Like you, I am spending a lot of time in virtual meetings and virtual training sessions these days. While I am facilitating some of them, I am also participating in many of them. That has given me the time to observe and ponder engagement in online meetings. Engagement means to participate fully and be involved in a virtual meeting. The question I am asking myself is, “What actually creates engagement online?”
Technology features like being able to display a Caribbean beach as my background are momentarily entertaining. But, in the long run, they fail to hold my interest. You might be able to facilitate a one-time icebreaker where participants find beautiful backgrounds that reveal the vacation of their dreams, for example, but if you did that for every meeting, it would soon feel boring and distracting. Platforms that allow participants to display GIFS might seem trendy the first time you discover the feature. But having a virtual team pick a GIF every time you meet would quickly get tiresome.
Engagement, in other words, is not dependent on gimmicky features in your web conference platform. It consists of strong content, meaningful discussion, and practical problem solving or application. Yes, it can be a nice break to watch a funny video in a long meeting, but that is no substitute for good design and facilitation that captures and retains participants’ attention.
As a humorous side note, I was attending a meeting this week where I uploaded an aquarium photo as my background. As I watched myself and 15 other participants with their cameras on, it dawned on me that every fish in my aquarium was looking directly at the camera. I had a curious little fish gang surrounding me. I realized that for anyone who was displaying their web cameras in gallery view, I was a complete distraction to the main event. I quietly replaced my aquarium with my office background and lowered my profile.
If your web conference platform allows participants to upload and display virtual backgrounds, consider how you might leverage that feature to do something useful to attain the meeting objectives. For example, you might share colorful backgrounds in advance of a meeting where decisions will be made together. Green would serve as “Go! You have my full support.” Yellow might serve as “Okay. I’m willing to go with the team.” And Red might serve as “Stop! I have reservations.” Then you could check the pulse of the virtual team by having each person display the color that reflects their opinion on a specific decision. You have now capitalized on a platform feature that is integrated with the purpose of the meeting. That is engaging and supportive of the stated purpose.
When you are planning your next virtual meeting, ask yourself whether the engagement tools you want to use are integrated with the meeting purpose and objectives. Will your use of polling, chat, annotation tools, and virtual backgrounds advance the cause of group problem solving and learning? Or are you simply layering engagement tools on a boring meeting design?
Join us for our next complimentary webinar, Going Virtual! We’ve Got to Start Meeting Like This, coming up on Tuesday, September 15 at 1:00 pm ET/10:00 am PT. We will explore how you can add PEPPER to each of your web meetings, making them more Purposeful, Engaging, Productive, Personal, Encouraging, and Results-Oriented.
Breakout Sessions That Work
Breakout rooms can change a virtual learning session from a lecture to a collaborative event. However, successful use of breakout rooms requires that the facilitator master the technology (or get a good producer) and understand the mechanics of good instructional design.
Here are some tips to make breakout sessions more effective:
Clear, Written Instructions
Display clear instructions for the breakout room discussion. What specific questions should people discuss? What is the deliverable or goal of the discussion? Walk through those instructions before sending participants into breakout rooms. And make sure they have access to those written instructions while they are in breakout rooms. Depending on your web conference platform, that might require you to display the slide with instructions in the breakout room, email the slide deck before the virtual session, or make a document available for download. Written instructions reduce wasted time in the breakout room as people try to agree on what they have been asked to complete.
Assign a Leader
My daughter is studying at her university from home online, so I have had the opportunity to watch breakout sessions go totally off the rails. Why? No student was assigned as the leader in the breakout session. With no assigned leader and no student willing to speak up and take charge, the breakout sessions have quickly devolved into individual students simply writing their answers down in their notebooks, missing the entire purpose of having a breakout discussion. Choosing group leaders can happen prior to the virtual event or during the virtual event. If you can list the specific groups with the group leader names, that is even better. Simply putting someone in charge can make everything run more smoothly as the assigned leader guides their group through the breakout room activity.
