Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash
June 1, 2020

Facilitating great meetings online

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During these challenging times, nonprofits are struggling to communicate internally and externally. 

Sarah Durham was joined by Ally Dommu, Big Duck’s Director of Strategy, to explore a timely topic: how to facilitate great meetings online. We shared best practices and a few tech tools you can immediately put into practice.


Sarah Durham: Hey everybody, welcome to today’s webinar. I am Sarah Durham and we are going to get started in one minute. We have a lot of people who are logging in today and people are logging in by the minute. As you get settled and get used to go to webinar, just a few pieces of housekeeping. The first is if you have any technical problems, and I’ll say this again in a few minutes, but if you have any technical problems, please email [email protected]. There’s a member of our staff who’s standing by and monitoring that. We are also asking people who are willing to chat in and tell us where you’re calling in from. You can share with us your location geographically and if you’re comfortable sharing your organization, that would be great too. So far we’ve heard from Lindsey who is chatting in from her tiny home, “office”, which is a corner of a room in Brooklyn, and she’s part of a team at Pharacom New York.

Sarah Durham: And we have heard from Tammy at Cool Culture who’s also in Brooklyn. Wow. We got a lot of Brooklyn in the house today. That’s awesome. I live in Brooklyn. People from Artsmart in New Mexico and from Santa Fe, Santa Fe, New Mexico team from art smart, New Mexico. That’s cool. Welcome. Gina, who’s at Make-A-Wish? Metro New York is calling in from her home office in Manhattan. Emily from Keshet, who’s a big deck client. We love Keshet. It also an Advomatic client. And Emily’s dialing in from Minneapolis, Carol at Town and Village synagogue. Oh, we got a lot of people. I encourage you to keep these coming. We’ve got people calling in from Raleigh, North Carolina, Missouri, Durham, North Carolina, Quincy Mass, Greenville, South Carolina. So a lot of people here. All right, great. So it’s one minute past one. I want to get us into the reason you’re all here today and share a couple of housekeeping notes.

Sarah Durham: So we decided to, very quickly, spin up this webinar because more and more people, and I’m sure you’re all, you’re all like this, are trying to figure out how to work remotely and using tools like zoom and slack and other, other online resources in new ways. But it’s not just about the tools, it’s not just about zoom or Slack or technology. The really tricky part sometimes is how you get people to connect and engage and how you get all the voices in your meetings to participate fully. And, so my colleague Ally Dommu is gonna, be our resident expert today. And I want to, start by introducing us a little bit and then we’ll talk a little bit more about this topic. So I’m Sarah Durham, I’m the CEO of Big Duck and also Advomatic. Many of you probably know Big Duck has you, you got this, you heard about this through Big Duck, Big Duck helps nonprofits build strong brands, strong campaigns and strong communications teams.

Sarah Durham: And we consider this kind of capacity building work we’re doing today part of our team building work. I’m also the CEO of Advomatic, which is a digital agency that builds sturdy websites for nonprofits. And a number of you are logging in from Advomatic land too. Ally is big Duck’s Director of Strategy and she is really an expert in facilitating online meetings. She has, led meetings, online for organizations we work with around the country, probably, maybe internationally. And she has developed over the years a sort of a suite of tools in her toolkit that she, employs. And a lot of what we’re going to do today is share some of those tools with you so you can start to use them. So welcome Ally. Hi.

Sarah Durham: So a couple of things about this format. First of all, there are not going to be any slides today. We are, we’re just going to have a conference position and we are recording today’s conversation so that we can send it to you afterwards and we will be posting it online as a video. So if you want to share it with anybody else afterwards, you are welcome to do so. And you’ll have an email about it. We also have, 500 seats in this webinar. And on the webinar we did two days ago, we actually more than 500 people tried to log in and that might happen again today. So if you’re hearing from your colleagues that they’re unable to get into this webinar, it’s probably because we’ve hit capacity. Anybody who registered for it will receive the recording afterward. We are also live tweeting someone on our team is live tweeting using the hashtag #NPCOVID19. You can see that in the, in the chat and and the format for today is we are going to begin with a discussion. So some of the questions we’ve already been getting from people ahead of this webinar and, we’re going to try to share some examples with you where we can as we go and then we’re going to leave time at the end for your questions and your examples. So, along the way I’m going to be monitoring the questions in the chat. Just feel free to chat in a question anytime if it makes sense to the thread of the conversation. I’ll get to it on the fly. Otherwise, we’ll have time and Ally and I are also both available to go over on time. So if you feel like you can stay a little longer and you want to ask a question, please hang in and we’ll do our best to get to as many questions as we can. Okay. So Ally, just to dig in, let’s talk about the difference between online meetings and in person meetings. What’s the same? What’s different?

