I’ve been experimenting with ways to have interactive, relationship-building meetings for attendees spread across the country.
One of my favorite so far combines a mix of video calls, Google Forms, phone calls and chat boxes.
Before the meeting
After I’ve set the theme or task for the meeting, I create a Google Form (like the one shown above) as a conversation script. Then, I assign all the meeting attendees a partner and ask them to schedule a short pre-meeting call to talk through the questions. The directions have the listener do the typing, taking turns. A day before the meeting, I send reminders to the people who haven’t responded and use the responses to hone the meeting plan.
The meeting itself uses a video platform that includes a chat box. (I’ve found it’s critical to include a two-minute tech lesson at the beginning of every call.) Seeing one another’s faces is valuable for relationship-building, and it has the side benefit of adding accountability for focusing on the meeting rather than doing e-mail.
I start off making sure everyone gets a chance to speak and be heard, and the video facilitates a group conversation, but if you have more than three or four people, it’s tough to to avoid talking over one another. The chat box is great for this — a meeting leader can pose a question and invite people to chat, and everyone can reflect, comment, read, and jump in without stepping on anyone else. For note-taking, you can be sure you captured every comment accurately, too.
The chat box makes it easy to spot themes and to ask specific people to share more about their thoughts, keeping an organic discussion but managing the voices more easily.
I’ve been including a reflection at the end of meetings, too. I set up a simpler Google form with a single open-ended question ahead of the meeting. I put the link to that question in the agenda and paste it into the chat box when we get there so it’s easy for people to find. I also pull the url to the “Summary of Responses” before the meeting to share in the agenda and paste into the chat box.
People go to the Summary link after they type their answer and see everyone else’s responses in real time. They are anonymous, and the reflections often generate appreciative comments from other attendees.
What virtual meeting designs do you find help bridge distance, giving people the chance to interact and building relationships?