Mar 1

5 Tips to Boost Online Meetings and Classes

By Jeremy Blain
I have championed businesses and individuals to adopt digital for many years. Since I started to work more remotely in the early part of this century, I have jumped at the chance to use new technologies and tools which claimed to make life easier. Some worked, some didn’t.

Today, I have an ecosystem of interconnected platforms and tools that I use for my business or when I am interacting with my customers. Often, this means getting better at using their technologies of choice rather than my own. So, I learn fast, fail fast and adopt fast.

The ‘how’ is just as important as the ‘what’ – the methods, processes and skills required to use different tech and adopt it as a pro. This takes an investment of time, but it seems there has been little time for some people to actually do it.

Covid-19 has forced many to accelerate the journey to digital. However, it can be tricky as many of us have kids at home or other priorities we are juggling. As remote work normalises, we are all finding creative ways to be productive and engaged.

It’s no surprise that, while I had a good balance of virtual classes alongside face-to-face conference and training work pre-current pandemic, I have seen a bigger uptake for the virtual sessions (i.e., webinars, keynotes, podcasts, virtual training, smartphone learning etc). Part of my training involves helping people work remotely for the first time, structure their time and do it safely with wellness in mind.

I have no doubt that we can be more productive, just as creative and even more collaborative when we are connected as a dispersed workforce, when compared to traditional ways of working in office environments or out in the field with our customers.

To help short cut your journey, here are my 5 tips for those of you who are running virtual classes, online meetings, guiding team projects and managing groups online. It should also help those collaborating and communicating online as part of the ‘new normal’ we are all living in.

You can scroll down if you wish to see the detail in each.

1. Get your mindset right. You can be more productive virtually!
2. If you want to engage and mobilise participation, embrace and get to know the most appropriate technologies, tools and techniques
3. Add pizzaz to your session with a few surprises
4. Structure for success
5. Pay close attention to remote voice, video and written communication practices.
1. You can be more productive virtually

Consider this: we have a more compressed time allowance, yet we need to communicate clearly and impart information, learning and tasks. It forces you to really plan and prepare every aspect. From experience, I get done in 2 hours what I used to achieve in half a day. I don’t always get it right, but a 50% saving in time and energy, with potential for a more clear, useful outcome is worth fighting for.

Top tip to get started in the right way: spend time working on your environment. De-clutter your desk, add personality, ergonomic chair and second large screen for eye health. Think about your posture and diarise your work each day with flexible time for you and working with others built in. This provides a healthy way to start and is central to wellness, as much as productivity, in your remote workplace.

A good article from Gallup here on remote worker wellbeing.

Top tip for structure: Use the Pomodoro technique twice or three times per day. You will amazed at what you can get done.
2) Embrace and get to know the technology, if you want your virtual sessions and meetings to be engaging and interactive

I use Zoom Pro mainly for my virtual classes, meetings and webcasts. I use other tools, dependent on what my clients use, but Zoom works well. It’s so simple, useful and user friendly. Other common tools include Hangouts (Google MEET), Microsoft Teams, GoToTraining, Webex, Adobe Connect, Blue Jeans and more. From personal experience, Zoom wins hands down for usability, application to multiple formats (webcasts, meetings, training) without the need to buy expensive parallel platforms or add-ons. Be sure to double check your security protocols and settings.
The tools inside the tech helps you to plan out a really solid 1- or 2-hour session (maximum!), which punctuates and reinforces your core content or messaging with…

• Interactive polls
• Easy-to-use breakout room, that the facilitator can visit, interacting with the group and ensuring there is a good collaborative atmosphere throughout
• Annotations for everyone to make their feelings known, as you go through screens or slide sharing
• Chatbox for posting of comments and questions for easy temperature checks or a place to share files
• Video and Voice sharing to allow for interactive discussion, role playing and exchange – NB, manage this closely for best results
• Record the session for easy reference, personal development and peer coaching
• Encourage others (i.e., your team, your peers, etc) to use the tool independently of formal sessions. Collaborate, socialise, role play and even practice presentations (i.e., prior to an online interaction with an important customer, or an internal presentation to a senior leader, etc.).

The key to success? Practice, practice and practice.
 
3) Structure for success

Believe me, time FLIES when you a) have fun and b) when you are delivering a web session, virtual class, facilitating an online meeting or collaborating virtually with others. You have less time, a compressed agenda and need to get the essentials done!
Being structured is the key. Here is the structure I often use as a start point. Feel free to use as menu of options that work for you.

a) Step 1, rule 1, action 1: Plan it, prepare it, challenge it and pull it all together. Brief others on their roles, rules and responsibilities for the upcoming sessions. Preparation and alignment of purpose saves precious time in the sessions, and removes personal agendas and ‘other’ discussions that get in the way. For those new to the technology, send them a link to a YouTube video explaining it or prepare something yourself for them.

b) Go into the session early and be already sharing your screen with your slide in screen-show mode, your video on and audio on (that is if you have slides, of course). Or just be there with your video on, early, being ready to welcome those who start to arrive. Just like a real room.

c) Have a welcome message typed into the chat box as people come in and encourage them to do the same and to discover annotation / emoji bars, so they know where they can go to interact, send messages, etc.

d) Encourage everyone who arrives (numbers dependent) to have videos on for a physical recognition and any early exchanges.

e) If a meeting starts with some socialised exchanges to warm everyone up, it can be energising, engaging and will make everyone attending feel more relaxed. Try quizzes, polls, a TikTok challenge, sharing stories for the week, etc. Launch a poll early on to have everyone get used to participating. The same goes for use of the annotation tools or chat box – create an activity to engage people early on by using the tech as much as possible before you start the main part of the session.