Ally Dommu: All right. So I think if you’re new to hosting online meetings, planning meetings online, first of all, know that there are a lot of similarities just in terms of best practices and having, you know, an effective, smooth, productive meeting. I think from a similarities point of view, obviously being thoughtful with and intentional with how you’re prepping for the meeting, setting agendas, thinking about the goals, and really taking that pause point, you know, obviously right now with the uncertainty and craziness, the context that we’re working, prep might not be… you might not have as much time for that prep, but very important. Good meeting facilitation is really, great and, and important regardless if you’re hosting or meeting online. And I could talk more about that later. And then, consciousness about group norms and values, I think is really important.

Ally Dommu: Something we think a lot about at Big Duck. What are the norms that your group that’s coming together, is abiding by, you know, whether that’s the values of your organization or norms in terms of who’s speaking and who takes up space regardless if you’re hosting, meeting online or in person, those, that type of consciousness about how your group is working together, what you’re committing to. I think is key. So differences, because there are differences like it feels different to be talking to your colleagues and to new people over the internet on screen, no doubt about it. And I think a few of the key differences just to get kick us off is one, the emphasis on tech and some of the, you know, necessity to be much more on top and prepared to deal with tech logistics. Before the meeting, during the meeting, checking in, how’s the tech going? Ally Dommu: As Sarah said, we here at Big Duck right now, we have some of our wonderful colleagues that are playing MC from a tech point of view. If you hit logistics. So, you know, especially if you’re having big meetings, that’s definitely something to make sure you have someone accountable for. I would also say for differences, it feels different to participate online than in an in person meeting. So for you as a facilitator and a host planning intentional structures for fostering participation, and I could dig into that also later, being more mindful about planning those moments or getting group input, is key. And then the last thing is obviously communication online, is different just in terms of your ability to read social cues, nonverbal cues. It feels different right there. Sarah right now is head nodding at me, she is making sure she’s active listening. Right? So there’s a lot that you can do online to make sure you’re really engaged for showing, you know, you’re responding to the person that’s, speaking. But it’s a different form of communication. Something to be mindful of.

Sarah Durham: I was on a call this morning with one of Advomatic’s clients, the Brennan center. And they were, we were talking about how it’s going at the Brennan center and one of the comments that Morgan, who works with the Brennan center shared, which I thought was terrific, which she said, you know, the Brennan Center has now moved to doing staff meetings on Zoom, and there’s over a hundred people on their staff. So, over a hundred people logging into Zoom for a meeting that I think is weekly and actually it’s going great. And she said the reason it’s going great is that when you get a large group of people, like the staff in a room, in real life, you sometimes can’t hear that person over the other end of the room. You can’t see their effect. But actually on Zoom, when people are active listening, you see who they are, you see their faces, you can see their name with it, soyou can actually learn who you’re, you know, you can put the name with the face. If you work in a larger organization and it’s equalizing, everybody when they speak has a mic, and speaks clearly, you can hear them. So actually some of those technology differences that happen online can become strengths. So I loved that example. Okay. So Ally, you, you talked to, you briefly touched on the idea of the host or the online facilitator. How should, if you were running a meeting online, you know, and let’s say, how should you think about your role as the online facilitator?

Ally Dommu: Okay. So I think there are two main sort of areas of responsibility. If you are managing a meeting online, or you’re facilitating a meeting online. The first is that sort of tech logistics MC, you are responsible for the meetings to go smoothly from a tech perspective. That doesn’t necessarily need to be the same person, as the facilitator. But as an online facilitator, your role is really making sure that, the meeting is going smoothly, that your participants are able to engage and that you’re really as a facilitator helping the group do their best thinking and collaboration in an online context.

Sarah Durham: Okay.

Ally Dommu: So you want to break that down a little bit more?

Sarah Durham: Well, I just, I just want to add to that, my advice is the bigger the meeting, the more important it probably is to split those, those roles. So you know, on this, in this call, if we have 500 people logged in, having a separate person monitoring logistics, not having it be one of us is really important. I think you’ve got, you know, five people or 10 people and somebody who’s very adept in the technology. Maybe it’s the same person.

Ally Dommu: Absolutely. It is a lot when you’re, when you’re trying and you’re responsible as a facilitator for thinking about managing the flow of the meeting, making sure that the goals, the meeting are accomplished. And also taking, keeping an eye on time. You want to make sure that your meetings end on time, you know, obviously good meeting practice, you know, so keeping the meeting and then also dealing with the logistics. That could be a lot for one person to manage. So I definitely recommend if possible, breaking up those responsibilities.

Sarah Durham: Okay. So, so how do you, how do you plan and organize your online meetings? I know we’re going to drill down into this and some more detail in a minute, but just give us big picture. How would you as the person who is responsible for the meeting think about organizing it?

