In the age of physical distancing, how do you convert and run meetings, such as what was traditionally a multi-day, in-person Board meeting?
To answer this, we checked in with our members and Federation Events Manager Tom Marabello for his input. While some challenges just can’t be helped (poor wifi, unmuted noise, and those who don’t ‘video conference’), many reported positive experiences overall. 
“Creating a virtual meeting can be easy and user friendly, if you take the time to talk about or read up on what works best [for your situation],” said Marabello. “Since so many businesses and schools are ‘meeting online’ this has been a common topic for discussion and sharing.”
11 Tips for Successful Virtual Meetings:
  1. Do a test run with staff using different platforms before choosing and setting up your first virtual board meeting! Many people like Zoom, GoToMeeting and WebEx, but there are many good platforms that offer similar and some unique features. If using Zoom, several members recommended upgrading to the Zoom Pro account to take advantage of a variety of helpful features.
  2. Just like organizing an in-person meeting, if you are setting up a virtual meeting with more than a handful of people, consider first using Doodle to survey attendees’ availability, giving everyone a day or two to respond before sending out the video conferencing link.
  3. Prior to the meeting, send information on video conferencing best practices as well as specific expectations or requirements for the upcoming meeting. For example: mute yourself when not speaking, ways to use the chat function such as to ask a question without interrupting the flow of conversation, and highlighting the proper use of reactions. We also recommend reminding board members that they can use the phone if they’re unable (don’t want) to use video.
  4. Send your virtual meeting invitation through the platform you’re using to link it directly to the person’s work calendar (i.e. Outlook). Be sure to include all pertinent information such as the description of the meeting, the agenda, start and end times, links to the meeting and any participant or meeting codes, as well as the phone numbers needed to call in if anyone has trouble with their device’s video or audio. 
  5. Distribute written committee, staff, financial, and minutes reports in advance to allow for preliminary feedback, email conversation or questions to be addressed prior to the call.
  6. If not everyone knows each other or its been awhile since those same people have gathered together, consider doing introductions, share a poem, or run an icebreaker to increase people’s comfort with using the tool before delving into the meeting agenda.
  7. Consider assigning board members to “group numbers’ alphabetically by last name and include those lists in the preliminary materials. That way, when it comes time for discussion (whether open, or on specific motions) solicit comments/questions by group number instead of everyone at once. Several people also recommended assigning a board or staff member to watch for comments, actions and votes as well as to help moderate the conversation.
  8. Adopt a consent agenda to get through the mundane business items quickly and make sure your agenda is highly structured. If a conversation goes off the rails in the moment, as it likely will, having a clearly structured agenda will allow everyone to quickly revert back to the business at hand.
  9. Keep the meetings to under 1.5 hours. If you need longer, consider an intermission or split the agenda out over multiple days.
  10. Record the call to refer back to for minutes or in case someone has technical difficulties and needs to “participate” later. 
  11. Take a screenshot! You’re going to want to document this moment in history. 

Noting that Zoom is one of the most popular platforms for setting up and hosting virtual meetings, Marabello also recommends checking out Google Hangouts, Facebook, Skype, Google Drive and Monday.com as alternatives or to supplement your virtual meeting. Have others you like to use? Let us all know what you like and why in the post comments!

Check out these resources on virtual meetings: