Basics of participatory virtual meetings
Updated: Apr 24
If you haven’t read the first part of this blog series about virtual and remote work environments, check it out. There we lay out our assumptions and the purpose behind our remote work. We also shared about the remote office at Emergence Collective in a second blog post here. And in our last blog in the series discusses inclusivity in virtual meetings, facilitator best practices, multiple styles of learning, and emotional fatigue.
Participatory virtual meeting methods allow us to generate consensus with and gather data from important stakeholders, engage large groups, and efficiently seek the guidance of collaborators while maintaining social distancing and keeping meetings brief. Many video conferencing solutions are available, some of which are covered in our blog on tools for your remote office. We use Zoom because we enjoy the enhanced meeting features and find the connection to be high quality and consistent. This post describes features available through Zoom.
Connecting via virtual video meetings can increase our willingness to hear each other, workshop solutions, and find common ground. Virtual video meetings also put extra pressure on colleagues and collaborators to focus and engage professionally. We encourage you to set expectations around virtual meeting etiquette that are compassionate to people dealing with an emotionally, logistically, and financially stressful time.
Encourage video use (and model it yourself!) but do not mandate it.
Remind attendees several times throughout the first 5 minutes of the meeting to turn on video if available.
Provide 5-10 minute breaks regularly every 45-60 minutes. Mention these breaks are to check email and care for family.
Suggest participants note in the Zoom in-meeting chat if they need to step away temporarily.
Ask participants to engage with the group. Although we can’t see each others’ screens, it is easy to see when someone is distracted or not listening.
For large groups, ask participants to mute themselves if they aren’t talking and to introduce themselves and their organization in the Zoom in-meeting chat.
Maximize “live” meeting time
When we host participatory virtual meetings, we respect our colleagues' time and expertise by providing advance materials to be reviewed at their convenience, setting concise meeting priorities, and sharing a clear meeting agenda.
Basic meeting principles: Keep meeting times short – ideally 30-45 minutes. If your meeting is informal, for example a virtual office space session or drop-in window where participants do not need to be attentive the entire time, feel free to extend the time frame. Provide the live meeting link in multiple communications (and via calendar). Start and end on time. Identify a facilitator and scribe.
Agenda: Prioritize your agenda and note the time available for each item. Include discussion time and Q&A as agenda items. Share the agenda 1 week to 3 days before the meeting. Ask attendees if they have any edits or additions to the agenda. Here's a downloadable sample agenda with annotation and timings for polls, breakout rooms, and other agenda items.
Advance materials (where applicable): Provide brief, curated advance materials 1-2 weeks before the meeting. Consider providing a short video briefing before the meeting.
Follow up materials: Send a summary of the meeting and a synthesis of discussions soon after the meeting.
Easy participation tools
You can improve the data and participation you gather from meeting attendees without much extra effort using the techniques and tools below.
Required registration: Use Zoom’s required registration options (available on all paid Zoom plans) to ask your participants to provide name, organization, email address and other key information prior to your meeting. This will help you easily follow up with attendees.
Pre-meeting survey: Gather ideas and data on priorities from participants in advance via online surveys. Expect around 20-30% participation. Some services like SurveyMonkey are offering discounted subscriptions right now.
Zoom polling: Use Zoom’s in-meeting polling options to ask your participants multiple choice questions during your meeting.
Zoom breakout rooms: Use Zoom’s breakout rooms to split into small groups for brainstorms and discussions. Enable breakout rooms before the meeting. Assign participants to breakout rooms automatically, manually, or in advance. Encourage shared note taking in breakout rooms by posting a link to a google doc in the Zoom in-meeting chat.
Post-meeting survey: Continue to gather feedback on discussions in progress and next steps following the meeting using emails provided by participants in the Zoom registration data.
These tools provide a range of engagement. Integrated polling and facilitated discussion best practices will be covered in the last blog post of this series, Making your virtual meeting engaging and inclusive.
Technical faux pas
Technical difficulties are the enemy of engagement. Prep and test both your materials and your technology.
Combine all presentation materials into a single document in advance if possible.
Practice a run-through of the meeting with key presenters and presentation materials.
Ask someone else to run the presentation and voting tools while you lead the meeting.
Ask someone you trust to join the meeting to let you know if something is not working.
We love running short, high-engagement meetings that bring people together to make decisions and generate solutions. Connect with your participants by relaxing and having fun, being flexible and transparent if you encounter issues, and letting people know it is okay to eat snacks. As much as possible we encourage you to put health and family first, and reduce the stress and demands on your coworkers, colleagues, and volunteers. We hope these tips and tools help you use participatory virtual meetings to efficiently and meaningfully advance your most critical priorities. Check out the last blog in this series, Prioritizing equity and justice in remote work.