f) As you enter into the more formalised part of your agenda, open with a bang (i.e., a piece of insightful data related to your topic to engage and start the brains working). I find this switches everyone into the formal part, particularly if I invite comment, thoughts, etc.

g) Introduce content chunks of 10-15 mins max (where you or, a team member is speaking), so don’t try to impart too much info. Think about ‘must have’ knowledge and skillsets, not ‘nice-to-have’ extras. At the end of each chunk, have an activity. You can use breakout rooms, unmuted / video discussion, Q&A summary, Chatbox challenge (2 key points, 2 ideas, etc), case study (either internal driven by one of the participants or external) and more. At the end, ensure you summarise and that everyone has a next step, action or relevant output.

h) Remember to have a break! I tend to add a 6-minute comfort /grab-a-drink break 1 hour in. Post-break what has worked best for me is the introduction of something more creative and new (e.g. guest speaker).

i) By end of the session I will have usually added one more breakout session to drive activity behind the learning (i.e., role play, discussion and presentation back)

j) Ask teams to present back their outputs in plenary, with video on. Alternatively have a final Q&A to pick up key questions live or ones that have been added to chatbox / Q&A boxes.

k) End on time. Or…if discussion, Q&A, guest speaker interaction is going well, ask the group to extend. My guide here is by a maximum of 15 minutes, no more than that.

l) Post session. Commit to answer any remaining questions or points raised in the session, that you were not able to get to as part of the formal Q&A itself. You can do this via document, or record a short piece to camera and post that for the team to access at their leisure. I find that better than just relying on Word or mail follow-ups.

m) If you recorded the session. you can share the link, notes made in the chat and more. It brings it all to life and provides a reference point for everyone to go back to if and when required.

n) Remember to schedule a follow up session with specific guidance to the teams to come back with return on experience, based on implementing learning / actions agreed in the previous session. A great place to start the next time very interactively.

4) Add pizzazz to your session with a few surprises

Over the years, I have been delivering an increasing number of virtual classes, webinars and meetings. I found there is the potential to be creative, adding more depth to each session by trying new things and learning from others. A few I find work really well…

a) Invite a special guest to have a 20-minute session on a topic within their expertise, followed by a 10min Q&A. It can add much value and punctuate your own delivery, splitting the session into neat chunks. Key for success – plan it, prepare it with your guest and practice it, so it is smooth, slick and value adding when done live.

b) I often follow this up with a post-session 1-2-1 online recorded video Q&A, with the special guest to add a bonus follow up with key messages, tips and tricks based on our theme. Helps to embed your message / learning.

c) Invite members regional / local / global team members to the session either as an announced action or by surprise to add more context, energy and relevance to the session. This also helps to bridge the social gap of us all working in a more dispersed way, keeping the connections fresh and new.

d) Pass over parts of the agenda to the participants (planned before) and have certain members run a discussion, share an experience, tell a story etc.

e) Important to add the informal and social aspects to it. Start your meetings with a bit of fun. Share stories, share the funniest thing experienced this week. Many ideas to get the social interaction going, with videos on, and everyone engaged, smiling and ready for the meeting agenda

5. Pay close attention to remote voice, video and written communication practices

This issue is just as important when running virtual classes or meetings as it is when you are face-to-face.

I have learned that more succinct, clear and focused communication is the way forward, which also helps with more active listening. There is less ‘noise’ to distract and through shorter, more meaningful sessions, everyone is able to concentrate better.

The biggest learning and factor of success must be tone of voice and use of language (simplicity in communication) and adjusting our pitch and inflection. Even when doing this regularly, I hadn’t identified the magic in it – how it can unlock relationships, tough conversations, objections, challenges, further opportunity and, importantly, a more human connection, albeit through the wires.

It is equally important to find the right ‘tone’ for your written comms, once you have established a clear, brief structure to communicate within. Your use of the written word, your structure, language used and brevity, together with next-step options all combine to influence action.

When the video is on, always remember that verbal communication (tone of voice, etc.) is an important aspect. On video, your non-verbal body language supports and enhances this. It’s also something we may forget. Top tips from my experiences:

• Smile. In many of the virtual session I have these days, I see a lot of serious people. A smile lifts the session
• Smile with your eyes. Look into the camera (to keep eye contact) not always at your screen (I paint two eyes by my camera to remind myself!) and keep the connection personal
• Sit upright, don’t slouch
• Move into the camera slightly when listening to the other person. Helps you actively listen and demonstrate you are doing so! Acknowledge through your body language. From experience, the person presenting appreciates seeing some level of engagement, particularly as they are on a screen. It needs to be made more 'obvious' versus when you are face-to-face.
• Use your hands / arms to camera sparingly, when you want to accentuate a point
• When in a group and others are speaking, remember to mute your microphone to avoid background noise (remind others to do same)

This is the start point...some good first steps to accelerate your know-how and support your professional development journey. Good luck!
Meet THE AUTHOR

Jeremy Blain

Jeremy is the Chief Executive of PerformanceWorks International (PWI), a company that helps organisations, executive boards, leaders and teams succeed in the digital climate amidst disruption, opportunity and uncertainty. 

He has extensive experience as a transformation leader in most major international markets, having launched successful global businesses and turned underperformance into excellence. This includes a 7-year stint as CEO of an international consultancy company based in Singapore, operating from India to the Pacific.

Jeremy helps leaders and managers define strategies to implement digital and human transformations, utilising a unique and award-winning Ticking Clock © model and a new framework for human capital management, GigHR© . 
Patrick Jones - Course author
Created with