Many of the challenges leaders face when facilitating in-person meetings, like keeping the energy of the group up, are amplified online. But, there are ways to cultivate creative energy between participants remotely.
If you’re leading an online meeting, your job is to bring creative energy into the remote workspaces of your participants. But having creative meetings can be a challenge at the best of times. Online, participants are often more easily distracted and the technology itself can become tiring.
And the big pitfall for leaders is that you might be the last to realise how unsatisfactory your meeting has become. Hierarchies mean it’s less likely you’ll be challenged, and you’ll be more likely to think the meeting is energised because you are alert to your responsibilities and probably talking too much!
For example, someone asks a question. You answer… A conversation develops between you and your questioner. You are conscious of needing to perform so your energy is high, but you may miss that everyone else is observing with increasing boredom or simply getting on with their email.
Here are some ways you’ll allow your meetings to have visceral life, with movement, surprise, and emotion, and bring out the best in everyone involved.
Don’t rush things
Sometimes we think the most important thing we can do in meetings is pay attention to time and pace. It’s why my partner, Viv McWaters, and I use the word ‘unhurried’ to describe our approach to creative facilitation. Sometimes the best solutions come when we stop and give people the time and space to say what they want. You’ll need to curb your anxiety to make things happen by filling the space with your urgency, and sit with some possibly awkward silences – into which some of your more thoughtful colleagues might be finally willing to speak.
Human intelligence is your most valuable resource
You may be using smart technology, but your most valuable resource in creative meetings is human intelligence. Don’t get people mesmerised by fiddling with screens, keyboards, and the latest technological tricks. Cluttered “whiteboards” often create the sizzle of participation but can be noisy and confusing. Instead, make the most of your human voice – warm, vulnerable, and open – instead of getting stuck in impersonal webcast mode.
The people are the content
It’s easy to focus on the content that is going to be discussed and presented. A lot of time can be spent second-guessing how people will react to the materials and ideas being set before them. We like to remind ourselves that the people are the content.
Each person arrives with their own experiences and ideas. They bring vast and varied thoughts, concerns, and knowledge. This amounts to vastly more intelligence than can be compressed into a motivational speech, a PowerPoint, or a briefing document. People need to connect to one another to realise their potential. It’s a completely different energy and mindset than that of planning and worrying.
Step away from the camera
Create a reflective activity they can do away from their computer, perhaps using pen and paper to create a different state of mind for participants. Have them find an object in their workspace and use it as a prompt for sharing something about themselves. Create exercises for people to stand and move in and out of the screen according to their answer to a question.
Use the technology playfully
To change the feeling of the meeting, get people to turn cameras off and focus on voices rather than their screens. Use features on Zoom like “hide non-video participants” to allow some of the conversation to focus on a few people and give others a rest.
Breakout or die
Smaller breakouts – and lots of them – will do wonders for energy levels. It shifts the focus and breaks the trance of the screen. Many people simply drift off in large meetings but in three-person breakouts, they’re far more likely to share their experience – and it’s also way more obvious if they’re quietly checking their emails instead of listening to the conversation.
Get a co-facilitator
Running a meeting is like slow-motion multitasking. Facilitating meetings online is more demanding because of the need to manage the technology – and all the things that can go wrong with it. You may want to get a colleague to host or co-host the meeting so that you can relax more and listen better. A co-leader or co-facilitator can focus on the overall flow of a meeting or workshop, encouraging participation, surfacing dissenting views, encouraging listening and dialogue, and building connections and meaning.
Put more love into offline materials
Lastly, make the most of your time together. There’s only so much you can do with a group online before fatigue sets in for the participants and the facilitators. Because you can’t risk overloading your online meetings, you need to get creative and caring about the content you share before and after the meeting. If your documents aren’t clear, you’ll waste valuable meeting time explaining. That time could be used much more creatively by your participants.
Written by Johnnie Moore.
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