Your Guide to Hosting A Virtual Meeting
Updated April 2020
We already knew virtual convenings, events, and meetings were the way of the future. But with recent events around COVID-19 preparations, it's more important than ever to take proactive measures in the interest of accessibility, public health, and inclusivity.
Success is hard to measure in virtual convening. It is subjective in that each person has their own definition of success. Participation greatly varies, as it does in most of life. Virtual convenings come in all shapes and sizes. Is it for two people or one hundred? Is the goal action or awareness? What tool do I use? What makes an amazing facilitator? All valid questions.
The same rules for in-person doesn't always apply. It is hard to know if someone is paying attention or dual screening (looking at their phone) from a tiny image. Folks feel that they can get away with not being fully present virtually.
Best practices for virtual convening
- Timing - Schedule a recurring time each month or a time that the group chooses; typically conversations longer than 90 minutes without a break don’t work well. Don’t be afraid to send out 2-4 reminders (1 month before, 1 week before, 1 day before via email and 1 hour via text). If folks don’t appreciate it, they will tell you.
- Agenda - Share a clear agenda (even high level) and who is attending beforehand and again on the call, and add this information directly to the calendar invitation.
- Norming - Establish norms early on and remind folks of each one (3-5) until they are embedded in the culture during each call. Remind folks of how you would like to see them show up (see below)
- Confidentiality - This can be a norm but is worth calling out for vulnerable sharing. If recording, be clear about with whom the recording will be shared and pause the recording if something confidential comes up.
- Feedback - Give frequent opportunities for anonymous feedback via links, personal calls, or in-group conversations. The goal is to understand what value folks are taking away and do more to keep getting the results you are looking for.
- Breakouts - Zoom is amazing for breakout and you can teach yourself how to run them so participants get to know each other and have 1:1 interactive theme-based time.
- Facilitation - Check out Conveners.org’s facilitation guide (accessible for members in your portal). Speak confidently, don’t be afraid of silence, keep time for the group, use the chat feature to encourage others to speak up or ask questions, and respecting everyone’s inputs are all important facilitation practices.
- Recap - Send highlights to the group 1-3 days after the virtual convening. Call insights can build towards future conversations and engage participants more deeply (especially if they couldn’t attend last minute).
- Action-Orientation - Do the follow up you say you will and be sure to capture and share out action items agreed to on the call. Hold folks accountable kindly.
- Have Fun - Work can be fun! Name that and infuse any convening, virtual or not, with the best parts of life (laughter, love, and learning).
- Zoom - allows folks to use a computer or cell phone to call in allowing for greater flexibility in how one joins. Breakout rooms are easy to use and worth it when you want to tackle specific content under a larger theme.
- Doodle - allows folks to find a time that works best for the majority of the group and schedule with ease of tracking. It also solves for different time zone differences, along with tools like World Clock.
- Skype - specializes in providing video chat and voice chat between computers, tablets, mobile devices; since they were founded in 2003 many people know how to use it already.
- Circl.es - a newer custom-built platform for peer learning. It can be pricey but this company cares about learning and collaboration.
- VoiceVoice - is a platform bringing people together in small groups each group can discuss topics, watch content together, take on activities, or contribute to larger conversations.
As a friendly reminder - here is how we like to show up virtually:
- Be present and an active listener
- Challenge your own assumptions
- Ask open-ended clarifying questions
- Take away insight and leave judgement behind (of yourself and others)
- Share feedback (so we continuously improve)
How do we align on differing definitions of virtual convenings?
Is it the same as a digital pass where you passively watch content or are people bridging into things like Zoom calls for sub-groups?
You get to define why a virtual convening exists and share it far and wide. You really only need alignment with those planning and participating in it.
What are the ways to ensure equity in access?
How might we include people who may not have access to internet-connected devices, run events in multiple languages, and be accessible to deaf and hard of hearing participants?
Ask - Who is not here who should be? Contact the Disability Rights Fund for resources on accessibility. Consider which voices are leading: do they represent diverse people and perspectives and the communities we are working to empower?
How can we make virtual convening more interactive and personal?
How might we engage, if possible, in a low tech way since participants have varying tech capabilities? What’s the best way to engage and hold presence during the whole time? What facilitation techniques work?
Be clear on best practices and norms for the participant group, i.e. multi-tasking while on a call may not be a norm. Take time to prep tech upfront and ensure folks feel ready to use any platform. Don’t overload an agenda and consider facilitation that allows for 1:1, group, and speaker time to ensure folks are engaged.
What are ways to encourage 1:1 connection?
This happens in offline convenings over food or during breaks; consider planning this time into the agenda, virtual coffee drinking/breakouts or time before or after a scheduled call. We can find overlap in participants and point it out before and after to encourage folks to connect outside of call times.
Will virtual convening replace in-person convening?
Possibly! The future of work is going more virtual, global, and remote, but nothing can replace in-person time - it can really only supplement and complement it. This is why building in-person, trusting relationships up front among participants allows for much more valuable experiences virtually.
Are you hosting a virtual meeting or event over the next few weeks? Or did you transition what was previously a live event to digital? Drop us a line either at @netimpact or firstname.lastname@example.org - we’d love to hear how it went and possibly feature it in our network communications.
Net Impact is continuously adapting to the changing world and making it possible for our chapters, event participants, and community members to meet in digital spaces. From digital conversations about racial equity to helping our communities convene through virtual methods, Net Impact is dedicated to allowing for change to continue.