Virtual meetings can occur using various platforms (e.g., Zoom, Blackboard, Teams, WebX). These notes do not provide guidance about specific platforms. Rather, they offer general ideas for organizing and leading meetings in virtual spaces. Questions about specific platforms should be directed to MSU Technology support.
Preparing for a Virtual Meeting
- Be clear about what you want to accomplish in the meeting: Set an agenda with times set for different agenda components.
- Consider whether meeting participants are experienced with virtual meetings. If not, consider sending participants written instructions about how the platform works in advance of the meeting or direct participants to support websites. Most companies provide short videos about basic functions (e.g., how to speak, how to mute, how to chat or ask a question). [e.g., Zoom help pages.]
- Provide an offline opportunity for attendees who may use assistive technology or may experience barriers to participation due to technology, connection speed or environmental issues.
- Think through how you will use the various affordances of the virtual platform. For example, if you plan to break into discussion groups for part of the meeting, think through how people will move into the discussion groups—who will go into each group, will there be a slide to tell people which group they will join, will participants move themselves into the groups and back into the main meeting or will a moderator move participants.
- If it is possible, it is helpful to have one person chair and lead the meeting and to have a second person who can handle technological issues. The second person can monitor the chat feature and periodically highlight questions/comments. If the meeting is more than just a few people, having a second facilitator to monitor and troubleshoot any problems is especially useful.
- Plan on everything taking longer online. People need to turn on and off their mics, which can involve some delays.
- Be sure the meeting facilitator knows how to turn off the mics of participants. Sometimes participants are unaware their mics are on and background noise is being heard by all.
- If the group of people will meet regularly in a virtual environment, consider using the first meeting (or a portion of it) as a time to get familiar with the platform’s tools. Recognize learning to use these tools takes a little time.
- Understand connectivity can fluctuate, and an individual can be dropped from the call or experience a frozen screen. This problem is more likely to occur when participants are off campus, where their internet connection may be weak.
Beginning the Meeting
- The facilitator should plan to be in the meeting space at least 10 minutes ahead to greet participants as they enter. This is a good time to have colleagues test their microphone and camera and/or use the chat feature to say hello.
- Plan to start the meeting on time, recognizing that some people will come late.
- Consider how to open the meeting. If the participants do not all know each other and meet regularly, consider inviting each person to introduce themselves, and say hello. If there is time, we often ask each person to do a Lightning Round, in which they answer a short question (e.g., where are you calling from, if they are from distant places; etc.).
- Ask everyone to put themselves on mute, so background noise is not distracting. Depending on how many people are in the meeting, you may want to ask everyone to put on their camera, or you may want to ask people to put on their camera only when they speak.
- Briefly review the agenda, indicating time allocation to the various elements. Indicate if there are specific outcomes that should come from the meeting. Such explicit information seems even more important in virtual settings than face-to-face meetings.
- If everyone is not well familiar with the platform, give an overview of important features—how to raise your hand, how to mute/unmute, how to use the chat feature, or any other feature you may plan to use.
- Remind everyone that the process of the meeting may take a little longer than usual. Also, note sometimes people can be “dropped” from the meeting, and if that should happen, they should re-connect. Provide instructions for a contact person if they are having technological problems. Mention briefly that, should major technological problems occur that interfere with the meeting, you will be back in touch about follow-up plans.
- Ask all participants to speak clearly and at a reasonable volume.
- Many platforms have recording functions. If you plan to use the recording function, let meeting participants know, and tell participants what will happen with the recording (e.g., it will become an archive for later use; it will be available only for those who are absent; etc.).
Conducting the Meeting
- Think through pacing, and provide breaks where participants can ask questions.
- When you call on someone to speak, allow time for them to turn on their mics. It sometimes feels awkward to wait a few seconds.
- If you invite participants to use the chat feature, be sure to monitor the questions and comments—or ask a second person to do this monitoring and to summarize periodically.
- Consider having slides accompanying the meeting agenda, if the platform allows. Slides with key points help all participants follow the meeting, even if the sound should become muffled. The basic idea, which supports the accessibility of the meeting, is to provide several ways for participants to follow and participate.
- In transitioning from one topic to another in the meeting, consider providing slides that introduce the new topic. If you have an activity planned, such as moving into break-out rooms for discussions, provide a slide with clear instructions for how the activity will take place (e.g., who will go to what room, how participants will move into break-out rooms and get back into the main room, who will facilitate in the break-out rooms, etc.).
Ending the Meeting
- Prior to the end of the meeting, review any tasks or next steps.
- End on time.
- Offer to leave open the space or a break-out room for anyone who wants to talk after the meeting.
Have a backup plan should the technology fail. Think about steps you will take should the quality of the online meeting prohibit a productive conversation. Will you reschedule for another time? Switch to a phone-only teleconference? Gather input through email or a google doc? Continue with a smaller group and send out a recording (if individuals are dropping)? Mention these plans at the start of the meeting so participants are assured that all will be well if the technology should become a problem.
Last updated: March 16, 2020