Originally published in the MEMSPA weekly newsletter.
Educators and businesses all over the world have been thrust into online meetings and scrambling to find online resources and ways to connect virtually. Parents are trying to homeschool and reaching out for recommended resources to use at home. In my work with universities, schools, and nonprofits, we use both face to face and virtual meetings on a regular basis. Now with the Coronavirus spreading, all training, teaching, and professional learning are conducted online. These meetings and professional training take an immense amount of preparation to flow effectively. Learning new technology tools can be stress inducing for some staff members, so when deciding what to use to connect virtually, make sure you pick a platform that is easy to use for them. I really enjoy using Zoom. It is easy and you can use breakout rooms, screen sharing, filtering and more!
If you are conducting an online meeting, it is critical to have an agenda prior to the meeting. Invite participants and send them a link to the meeting, the time, and the agenda. If you use Google Docs, everyone can add to your agenda during the meeting if you decide to have a working agenda, where input is intended to go into the document. Or, if you do not want notes added directly to the agenda, simply send them a Word Document or PDF of the agenda. Adding the meeting to their calendar is a plus and assures everyone has it marked on the day to meet.
Effective staff meetings happen when norms are set and everyone is aware of the norms. So, do the same with your virtual meetings, make sure you have your norms established and have them visible on the agenda. Ideas for successful online meetings include:
- Come prepared – read the agenda prior to the meeting and have documents ready. This will save time with people looking for documents or asking during the meeting where the documents are located.
- Mute your microphone when you are not speaking. This will ensure less feedback from all the open microphones and eliminates background noise. I prefer to start the meetings with everyone muted, so they get in the habit of unmuting and muting.
- Turn off all notifications and make sure your cell phone is on silent. Cell phones are a distraction during any meeting. Avoid texting and responding to phone alerts during the meeting, it is difficult to be engaged when you are distracted.
- Write down thoughts that come to mind that are not on the agenda. This will help eliminate the agenda going off task and in a different direction. Agendas could include an area to “parking lot” ideas at the end of the agenda or for a later date.
- Use your air time wisely. It is tempting to comment on everything being discussed, but time is limited and it is easy to get off topic when everyone just jumps in the conversation. You could have a “parking lot” document where people could write down ideas on their mind.
- Encourage participants to use the chat feature in meetings, this will help keep the agenda on track.
- Stay present – Make an effort to focus on the meeting. If everyone is present and engaged the work is more meaningful.
It is important that we are patient in learning a new way to communicate and run meetings, but we still need to be intentional about our time together. We are fortunate to have access to technology at our fingertips and we need to make the most of our meeting time for the success of our students.