“Can you hear me now?” seems to be the rally cry of every meeting in 2020. The need for virtual communication took us by storm when COVID-19 forced us into isolation. We were locked in our homes, reliant on technology like never before. The pace of change was staggering and the learning curve was massive.
The request for virtual options for training and workshops suddenly became a necessity for our Clients. In the past three months of constant zoom meetings and online facilitation tools, I started to unpeel some of the myths that existed in this form of communication.
5 Myths of Virtual Facilitation
In person is always better than virtual
As consultants, we understand the importance of human connection and tactile learning. We know the benefit of getting a group of people in a room and having them work within the space collaboratively to build something together. However, there are times when virtual is better. Virtual connections allow you to engage a bigger audience. We recently delivered an online summit that enabled people from across the country to come together that otherwise would not have been able to. The benefit of a virtual design is that allows you to engage more stakeholders and enable them to work within suitable timeframes either collectively or individually.
Online meetings are not as productive
Like any meeting, it’s all in the design. I have attended many an in-person meeting where we didn’t accomplish anything. Virtual meetings take more time to plan for and therefore are typically better structured. The inclusion of pre, post and intersession work as part of virtual working actually improves productively, allowing more time for learning to be put into practice or ideas to percolate.
It’s hard to be engaging over video conference
Phone conferences are limited by their ability to see the person you are communicating with. Much of our communication is based on body language and non-verbal cues. In-person allows us that luxury and video conferences offer an additional benefit. At a conference room table, you aren’t able to necessarily see the facial expressions of your colleagues. Video conferencing allows you to see the people you are speaking to head-on. As a result, I have found myself more aware of the reaction from others when I am speaking.
The other way we engage clients virtually is through warm-up activities and virtual cafes. As people are entering the room, be sure to have an activity they can participate in. This is a good way to test out the tools and encourage dialogue early on in the meeting.
People don’t have the attention span
This one is only partially a myth. You do need to be careful about the time you expect people to engage online. We get more tired in front a screen then we do in person. But just like an in-person meeting, it is important to mix up the message and medium. Virtual meetings must be more interactive to maintain attention span. They must allow regular touchpoints, in a variety of ways. Utilize annotate tools or polls to get quick engagement. Mix up time to write and time for dialogue. Allow for breakout and big group discussions. An in-person meeting might have a 30-minute presentation. A virtual meeting should limit this to 5-10 minutes of talking supported by interaction.
The mix medium opportunity in virtual dialogues offers an added benefit. Many times, an in-person meeting re-enforces the person who speaks the most and we miss important information from others in the room. By allowing chat functions or using other virtual tools to capture written dialogue, you allow for a bigger voice and enable different forms of learning.
I don’t have the technological savvy to do this
If you have been forced into technology as of late, I am hopeful you have already discovered that is isn’t as scary as you first anticipated. Virtual tools have come a long way in simplifying the experience for the user. It’s not surprising that applications like Zoom have skyrocketed due to their extremely intuitive design compared to their enterprise counterparts.
Although we flex with the preference of our clients, I believe it is important to try and focus on the key tools you need to deliver your needs. To avoid getting lost in the technology, always start with the objectives of the meeting. If you are brainstorming or problem-solving, you will need different tools then if you are doing a quick connection. Consider first, what would you need for an in-person meeting? Do you typically use a flipchart? Consider a virtual whiteboard (most video conference apps have them). Do you want people to vote on options? Consider annotating tools that put dots directly on a slide or a simple polling tool. By using and practicing with consistent tools, you will feel more comfortable with them.
The need for virtual connection is not going away. Some companies are moving entirely away from in-office work and undoubtedly, it will become a big part of how we work. There is an opportunity to embrace it and consider when it might be better suited to your objectives. Online can be a highly successful, engaging way to communicate. Just remember to make sure you are off mute when you do.
At Lighthouse Nine, we are expert facilitators. Whether in person or virtual, we develop the best framework and process flow to achieve your objectives. If you want to know more, please reach out.