A remote classroom expert’s 3:2:1 approach to more productive online meetings
Whether your organization is all-remote, just transitioning to remote work, or halfway there, running effective online meetings is crucial to employee productivity and success. As an expert in remote education, most recently the Instruction Manager for General Assembly’s remote classrooms, I’ve developed an approach that’s helped me run hundreds of successful online meetings and trainings. I call it the 3:2:1.
I’m confident sharing this approach with your people leaders can help your organization lead better, more productive online meetings. Let’s jump in!
3 actions to take before the meeting
1. Set expectations around remote meeting behavior
Define the norms your team or organization should use during remote meetings and communicate these clearly.
In a physical space, you can tell people to close their laptops to focus in. Since this isn’t possible remotely, here are some ideas for norms you can implement in your organization
- Be present: Close out all non-essential windows and open all tools necessary for that session.
- Be prepared: If you are running the meeting, have a clear agenda and share it in advance. People tend to “clam up” online, and this prepares people to participate. If your team is already a quiet bunch, you may want to reach out to 1-2 people in advance and ask them to be vocal (your ringers, if you will).
- Be seen: Participants should have their video on at all times, and be encouraged to speak up as they would in a physical space. They should keep themselves on mute (to reduce background noise) and use the chat feature to ask questions or +1 other’s ideas. Whoever is running the meeting can also use the chat to call on people to expand on what they wrote.
- Be animated: If you talk with your hands, use your hands! Lean in towards the camera when others are talking. Do all the physical cues you would do in person. Because people are on mute, it will feel like a lot of “dead air,” and modeling for your team members will bring energy into the “room.”
2. Choose which collaboration software you will use during the meeting – and be consistent
With remote meetings, you have an added layer of complexity. Keep the tools used during a session to a minimum. I recommend the following tools:
- Video conferencing: This is absolutely essential. Some well-known tools are Zoom, GoToMeetings, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts.
- Chat: Most video conferencing solutions include a chat option. To keep things simple, I recommend you use that, but if you’d like more functionality you can also leverage Slack.
- Note-taking: Creating a Google Doc as a shared notepad or a Google Sheet for project planning ensures that everyone is on the same page. Additionally, the ability to add a comment and tag people increases the likelihood that these are actionable documents.
- Whiteboard: The ability to whiteboard is what people say they miss most when shifting to online. Miro is a digital whiteboard that enables you to complete the collaborative activities you would do in person. The benefit? They are more enduring than an actual whiteboard as well, enabling you and your team to work on projects over time. I love Google Docs as a notepad, Google Sheets for group planning, and Miro as my whiteboard and post-its. I prefer Zoom for video conferencing due to its robust capabilities, particularly annotation and breakout rooms.
3. Make your content remote-friendly
If you are using a slidedeck for your session, consider this: the majority of your participants are on a 13in (maybe 15in) monitor. They already have the video conferencing tool open (a third of screen real estate), the shared browser (a third of screen real estate), and any other tech needed for the session. Avoid tiny font and puttingthingsrightnexttoeachother.
Here are guidelines for how to make your content clear and improve communication in a remote setting:
- Reduce text: We’ve all had that class where we say to ourselves, “Welp! I could have just read the slides faster.” Use text to reinforce what you are saying verbally.
- Maximize images: When you can communicate through a graph, flow chart, do it! I like to use boxes to highlight key points.
- Don’t be afraid to add a slide/page/etc: We’ve all been told “that deck is too long.” However, cramming everything into one slide to “reduce the count” defeats the purpose. Go through your presentation, and ask yourself for each slide “Does this need to be text or a graph, or can I say it verbally?” If you can say it aloud, remove and add to your speaker notes.
- Use color for emphasis: Color is incredibly helpful to orient the viewer’s eye to important information. Consistently is key here. As you are building your materials, consider: What color will you use for text you want to emphasize? What color do you want the box fills to be?
2 actions to take during the meeting
1. Use screen share purposely
The ability to share your screen is the primary advantage of remote sessions. But be wary: You only should share the screen if you want the participants to actively engage with something ON the screen (deck, whiteboard, etc). When you share a screen you cannot see the gallery view of everyone, which creates a disconnected feeling.
- Share the screen if participants need to see it to follow along, or if it substantiates what you are saying.
- Do not share the screen during discussions, or if it could be a distractor to the work.
If you choose to share your screen during a remote meeting, consider using tools to help highlight the main points you’re trying to make. For example, most video conferencing solutions allow you to annotate your screen with your mouse (your digital laser pointer), highlighting key parts of what you are sharing as you are talking.
2. Encourage an active chat
Encourage participants to comment and ask questions connected to what is being said.
For example, you can encourage people to “+1” to what they hear, pose questions they have, or provide additional context. This can be a bit jarring at first – it may feel like there are two different communication threads going on – what is being said verbally, and what is being written. Keep calm and carry on – this feeling will go away with time.
1 action to take after the meeting ends
Be a stickler for time, and reserve the last 5 minutes to tie up loose ends
In a virtual meeting where people “hop off” you might miss the opportunity to discuss next steps. This is why it’s crucial to reserve the last 5 minutes to tie up loose ends and ensure all attendees understand what’s required of them after the meeting is over.
Also, consider asking your meeting attendees for feedback. Try using our free meeting feedback survey template.
Having 100% of your meetings online will feel weird at first, but I’m confident this 3:2:1 approach will have you on the road to remote meeting success.
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