (for material to be handled outside the meeting)
- prevent one voice dominating the meeting
There needs to be a meeting manager who stops one voice from dominating, as social niceties of ‘I can’t interrupt’ don’t work in online meetings, as there are fewer social cues. Protocols must be followed, as the experience of meeting dominance is amplified in an online meeting, which can lead to disengagement – Merilyn
- If you have an agenda with a variety of stakeholders, you can schedule agenda items at certain times, and participants can join just for their relevant section, and log off if the rest of the meeting isn’t relevant for them.
- Consider whether you need two facilitators – one to monitor questions, chat, etc and the other to moderate / facilitate
- Send meeting materials to all invitees (well) beforehand and make sure they’re accessible to all (with correct sharing permissions etc.)
- Everyone should be able to see the material (and receive it before the meeting)
- No new materials should be introduced during the meeting unless it can be quickly and easily shared and accessed by all.
It’s especially a no-no where a small group in one office can see [the meeting documents] and online attendees can’t. “I’ll send it to you after the meeting” to online participants does not cut it! – Merilyn
- Share materials at least 1 hour before the meeting. This means no rushing to the scanner and emailing right before the meeting, and allows participants some preparation time.
- Everyone should be able to access meeting documents. Some tools allow for access and editing documents in real time – again, ensure all participants have correct access.
At the start of the meeting
- Say where you are located – “This creates belonging and a sense of space” – Merilyn
- Show your office on the webcam
- Take time to establish meeting protocols
- Is there time / opportunity for small talk / social queries?
- (Where appropriate) introduce speaking time allocated to speakers / agenda items?
- Use the mute button, if appropriate, during set up, and while others are speaking
- Take time to establish meeting processes
- Take time to establish meeting tasks
During the meeting
For all –
Know where the mute button is and how to use it
Online participants in webinars always need to have their sound muted, and be ready to unmute when they wish to contribute. This avoids amplified local sounds including breathing, and feedback loops that distort sounds – Merilyn
- stretch at the computer during online meetings
- yawn at the computer during online meetings
- use online meetings as time to work on other things
- wear stripes in the web-conference (stripes create an off-putting optical effect)
- forget to mute!
Feature image credit – Business image created by Freepik