Ally Dommu: Okay. So I would suggest thinking about organizing your online meeting in three steps. So first it’s that it’s the prep phase. So and I could go into this a little bit more in depth. Planning your text, planning your agenda, setting materials out in advance, making sure that the meeting is designed well. And then you know, you’re preparing your participants for a great, a great meeting. The second is, all right, let’s get this started. It’s the actual meeting presentation or facilitation, and everything from getting that started like we just did, to managing the flow of the meeting, actually conducting it. And then the third is how do you close an online meeting? What’s the followup necessary? How is that different from, you know, a meeting in person. So prep, conduct, close, always thinking about those three and always thinking about them all in advance.

Sarah Durham: And I just got a I just got a comment or a request in from somebody who’s asking that if we can try to write out some of the specific goals or things we’re talking about, because it’s hard to take notes. I will try to do a little bit of that during this call, but I may not be able to. But one of the things I want to just add for those of you who are trying to take notes is that once we post the video, which we will put on the big duck website next week, we will also have it transcribed. So you’ll be able to copy and paste notes from the transcription in about a week. So if you want to take notes as we go, great. But if you don’t want to do that, we’ll, we’ll make sure that, they’re posted online. okay. Ally, let’s unpack what you just talked about and get a little bit more into prep. If you are the online facilitator or the host of a meeting, what kind of prep should you do?

Ally Dommu: Okay, so the first thing is, kind of thinking about your attendees, who’s going to be at that meeting or a, you know, presentation, how many people, and what are their relationships with one another? Are you hosting this meeting with a group that you’ve worked with a hundred times that you have, you know, a good a rapport with already you’re comfortable with each other or is it, you know, a meeting with new people that are going to be working together for the first time in this online context? So really thinking about quantity of participants and then their relationships with one another. That’s key. I would also say planning a purposeful and, realistic agenda. Not trying to pack too much in. And I think for online meetings generally, you know, hour meetings, shorter meetings, tend to be better.

Ally Dommu: And if you’re, if you need to have a longer meeting for the goals, what you’re trying to achieve, certainly buildingin for it. Ee sometimes use frameworks for planning a meeting,setting an agenda. We have a, there’s an acronym called POP, which stands for defining the, the purpose of your meeting, the desired outcomes of your meeting and then the process, how you will go there. So POP is a good one. There’s also one called TOP, which is the topics, outcome, process. So as the online facilitator, you’re pressing by thinking about really what are the goals of this online session. What are the outcomes, what’s realistic to achieve, you know, and, how are we going to actually design this meeting to be able to achieve those outcomes? And then the last thing is, thinking about the materials and, tech obviously, needed to actually do this meeting.

Ally Dommu: So I’ll start with the tech actually. You know, here at big duck. We use Zoom most frequently. There’s WebEx. there’s, you know, a lot of different online tech tools. So I think if, you know, if you’re new to doing this, doing online meetings, you really want to think about which is, which is the technological platform that your participants that you are most comfortable with. There’s pros and cons of all these platforms. You really could, you know, just kind of Google and see like an analysis between the difference. Obviously each platform has some different features, but choosing the platform that’s going to be best for your, your organization. But from a material standpoint, I think that hosting, when hosting online meetings, it’s really important to get this organized in advance. So if you are, you know, going to be looking at, you know, a draft of something, a plan, a presentation, you want to make sure that in advance you have that all pulled up, or you circulate those materials to your participants in advance so that people aren’t, you know, clicking around and trying to pull up something and you waste a lot of time during the online meeting. So you really want to think through, what do my participants need from a tech and, you know, materials, online materials standpoint. What do they need in front of them? Ahat should they read in advance in order to make this meeting successful.

Sarah Durham: So I want to add to that. And again, I wanna just, I wanna I want to build on what Ally said and elevate the fact that what we’re going to do in this next part of our conversation is we’re talking now about in advance of the meeting, we’re gonna do a bunch of stuff about in the meeting and we’ll do some stuff about followup. And a lot of the questions we’re getting are about in the meeting things. So we’re going to probably get into some of those in a minute. But in terms of the prep, we have a comment here that I want, I want to elevate, from Lisa who says, you know, the, the agenda — agenda is more important than ever and consent agendas are saving her organization, in efficiency and prep time. What I want to also add in terms of advanced prep is that I think it’s very important that when you send out your agenda and your, your details around the tech in advance of your meeting, that you encourage people to make the practice of logging in early and testing out the technology.

