3 typical mistakes in facilitating online meetings (and how to avoid them)

Have you ever been to an online meeting that nearly bored you to death? Yes? Well, so have I, and I bet we are not the only ones. While the number of different tools for web conferencing is increasing, online meetings are replacing many of the interaction we used to have face-to-face. Unfortunately, our skills in facilitating online meetings do not always go hand-in-hand with this development.

Since my business is nearly 100% online, I spend A LOT of time in different kinds of online meetings and webinars. Many of them have been fruitful, but there is still room for improvement, especially in meetings that have several participants. Here are the three most common mistakes online facilitators make (me included) and how to avoid them:

1) Not testing the conferencing software beforehand

Oh boy, how many minutes I have spent in meetings that start with some technical error! The others do not hear you, the sound is echoing, people do not know how to use the software, you name it. Technical errors are one the most common and effective ways to get your audience frustrated at the beginning of a meeting.

How to avoid it: Ask the participants to join the meeting about 15 minutes earlier in order to check that all the settings are correct and to go through the different functions in case the software is new to someone. When everyone is ready to rock ’n’ roll, you can get an effective start to your meeting.

2) Forgetting the basics of meeting facilitation

In surprisingly many cases, we tend to forget the basics of meeting facilitation when we are in an online environment. These include, for example, deciding on roles in the meeting, agreeing on the rules for participation, stating the agenda and purpose of the meeting and recording the decisions that have been made. This can make an online meeting quite confusing and ineffective.

How to avoid it: Behave as you would in face-to-face meetings:

  1. Write down the purpose and agenda of the meeting and share it with the participants.

  2. Plan the meeting: how long should it be and is there a need for breaks? Which methods will you use to facilitate interaction? How will you make sure decisions are being made during the meeting? How can you get the participants to prepare themselves before the meeting?

  3. In the meeting, go through the purpose, agenda and rules of the meeting. Facilitate interaction and make sure a memo is recorded. Agree on next steps.

  4. After the meeting, send a follow-up to the participants and check the status of agreed actions regularly.

3) Embracing long monologues and few methods for interaction

Many times, online interactions, especially webinars, tend to be one long monologue by the presenter, where the only possibility for interaction is through a chat. In an online environment, our tolerance for monologues is usually even shorter than it is face-to-face, so this often prompts the participants to multitask instead of interacting with the presenter or others.

How to avoid it: Engage the participants regularly with direct questions and exercises even when the group is large. For example, platforms like Skype for Business and Zoom offer the possibility to take polls, use a whiteboard where everyone can write and divide participants into smaller groups where they can discuss.

As we can see from this list, there are many small and simple things we can do to improve the participant’s experience in online meetings. Sure, it requires that we plan the meeting more carefully and know how to implement facilitation techniques in an online environment. But it can all be learned, and it can tremendously improve the engagement and effectiveness of our online meetings and webinars. So why not give it a try?

If you want to learn more about how to improve interactions in an online environment, check out Satu Pihlaja’s blog post about how to communicate feelings in an online environment (the article is in Finnish).

In case you work in a virtual team and want to improve its interactions, also check out my Unleash your virtual team power-training. I have developed it together with Satu Pihlaja, who is a psychologist, psychotherapist, coach and trainer. We are now looking for a Finnish-speaking team to pilot it but will offer the training also in English. If your team is interested in unleashing your virtual team power, send me a message at coach@nettaneva.com, and we will tell you more.

Enjoy your online meetings!