Five people come into a room and take their seats around a table. Three people call in to participate by phone through a speaker located in the center of the table. And I’m participating on a video screen located at the end of the table. It’s just another day for me in your average committee meeting.
As people arrive, they greet one another informally. The person running the meeting says hello to the people on the phone and then gets the meeting started.
A couple of people in the room have their cell phones on the table. Every once in a while, one or another of them puts the phone on his or her lap and checks for messages.
The phone participants are mostly quiet. Except for when one of them has a brief sidebar conversation with someone in their office and the sound is carried relatively loudly into the meeting. Then another one does.
As the meeting comes to an end, the facilitator says, “Those of you on the phone, what do you think?” Awkward silence. Those on the phone have no idea if they should talk first or not. Then all three start to talk at the same time. And then stop. And then start again. More awkwardness.
Sound familiar? Probably. Because these complex meetings are the new normal. In fact, it’s becoming rare to be part of a meeting where everyone is sitting around the same table.
Meetings like this are full of distractions and, while they will never be as good as the old-fashioned meetings with everyone around the same table, you’ve got to adapt. Those simpler meetings are a thing of the past.
Instead of complaining about how unwieldy these meetings are, let’s talk about how we can adjust meeting practices to accommodate the demands of having two or more types of participants.
Here are five things you can do to improve the quality of meetings with both on-site and virtual participants.
Five Things You Can Do to Improve Your Committee Meetings
1. Discuss Standard Meeting Practices for That Committee
In the first meeting of a group, make the meeting practices a topic on the agenda. Discuss with the group the challenges of having people participate virtually and establish standard practices to help the meetings be as efficient and effective as possible.
Here are some basic topics to discuss:
- Use of cell phones during meetings
- How to handle external noise distractions with virtual participants
- Practices for involving virtual participants
2. Give Instructions to Phone Participants
Participants who join the meeting by phone are usually unaware of how much of the ambient noise in their space is heard by the meeting. Keyboard sounds, background conversations, and traffic noise all carry. At the beginning of the meeting, review with them how to mute and unmute their lines.
3. Use Directive Facilitation Techniques
Meetings with people participating in person and by phone take stronger facilitation. The facilitator should make it a point of calling on each of the participants at least twice during the meeting. Don’t lump them together. Instead, invite their thoughts individually, thereby letting them know when they have the floor.
Remember that if the phone participants are muted, they must unmute themselves before they speak. Before asking for their comments, you might ask them all to unmute themselves and then ask one after the other for their thoughts. That will eliminate the situations in which a virtual participant forgets to unmute before speaking.
4. Begin and End with a Round Robin Check-in and Check-out
Build awareness of the group as a whole by beginning and ending the meeting with asking every person to say something. Starting with a round robin check-in and ending with a check-out helps create a team. The check-in question might be as simple as, “Before we get started with the agenda, what’s on everyone’s mind?” Or you might ask everyone for one thing they want to be sure to address in the meeting.
5. Ask for Input from Virtual Participants Throughout the Meeting
Two or three times during the meeting, perhaps at the end of the discussion of an agenda item, break the flow of the conversation in the room to ask specifically for input from the virtual participants. When you make their participation a standard practice, they will be more inclined to pay close attention to the meeting rather than working on email and listening with half an ear.
Make Good Meeting Practices a Standard at Your Organization
There’s much more to running great meetings than an agenda and starting and ending on time. And the better you are at running meetings, the more successful you will be.
A well-run meeting makes everyone feel good. Participants—whether they attend in person or virtually—̬not only have a sense that their opinions matter, but they are excited to be a part of a high-functioning team.
Being able to run effective meetings is important. Don’t ignore this overlooked fundraising skill. Make a commitment today to run the best meetings possible. It’s hugely important for fundraising, and your committee members will thank you.