Suggest Other Roles
In your upfront instructions, suggest that each small group choose other applicable roles before they begin. Perhaps they need a scribe, someone to present or report back to the main room, and a timekeeper. Nail down those roles first, and then have them begin the activity or exercise, working together to accomplish the exercise objectives.
Monitor the Breakout Groups
Most web conference platforms allow the facilitators and producers to move in and out of breakout rooms. In the first few minutes as small groups begin, divide the breakout rooms up between the meeting or training leaders and go check on each group. This quick check-in at the beginning ensures that everyone is on track and understands the instructions. Give time warnings such as, “Time to switch roles” or “Two minutes left before the breakout session ends.”
Allow More Time Than Expected
Setting up breakout rooms, explaining the instructions, getting people situated in the right rooms with clear audio, and monitoring those groups to be sure everyone is on track can require more time than you might expect. For this reason, in a 60-minute virtual classroom session, we recommend no more than one or two breakout discussions. It makes little sense to throw people into breakout groups for a five-minute discussion. Save your breakout group experiences for deeper discussion or problem solving.
Use Creative Debriefing Strategies
I recently took an online course in which the class repeatedly worked in breakout groups, numbered 1 through 5. For whatever reason, I was usually in breakout group 4 or 5. The facilitator debriefed by asking each breakout group to report out for an allotted amount of time. We always debriefed in numerical order. The whole debriefing process required us to listen to repetitive explanations with groups often repeating the same conclusions reached by earlier groups. The debriefing process was predictable, repetitive, and boring. Get creative! Use a random number generator to select which group debriefs first. Ask people to signal that they agree with the group’s conclusion using a green check. After the first group, ask the next group to add a new thought, not repeat the same conclusions. If possible, assign different questions to different breakout groups to reduce the amount of redundancy.
Position Breakout Discussions Wisely
Moving into breakout discussion at the beginning of a meeting or right after a break ensures that some of your participants will not hear the instructions and may not be present when the breakout session begins. People are people and some of them are bound to be late. Latecomers complicate the breakout process. It is frustrating for the facilitators and producers as well as the late-arriving participants. Take the pressure off everyone and schedule breakout discussions no sooner than 10 minutes after the start of a meeting or 10 minutes after people return from a break to ensure the least amount of disruption. Of course, you will want to facilitate a full group activity or discussion that is easy for latecomers to join as they arrive so you don’t just leave everyone waiting.
This short video answers the question: "When and how should I incorporate breakout rooms into my web training sessions?"
NetSpeed Learning Events
Explore something new with one of our engaging and interactive webinars or public courses.
Web Conference Essentials
In this program, a NetSpeed Learning Solutions master trainer demonstrates techniques that can be immediately applied in your virtual training programs. Participants will learn to design and deliver engaging activities and exercises, create strong engagement, use a webcam effectively, and ensure that learning transfer occurs.
This program is available as either a public or a private course for your organization. Our next public course runs on October 19, 21 and 23.
An Important Time
For Virtual Facilitator Trainer Certification (VFTC)
Now is the time, more than ever before, to go virtual! And it's not too soon to plan for Fall training. The September VFTC is now open for enrollment. This popular course receives rave reviews from participants as it provides a deep-dive into best practices for virtual facilitation and design.
You've seen our skilled team in action month after month, now it's your turn to rock the virtual classroom! The September course opens on September 11th, and the first webinar is September 18th.
Going Virtual: We've Got to Start Meeting Like This!
Can you imagine facilitating virtual meetings that people clamored to attend? This one-hour webinar explores the design and facilitation practices used by the best virtual meeting facilitators. If your organization's managers have been tasked with leading employees who work from home or remote locations, they must rely on collaborative, virtual meetings to bring people together for discussion, decisions, and results.
Tuesday, September 15th
1:00 pm ET / 10:00 am PT
Preparing New Leaders for Frontline Management
Ensure that your organization attracts and retains Millennial talent. Develop your emerging leaders' skills in self-development, performance management, team performance, and organizational impact.
Wednesday, October 28
1:00 pm ET / 10:00 am PT
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