Sarah Durham: And I want to share two examples of that. Ally, we’ve gotten some requests from people. Could you give us specific examples? So we’ll get a little bit granular. One example is Big Duck, which has an office but also works remote and has a lot of staff who travel for business. When we, we have a daily standup meeting, so every morning at nine 15, the whole Big Duck staff logs into Zoom and one of the practices we have is we ask everybody to try to log in five minutes early before we begin. And the reason that’s useful is that inevitably right now systems like Zoom are so taxed that people have audio issues or they have to log in twice. It gives you a little bit of time in advance to log in if you are doing a meeting with people who don’t normally use technology, ask them to log in more than five minutes in, in advance. Last summer I facilitated a meeting for 17 people who worked across about five different organizations and many of them were not people who are used to using Zoom. And so we made a point to ask people to download the zoom software, days preferably in advance and try it out and to log in for the call 15 minutes early. So we could sort out the technology at first. If your meetings only going to be an hour, you don’t want to spend the first 20 minutes of it trying to get people’s audio sorted out. Please, you know, in advance. Try to get people rolling with the tech as much as you can. Ally, let’s shift gears into when the meeting begins because there’s, you’ve got some great advice here and we also have a lot of questions about that, that I wanna make sure we, address along the way. So what should you be mindful of when you’re facilitating meeting online?

Ally Dommu: Okay, so you’ve prepped, you’re firing up your tech. If you’re, you know, turning on your video, you’re getting the meeting started, as Sarah said, getting, getting there early. I think if you are hosting a meeting, one of the first most important things to do online is thinking about how you could create sort of a welcoming space online. Think of yourself as a host. You know, you’re welcoming people into your virtual space that you’re, that you’re planning. So from the get go, some, some ways to do that are welcoming people by name. You know, as people are dialing in, especially if it’s a smaller group. “Hey, Hey Sarah, glad to see you here. How are you? How are you doing?” “Hey Laura. Hey, Maya”, you know, just welcoming people as they’re coming through. I think from also from the get go, it’s, as I mentioned earlier, setting some group norms for how you’re going to be working together in the online session. So, for example, you know, the use of, the use of a chatbox, right? So if you’re, say you’re, you know, you’re using video, what are you going to use the chat box for? Sometimes when, especially if it’s multiple people, when you’re communicating online, it could get really, people could start, it could start feeling like people are talking over one another. So what are your rules for how to take the mic or to share and participate? You know, you could say, as a norm, right, there’s, you know, as a norm, please raise your hand, make your hand visible in front of the screen. If you’re interested in, contributing, you need to contribute an idea. If you want to contribute, something that may be, is not as essential for the moment, but you want to make sure people hear like you agree with an idea, you know, you could use the chat box. Oh, I like that. Or, you know, putting a thumbs up. I know zoom has a feature where they, there’s a thumbs up, or a like button. You know, rather than saying, Oh, I agree, you know, if you’re disrupting someone’s, you know, presentation, just using those features.

Sarah Durham: Ally, before you, move on past norms, we have, there’s a, there’s a question here that I think this topic of norms addresses. has asked what are tips or smart ways to encourage people to turn on their webcams? I would say establishing the norm of being on camera is one way to do that. And you can do that in advance. You know, you can, in your, in what you send out as prep. You could say, here are the norms we’d like to maintain for this meeting. Have a webcam, use the chat for this, you know, raise your hand or ask a question in this way. Or you can do it at the beginning of the meeting. But in my experience, if you tell people in advance to use the camera, they’re much more likely to be prepared to do that. If, if they log in just on a phone and then you say, Oh, you’re not on camera. Oh, then that feels, that can feel a little punitive and challenging. I’m curious, Ally, if you have any other tips for that or any other norms you want to want to add too?

Ally Dommu: Yes. Well if you’re going to be hosting meetings with the group regularly, I would encourage you regularly online, I would encourage you to like as a group, just name your norms, you know, in advance you could ask people, okay, what are, what are the things we agreed to when we’re, as a group, when we’re, when we’re meeting online, you know, like turning on that webcam, making sure that people don’t, you know, go to Slack or other chat tools or check email, you know, they’re really present. And that’s something that is a just a good practice in meetings is really to make sure that your participants are there. They’re present and they’re not distracted by other things. And especially online, you know, it could, it could be very distracting. You could have, you know, news pop ups all the time or chats coming your way. And, you can create a space online where you’re really present. You just have to make sure you’re mindful of that and establish that as a, as a norm with your group.

Sarah Durham: Okay, great. So, you’ve talked about setting meeting norms, creating a welcoming space online. You’ve also, you’ve also talked about the importance of making sure people can see and hear each other. I mean, that’s a great thing to bring up at the beginning of the meeting just to make sure everybody’s, you know, able to see and hear. What other opportunities for participation, do you recommend people use as they are, as they are facilitating online meetings?

Ally Dommu: Okay, well, from the jump, I would say that a great tip for online meetings is to do a simple short icebreaker in the beginning because it is an equalizer. You get from the beginning, all voices contributing that are there. That are on the meetings, especially if it’s, you know, a smaller group, a little feedback.

