Virtual Meetings: Facilitating Blindly


In the last two blog posts on virtual meetings we talked about making the decision to go virtual and how to prepare for a successful virtual meeting. In this post we talk about how to facilitate a meeting where you can’t see the attendees.

Facilitating a Virtual Meeting

It takes special skill to facilitate a meeting that lacks face-to-face communication. Although web meeting software can accommodate webcams so that people can see each other, cameras cannot replace the easy dialogue that takes place around a table. The facilitator should prepare for and practice facilitating a virtual meeting in advance. Here are some guidelines.

At the beginning of the meeting

– Scan the attendees list to ensure everyone has logged in successfully

– If someone is missing, call them immediately in case they are experiencing technical problems

– Ask if everyone has the agenda and package (or has accessed it electronically) and check that everyone can hear each another. (Use the chat feature to receive this feedback as it confirms they know how to use chat)

– Explain who is taking notes or minutes

– Reiterate the importance of following the Meeting Guidelines

– Explain how features like chat and poll work for those new to web meetings

– State the rules for interaction and answer the following questions:

  • Will people be called upon or will they be expected to interject?
  • How should they interject without disrupting the meeting?
  • How will questions be addressed?
  • How will motions be handled?
  • How will votes be conducted

– Specify desired speaking times per person, if necessary, i.e. two minutes per person

Throughout the meeting

Keep people engaged

Attendees will be less comfortable speaking up in a virtual meeting than they would be in a face-to-face meeting, so encourage dialogue among attendees by using web meeting features such raise hand and poll. Use the chat feature on occasion as it allows for a different way to share ideas and viewpoints. If you are using the poll feature to take votes, give people a time limit to vote (30 seconds is plenty). Attendee software may run slowly or be out of sync, so viewers may need a few seconds to see slide changes and the results of polls. Adjust your timing accordingly.

Engage attendees with questions such as: “Does anyone have any questions?” “Can anyone build on that idea?” “Who has an opinion on this?” “Does anyone see this differently?”  Suggest attendees use the raise hand feature to show that they wish to speak. It’s also good to call on individuals for their comments: “Leroy, what do you think of this proposal?” “Sabrina, I haven’t heard your view on this issue. Would you mind sharing?” Sometimes a roll call is in order on important issues: “I want to get each of your ideas on this. Let’s start with Benjamin…”

Respect everyone’s time

Stick to the start and end times you have established. You may choose to allow some wait time at the beginning of the first virtual meeting when people may be experiencing difficulties; otherwise respect those who joined on time by starting on time.

Ensure that as facilitator you are watching the clock. If it looks like the meeting may drag on beyond the end time, try to wrap things up. If that’s not possible, ask people if this is an option and call a short break before continuing.

Handle Motions and Amendments

A number of options exist to address motions and amendments. When discussing motions, use web meeting features like chat to allow people to raise questions and share opinions, which can be followed up with further discussion over the phone. Display motions that you have prepared in advance on screen. Motions can be created or edited on the spot to allow for amendments.

When it comes to voting, choose a method that will work best for your group:

–   If you want to have people vote verbally, you can simply ask, “Are there any objections to the motion?” This is faster than asking each person to express their vote.

–   For more formal votes, you can use poll, raise hand or chat. Polls can be created in advance or on the spot and are anonymous. Chat comments are preceded by the person’s name so that everyone can see how each person votes. Keep in mind that if someone is accessing the meeting only via conference call due to technical problems, you will need to get their vote another way.


If you have other tips you’d like to share, please post a comment!

Stay tuned for Part Four: Troubleshooting the inevitable

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