Pre-covid, my secret weapon for getting things done was called the “Strategic Sipping Session”.
At 7.15 AM daily, I’d perch out the front of a cafe next to our head office. I sat there, like an eagle stalks its prey, waiting for my colleagues to walk past for their morning brew.
We’d engage in small talk, laugh, and then I’d casually throw them a question relating to an upcoming project or decision. By 8 AM, I’d already won the day.
Was this manipulation? No!
Was it orchestrated? Absolutely.
While many of us don’t have a physical strategic sipping spot these days, we can use similar tactics to orchestrate valuable conversations, virtually. In this article, I’ll share a few quick tips you can weave into your virtual meetings (without having to develop a coffee habit).
Note: If your workplace is used to running meetings a certain way, it does take a bit of courage to step outside that comfort zone and try something new. A good way to start is to simply highlight one idea below to try at your next meeting.
Most great things in life rely on great preparation. Meetings are no exception. However, it doesn’t have to be arduous. Take five minutes out of your day, walk around the block and consider these questions before you click Send on your next meeting request:
- Purpose: What do I want to achieve by bringing people together?
Truly consider: Is there any other way you can achieve this without hosting a meeting (for example, if it’s a simple information share, maybe you can try an asynchronous medium)?
- Guestlist: Your purpose should drive who you invite. Be selective and ensure the right people are in the room (and don’t feel like you have to invite everyone, either)
- Experience: What type of experience do I want to create? How do I want my participants to think and feel?
- Future-cast: At the end of the meeting, what would we have achieved?
Your meeting is an event: Treat it like one!
If you take an Event Management/Marketing approach to your meeting, you might find your guests are more interested + curious about attending.
- We judge meetings on their title. There’s a big difference between: “Status meeting” vs “23min Walk and Talk”. Which title sounds more attractive to you?
- Start your meeting at an odd time (11:07am). Your guests will be curious, and it also practically, gives them space to grab a drink or stretch, prior to clicking the link for your meeting.
- Is there a theme you can incorporate into your meeting, to give it a bit of gravitas?
- In your invitation, share your expectations (the purpose, logistics, information they need to feel comfortable about attending – such as onboarding a new tech tool) and the agenda. If you do this, you’re already 80% better off than all the meetings run in the world. Guaranteed!
Engage early, engage often
Have you ever been in a meeting, where the host says, “We’re here to listen to your voices” and then launches into a 60-minute monologue?
If you want to create a meeting environment where your guests feel like they can contribute, set that context early, and reinforce it often.
You can use Slido right upfront to create engagement. I like to use a three-part question sequence.
- Start by asking a question that’s relatively easy to answer, for example: “Would you rather live somewhere where it’s always hot, or always cold?” [Multi-choice answer]
- Show a series of giphy’s/emojis, number them and ask: “How would you like to contribute today?” [Select a number that relates to your emoji]
- By the end of this meeting, what’s something you’d like clarity on? [Open ended question/Word Cloud]
After each question response – call a few ideas out and provide a response. It shows that you’re listening.
Lead the energy
During in-person events, we pick up on immediate feedback and social cues.
We miss this online. But it’s not all bad news because the best indicator of how your participants will engage with your meeting depends on how you show up.
If you’ve been to an early group fitness class, you’ll understand this concept.
You drag your feet into the gym at 5.30 AM, half asleep. The gym instructor arrives with a bounce in their stride, big smiles, and an unusually jovial “Good morning!”.
They turn on the music, get everyone to stretch, throw in a few jokes, and in two minutes, they’ve transformed a sleepy room, into a room bursting with enthusiasm.
How did that happen?
They lead with energy. They know that the way they show up will have the biggest impact on the room. Jim Rohn said it best, “20% is saying it, 80% is how you feel about what you say”.
If you aren’t excited about your meeting, then chances are your participants won’t be, either.
Ask the group
If you really want to know what your participants are thinking and feeling, simply ask them.
The beauty of virtual sessions though is that all voices can be heard by using a democratizing platform like Slido.
Use the live polling tools to assess thoughts on a decision. You can weave open-ended questions through your presentation from time to time. These questions don’t need to be specific to the content.
To save time, you can create a Slido template of your favorite open-ended questions, duplicate this for your next meeting, and adjust it to suit your context.
- What has been most useful for you so far?
- On a scale from 1-10, how practical is this idea?
- Is there anything we need to discuss, that hasn’t been discussed yet?
- Who else will we need to consult?
Remember that you’re talking to an individual within a group, you’re not talking to the group: Instead of saying, “How is everyone doing today?” shift this question to “ “How are you doing today?” It’s nuanced yet it makes a world of difference.
The moment we have ‘Host’ next to our name, we think we need to do it all, right?
One of my favorite concepts in Michael Bungay Stanier’s book The Coaching Habit is about the power of Lazy Leadership.
If you have groups meeting with over 10 people, delegate opportunities.
You can create mini-communities that have a Team Captain within your larger meeting group (through an off-platform tool like Whatsapp), or assign accountabilities across the group – such as timekeeper, scribe, a nominated person to report back, someone who debriefs/commentates each Slido response page, guest speakers.
One of the easiest ways to build engagement is to give people these roles, and skin in the game.
End it early but continue the conversation
Have you ever been in a meeting that ended before it was scheduled to end? How good are they! Not only do people appreciate the time-return, but you quickly build a reputation for keeping your word.
It can feel jarring simply closing a call, and it’s nice to have an opportunity to debrief. Provide that opportunity in your meeting – you can encourage your participants to interact on another internal platform after the meeting. Start/share the channel and ways to engage during your session (for example, “I’d love you to jump onto our intranet page, and share what you’ll do next in the forum”).
You can share screenshots of your Slido results with groups, and also use these for talking points, as a way to share lessons learned or ideas, with other departments in your business.
Pay attention to the meetings you attend, and reflect on what you like and don’t like. Ask your guests to also share how they like meetings to operate – hey, you can even use a tool like Slido to gather that information for you!
This article was written by Leanne Hughes, international facilitator, and host of the First Time Facilitator podcast.
Leanne is also featured in our Trend Report ‘The Online Meeting Revolution’.
In the report, you’ll discover the latest research and trends in online and hybrid meetings and pick up plenty of actionable tips for your next meeting.