Sarah Durham: I think you’re okay.

Ally Dommu: Okay. Sorry about that see. You know, tech, logistics in action. Obviously these things are going to come up. That’s always, always the case. So a check in question like Sarah asked, you all, you know, where are you, where are you calling in from? At Big Duck, we, we always start our online meetings, with some type of a quick check in, you know, how’s your week going, you know, what’s one thing you’re doing to stay healthy today? I think especially in these times, having just a human moment online, to make that inclusive space, to hear from people to connect with one another, you know, a simple, how are you today, is is a really nice way to generate, you know, comradery and engagement from the beginning of an online meeting. So we definitely recommend doing that.

Sarah Durham: Yeah, keep going.

Ally Dommu: So I mentioned before that in online settings, it’s very important to structure forums for participation. So obviously a checking question is, is a great way to do that. Other ways for, other techniques for fostering participation online, are, using things like go around. So you know, if there’s a period of time where there’s a presenter. Okay. You’re presenting a draft of an email that you’re sending out, or maybe it’s your communications plan for how your organization is navigating this COVID crisis. Maybe in advance you’ve sent that draft out, you’ve asked your participants to read it, to come to the meeting, ready to discuss it. Maybe the host, you know, talks about it at a high level and then it’s time to get feedback. Rather than just say, okay, what do you all think? Being a little bit more structured with how you’re getting that input and that feedback is important when you’re in an online setting so that you’re able to hear from everyone. You’re not talking on over one another and you have a little bit more, you know, pacing. So one way to do that is to call on, first call on someone, to start it off, or ask someone to participate, to go first to share, to share their, their response. You know, what do you think, what are the strengths and opportunities of this plan hypothetically. And then after that person’s done, ask them to choose the next person. So that’s a go around, you know, you’re hearing from one person to the next to the next and rather than the host calling on people or waiting for people to chime in, which is fine, as well, asking that person who contributes to call on the next person.

Sarah Durham: I just want to add to that, Ally, one of the things I love about the go round is it actually forces people to pay attention. A lot of people are chatting in questions about how do I get people to not multitask or not be distracted? A go around is a great, great way to do that. Because if you’ve got 10 people in a meeting and when Ally speaks, she says, Sarah, how about you? And then I say, you know, Bill, how about you? I have to keep track of who hasn’t spoken, and I have to be ready to speak at any moment.

Ally Dommu: Right. Something else I would encourage is different types of using and exploring the tech, tools that are built into the software that you’re using, whether that’s WebEx or zoom. Some of these tools, platforms, allow for things like virtual voting, you know, so on a, you know, on a, on a scale of one to 10, how much do you support this, you know, this plan that I’ve drafted. Do you think it needs more work? Do you think it’s almost there? You know, building those questions in advance so you could get a gauge from the group of, you know, where people stand in response to a particular question or problem that you’re trying to solve. You can also think about doing breakouts, breakout groups, which is also something, you know, a lot of these platforms have that feature. So you, you have a big group maybe in the beginning, and then you design these smaller breakout groups for there to be more intimate conversations to problem solve. So that is definitely something that adds a little bit more, you know, intimacy and can foster good participation and productivity, of designing these, breakout groups that does require a little bit more tech management, make sure you know how to do the breakout rooms, people are familiar with it, and then can jump back in. But I would plan for that.

Sarah Durham: I just, one thing about breakout rooms, if you’ve never used a breakout room, it’s a feature you can use in Zoom, but I think it only exists with a paid Zoom account. So, so not every tool has, but if your organization has a paid Zoom, you should be able to do a breakout room, but the host has to organize it. Whoever’s Zoom login has to do it. So if you are the host and it’s your Zoom account, you might spend some time playing around with that. And as the host, you put people in a breakout room and I think you can bring them back into the main room. But it’s a, it requires a little bit of, of technical dexterity. Sorry Ally, go ahead.

Ally Dommu: Nope. All, good. And then one other thing I would recommend is building in time, for, you know, some other types of more analog participation while you’re doing your online meeting. For example, you can say, you know, put a, put a slide up or ask people “think on your own for two minutes, about the topic that we just discussed”. Please, you know, weigh in and think through what are the, threats, or you know, strengths of this, of this proposal, this plan, or this, you know, problem that we’re solving. And then we’re going to convene again online in two minutes. So you’re giving people these pause points, to put the computer aside for a second, think, If you need them to, come back and then you could foster that group dialogue again, whether that’s in the form of a vote or in an a go around. There’s also popcorn style, which is, just having people, you know, pop in their answers. You could ask people to pop in, pop in their answers or their, their contributions through the chat. So I would encourage, you know, being creative with using, you know, offline participation while you’re in this online context too, I think that also is productive and something to think about.

