Best Practices from Experiences in Facilitating Virtual Meetings

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Imagine facilitating over 100 virtual meetings, ranging from idea-generation and planning to status briefings and collaborative writing, and almost everything in between. This paper identifies the lessons learned from that extensive experience and the best practices honed to address those lessons, including coping with time zones, effective meeting processes, and technology issues.

What this is

This paper arose from the authors' work facilitating 100 virtual meetings for the U.S. Navy and related organizations. The meetings included idea generation, planning, decision-making, issues surfacing, status briefings, environmental scanning, collaborative writing, training, and expert briefings. This paper identifies their lessons learned and the best practices they honed to address those lessons. The lessons and practices cover specifics in areas like coping with the effects of time zones, how to get all parties to follow an effective meeting process, and dealing with technology issues.

Why it's useful

Learning from your own experience may be easier, but it's cheaper and less time-consuming to learn from someone else's. This paper outlines ten lessons learned by the authors over the course of several years of virtual meeting facilitation. It also details their best practices to address things like the common tendency to forget virtual meeting attendees, making sure everyone gets feedback, and how to build a strong team over a distance. The practices they outline are detailed, to the point, and above all practical -- adopting even a few for your own virtual meetings will make everything go more smoothly.

How to use it

  • Read this paper for insights and lessons that resonate for your own meeting environments. First and foremost, it may provide some reassurance that what you've perceived as awful meetings stem as much from the virtual format as from the participants. This can be hard for everyone; it's not just you, or your team.
  • Rather than trying to implement every best practice at your next meeting, focus on a single lesson -- or even a single recommended practice -- most likely to impact the work your team is doing. We know how tempting it is to fix everything at once, but attempting it is likely to be fruitless at best, counterproductive at worst. Pick one or a few that you think everyone can get behind pretty easily and experience some quick, easy success.
  • With that encouragement under your belt, begin introducing new meeting practices at a pace that makes sense for the team. Over several weeks or months you can see dramatic improvement in meeting attendance and productivity just by changing a few simple processes that make the meetings less painful for everyone involved.
  • If you try something with your virtual time and find that it doesn't work, that's a lesson learned too! Document it for posterity, and share your lessons and successful practices with others in your organization so they can benefit too.

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