In-person or online, the giving and receiving of hospitality, respect, knowing what’s coming next, managing expectations and clear tasks to complete going forward are the same.
Online Meetings: We Have The Same Needs Online
Despite months dense with online meetings, best practices might still feel out of reach. When thinking about facilitating an online meeting there are some unique things that need to be considered. However, the main purpose is the same as an in person meeting: communication!
So many of our in person skills fall away when we’re online, we must remember that we (and others) have the same needs. The giving and receiving of hospitality, respect, knowing what’s coming next, managing expectations and clear tasks to complete going forward.
Should I Have a Meeting or Send Email?
Before we get to any of this, one question needs to be addressed. “Why am I having this meeting?”
If you need to communicate information without needing time for people to process and respond, don’t schedule a meeting. Other options that can include feedback might be sending an email or making a (short) video that can be viewed when people have time.
On the other hand, if you would like people to respond to one another (and the information) or to develop bidirectional relationships, then have a meeting! A meeting requires that those attending have made this time a priority in their day and it’s important to honor the relationship.
Tips For An Effective Online Meeting
Now, you’ve decided to have a live online meeting. Some general pro tips to consider for your group:
- Purpose & Prayer: Take a moment to remember God in the midst of the meeting and the broader purpose of this time.
- Agenda: Send out an agenda ahead of time. This helps to create interest and reduce anxiety for your meeting. When you email it out (3-5 days ahead of the meeting), it’s a great time to ask for other agenda items. This creates buy in and reduces backseat drivers from trying to take over your meeting. When facilitating the meeting, respect everyone’s time and stick to the agenda, anything new can be addressed at the end or next time.
- Length: DO NOT go over one hour. Go shorter if at all possible. People can’t handle it. Getting more than one person to focus for longer than an hour is likely not an achievable goal for most groups. If you do plan on going longer than an hour, schedule a break for people to take care of their home needs.
- Norms: At the start of each meeting, go over any ground rules. This could be things like privacy or confidentiality depending on the subject matter. In an online world this also includes being on mute when not talking, expectations around having your video on, or when to use “raise hand” options provided by the platform.
- Modeling: It’s a good idea for facilitators to model what they are asking of participants. This could be as simple as going first on introductions.
- Follow Up: If this is a recurring meeting, then it’s important to follow up from the previous meeting. At the end of each meeting many people will have homework. This could be things from running a department of a program-sized parish to paying attention to breathing for 3 minutes before bed. Either way, how did it go? Allow people a brief time to give an update. Accountability is important to the future work of the group and gives people a concrete understanding that the work they did matters. Along this same line, if people have complex or long-term assignments, consider making a shared document where each person can update information and not take up meeting time. Be sure to remind people to fill it out and that the facilitators are using it to check in on the team.
- Create Rapport: Do the people coming to the meeting know you and/or each other? If not, set aside some significant time (at least 15 minutes for a group of 5) for introductions and ask some light-hearted questions. If everyone is acquainted already, setting aside at least 5 minutes for check-ins is still important. Consider using a timer for check-ins so people hear a noise if your group tends to be chatty. This is frequently one of the places that is first stripped when looking at a big agenda. However, if your team doesn’t know and trust each other it will dramatically and negatively impact the working of your team in the long run.
- Have a Partner: Most platforms have the ability to make someone a “co-host.” This is someone who can manage the chat, take notes, greet people who arrive late. This not only empowers someone from your team, but it frees you up to talk and not get distracted by technical issues.
- Environment: As the facilitator, you want to be in a place where you can be as present as possible. Consider your background. Is the height of your camera flattering? Is there an appropriate amount of light? Is the space as quiet as possible? It is worth taking 10 minutes before your big meeting to make sure you have water, your dog has been out, and the kids are as settled as possible.
- Be Present: An online format doesn’t change the fact that it is your presence that will be remembered. Right before you start the meeting take a moment to calm your body, feel your feet pressing into the floor, and take a deep breath and let it out. You can invite participants to do do the same!
Basic Meeting Outline
- Pray – non-facilitator
- Ground rules
- Check in – facilitator goes first and models time management
- Follow up on homework from last meeting
- New business
- New business
- New business
- New homework/goals
In this example this could be a Bible study where the homework was to think about the Bible passage or it could be a vestry meeting where a sub group was sent to look at financing necessary maintenance. It’s flexible!
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on August 17, 2020. It has been updated on May 16, 2023 to correct a temporary inaccuracy in authorship that arose unexpectedly. The article now lists the correct author, Joy Walker Miller, once again.