Sarah Durham: Great. I want to add a couple of, a couple of other tools that I think are useful when you’re facilitating a meeting. The first is that, you know, when, when we’re using tools like Zoom, it’s very easy to get excited about using Zooms features. Like Zoom has a thumbs up feature or a voting feature or the breakout room feature. But don’t forget that if you’re on video people see you, physically and you can use your hands or use other things. So at Advomatic, one of the little visual cues that people use is if you want to speak you, you have your fingers crossed like this onscreen. So if we’re in a room with 20 people and Ally wants to say something, she goes like that, then I can see that she wants to make a comment. It’s also very handy to do thumbs up or you know, to vote with your fingers.

Sarah Durham: There is a, there is a rule and I’ll get the percentages wrong, but it’s called Maharabian’s rule. It’s that, it’s the idea that only a very small percentage, I think it’s something like 15% of our communication is through words. A big amount of our communication is through our tone of voice and through our bodies. So this is one of the ways that I think, you can, you know, you can request that your team uses video is by saying to them, if you use video, we have the ability to see, to see that you’re engaged and you can vote or participate with your face and with your hands. You can’t with just your voice. We have some other questions and some comments here and some great ideas. So before we keep going and, and talk about what to do after the meeting, I want to just, I wanna just share some of these. Okay. Ally, here’s a, here’s a great question. I think, this comes in from Paola. She’s asking, do you have any tips for managing strong versus quiet personalities and how to include everybody in a virtual meeting?

Ally Dommu: Great. So absolutely. I think that the norms help, you know, but of course that’s not, that’s not a tried and true, you know, technique is establishing that from the get go. I think for, especially for those that are not as comfortable speaking up online, those that are a little bit more quiet, encouraging the use of the of the chat function is great. So writing in, writing in reactions, writing in ideas and it also really emphasizes the importance of prep. You know, getting materials to people in advance for those that aren’t as comfortable, you know, thinking on the spot, adding ideas, you know, you know, on the fly, getting people a little bit of time to review materials to think about the question at hand. I think that goes a long way towards making people feel comfortable on the spot in a meeting.

Ally Dommu: And then also giving time afterwards for saying, if you weren’t able to participate today or you know, you have an idea comes up or you would prefer and feel comfortable, more comfortable, you know, chiming in, in another format we could, we could do a part two, you can email me afterwards. So really I would say in any meeting, and especially online, making space for all voices. That means the quiet voices, as well. That really helps to make an inclusive meeting. So we would definitely want to make sure your online meetings are as inclusive, if not more than your in person meetings.

Sarah Durham: I want to add to that too. You can, you can layer in norms that are requests to the personalities that are bigger to step back so you could have a norm, we had a meeting in the, in the fall, where, where I actually set a norm, which was for the leadership team at Big Duck to speak last. And that wasn’t necessarily about dominant personalities. It was more about power dynamics that we wanted to make sure in this meeting that we heard from a wide array of our staff and we were concerned that, if the leadership spoke early, then people who not consider themselves to be in positions of power would be less inclined to speak. So that, that’s not unique to online meetings, but I think it’s a useful, a useful tool. Another question — do you have specific examples of ways people can raise their hand? I’ve heard of a strategy called stack and not sure how to implement it correctly. I don’t know what stack is. I’d be interested in that, but I would say that in Zoom you have a raise your hand feature that is digital and you can, if it’s the, if there aren’t hundreds of people, you can literally raise your hand and it’s good to establish a norm if you want to speak. If you wanna speak to do that.

Ally Dommu: I want to add to the question about the, maybe someone that’s taken up a little bit too much space in an online meeting or hearing from the same voice again and again. A nice way to frame that as a norm is, what we call make space take space. So in an online setting, being conscious of how you make space for others, right? For other people to chime in and then take space, right? As in like, you know, please, we want to encourage you to participate so it’s not as a norm. Okay. We have a norm around making space, taking space, you know, making sure we’re all conscious of how we’re all taking up space in this virtual world that we’re operating in. That is, that provides more objective language if you need to chime in as the facilitator, you know, let’s make space for others to chime in.

Ally Dommu: And another way to do that is just, you know, if you’re getting this, you’re getting a lot of participation from one perspective, you can jump into it. I’d love to get a, you know, a, a perspective of, of a program staff member or, you know, let’s get the volunteer perspective on this one. Let’s get the donor perspective, to bring in and encourage a wider variety of perspectives on the question that you’re tackling. Obviously diversity of ideas and contributions and perspectives is always great for any type of, you know, for productivity, brainstorming, idea generation. So that’s another way that you can, encourage that.

Sarah Durham: I want to also, address, I want us to address some questions we’ve got here about the tools you use. So, so one of the questions from Juanita, those of us who are using, we use a lot of charting when facilitating meetings. What are some ways to do that virtually that are not too distracting. So I want to, I’m just going to chat out to you, a tool that, that actually has been used at Advomatic we haven’t used it a lot at Big Duck called which is almost like a post-it. It’s a free post-it digital tool. You can make a post it and move it around. A lot of the meetings we do at Big Duck and Advomatic we use Google docs, shared Google docs. So you, I got a question earlier from somebody who asked, can you be on screen with webcam and share a document in Zoom? Yes, you can. And you can do something like have the host sharing the Google doc on their computer so everybody can see that, but also have multiple people logged in. And that’s kind of, it’s, I think that’s pretty compelling. You can actually see people co-creating or co editing in something like a brainstorming. And those who can’t participate can, can watch the host. Ally, what other, what other tools do you think help in a meeting? People brainstorm and collaborate in, you know, in documents or things like that. Anything I missed?

Ally Dommu: Yeah, we’ve been collecting some of those at Big Duck. I think we can share that in follow up. For the most part we use Google suite. But something else that I’ve used is, Trello if you’re familiar with, which is kind of like idea grouping, and stacking software, which is awesome. Especially if you have a lot of ideas and you’re trying to synthesize them. I’ve loved that. We’ve done some really great messaging and values generation work using Trello. But you know, don’t, don’t knock, you know, just like a Google doc a blank template and, doc that everyone has access to sometimes is like, you know, simple, but, gets the job done a lot of the time. But we could definitely send some other tech tools that our, especially our creative team has used for things like brainstorming and mood boarding. And you know, other types of idea generation, tech tools.

Sarah Durham: Okay. So I want to keep us moving with some of the things I know Ally has prepared to talk about. I just, before we do that, I want to answer a question I think is important. It goes back to the agenda. We mentioned consent agendas earlier and a couple of you have been asking, what’s a consent agenda and how can we use it? So a consent agenda is an agenda where you, you put, it’s often used with board meetings. You put the motion or whatever you want to get agreement on in it, so that basically in the agenda, I can see what you’re going to ask me to vote on and hopefully, it can be, it can be approved in one action. So you might have multiple things in a consent agenda and ask for one vote to approve all of those things, and if you just Google consent agenda, you’ll find more.

Sarah Durham: But interestingly, Beale chatted in that they use, they love using red, yellow and green, like a stop light agendas that they send agendas beforehand. Folks add their relevant working points ahead of time. And we spend the majority of our time strategizing red and yellow activities, which helps us prioritize when things are busy. So I love that example because it’s such a good use of how doing some asynchronous prep time in a Google doc or something, can save you so much time in the meeting and make the meeting so much more productive because you’re focused on the things you actually really need to discuss where there isn’t alignment versus a thing where there’s misalignment. Ally, have we covered everything you wanted to cover about running the meeting or is there more you want to talk us through?

Ally Dommu: Just something to also just keep in mind is, the importance of monitoring, monitoring the group as you’re going, in an online meeting, especially, you know, building in time, pause points. You know, in any type of facilitation you kind of want to be both structured and responsive, nimble, agile. So I would recommend thinking about doing that, checking in with the group. How’s everyone’s energy level, you know, if it’s a long meeting, you know, taking a pause point, checking, checking in with people about their tech, you know, any issues that anyone needs to solve. Should we keep moving, things like that. I think that’s really important in an online context.

Sarah Durham: Great. Okay. So let’s talk about, closure and follow up. So again, there’s three modules we’re talking about today. We’re talking about prep, what you can do before the meeting, during the meeting, and then closure and follow up. Give us, give us your advice for how to close a meeting well and what kind of followup will make it powerful.

Ally Dommu: Yes. So it really depends on obviously the goals of your meeting, how you, want to close it. Sometimes the meeting is about making a decision. So if you are heading towards the end of your meeting and it’s not clear that you’ve made the decision that you need to make, you can make sure that the group comes to that, applies to any type of decision rule we call it, to the group. You know, do we have consensus, on this, if that’s what you’re using, a consensus based decision framework or do you feel like we’re 80% there, you know, on this topic that we’ve, that we’ve been discussing. So at the end of the meeting, it’s really time for that wrap up, that decision moment. If that’s the case. I would also add that, you know, in any meeting, but especially online, just demonstrating gratitude for everyone’s contributions, ending the meeting on a positive note, thanking people for, for joining in online and highlighting like the positive outcomes of the meeting.

Ally Dommu: It’s always nice just as we talked about starting with a check-in, ending with a quick go around check in question for example, were your expectations met? What’s one thing you took away from this meeting? What’s one action item you know you’re going to do next? Again, ending that with that sort of like democratic, you know, equalizer to hear again, at the end of the meeting from all voices, it could be quick, you know, it could be a chat in, always a nice way to end the meeting versus abruptly “Okay. Bye”. You know, just to, to bake that in. And then I would also recommend as the facilitator planning a way for you to gather session feedback, in person as well. But I think especially online because of the tech, you know, nuances and complex, complicated factors you know, please give me your session feedback, either any, you know, on the spot feedback, if you feel comfortable with that or let us know if you know, you have any feedback about the way the meeting was run and especially if you’re new to conducting online meeting.

Ally Dommu: I would think about all of this as like learning and you know, get as much, you know, input back from your participants. What do you feel like is working well about how we’re collaborating and meeting online and what has been challenging and really keep that open communication going and encourage that feedback. And then important of course with any type of, online meeting is the followup with any key next steps. So sometimes it’s great to end with that, you know, articulation right there on the video meeting, you know, okay, we’ve discussed that. Next steps are going to be, we’re going to review this one more time and send our feedback or just, you know, dividing responsibilities. And then, you know, sending in, to your group, follow up any next steps. Notes, obviously, if that’s something that you feel like your group needs and that kind of followup communication is definitely something to keep in mind.

Sarah Durham: Okay. Great. So I want, I want to circle back to a couple things that people are chatting in and, and also elevate a few things. So you know, some of the techniques that Ally just talked about like a go around or an open ended question for closure, my experience using those is that those are great when you’re working with people, you know less well, if you’re doing, for instance, a group brainstorming with peer organizations or you’re trying to facilitate a workshop or something like that where you have a small group because part of what’s great about doing that is it gives you the opportunity to get a sense of how people processed whatever information you shared and you often don’t have access to those people outside of the meeting. So that’s I think a great technique particularly in that a lot of you have chatted in details about what stacking is.

Sarah Durham: And it turns out stacking is something we know what to do. We just didn’t know it was called that stacking is when you basically air traffic control, who’s going to speak. So you might say, first we’re going to call on Bill and then Jane and then Fred and then Paola. And you can do that numerically. You can say you’ll be number one, you’ll number two, people can raise their hands, but somebody chatted in something that I rarely, like a lot that I hadn’t thought of, which is you can also stack by, calling on people who might not have volunteered. So we might ask a question. You’d say, okay, first I want to hear from X, Y, Z, P and Q. Then I want to hear from these other people. And that’s a nice way to, I think, engage people in a conversation who might not be that inclined to talk.

Sarah Durham: Okay. Question here. This is a tricky one. What’s the best way to transition to showing videos? And I think that’s a tricky one because videos don’t always play very well through, through these media. So if for instance, we were now using GoTo webinar or using Zoom, if we wanted to show you a video, either the host can play the video and people are then watching it through a relayed internet connection, which is quite likely to have audio and video disconnects or, what you can do is you can chat out a link to the video and you can say, I’m going to mute everybody. I’m going to ask you to click on this link and watch this video and then we’re going to wait and give me a thumbs up in Zoom after you’ve watched the video and then we’re going to discuss the video.

Sarah Durham: So you can, you can treat something like watching a video, almost like an exercise, for navigating that. By the way, I want to flag, we are now, we’ve got 13 minutes to go. I think another important practice of, of online meetings is being conscious of time and time checking. So we’re, we are now transitioning into questions and suggestions and we’re going to go a little bit popcorn style. I’m going through some of the questions and comments I’ve gotten from people, throughout this session. And what I’m going to try to do is focus on the questions that I think are most universally applicable and throw in some suggestions. So one suggestion from Jess, use headphones with a built in microphone to reduce the potential of feedback if there is a lag. That’s a great suggestion. Another, another suggestion related to that is encourage people if they have a weak internet connection instead of having audio and video on the internet connection, dial in on a phone and then have video by internet. A lot of times when the internet connection is crummy, people turn off their video but then you lose that as a touch point. So if you have your, you separate out your phone and your internet, you can get more full participation. Ally, any comments on any of those? I’m just looking at the questions and I want to pull out a few.

Ally Dommu: I would also something as a preface you could ask people to, I mean obviously there’s so much pressure on, bandwidth right now as so many people have moved online, but you could do a test of your internet speed beforehand. So if you know that you need your participants to watch a video, something that’s a little bit more demanding, on the bandwidth, then you can ask people to run a test.There’s a quick Google search, you could find a way to run this, the speed of your internet and make sure,, the uploading and downloading speeds are sufficient for streaming that kind of content. So that’s something to keep in mind.

Sarah Durham: So a lot of the questions we have here are relate to issues of accessibility and inclusion. So let’s, let’s talk about that first. Doves chatted in speaking of inclusion, setting norms for inviting folks to share their pronouns so they can be addressed respectfully. That is a great norm. It’s something we use at Big Duck in all of our meetings. One of the ways I think you, you can do that, you know, and another, another thing you can do with norms in an online meeting you can do in person is have a slide and you know, the slide can list the norms, but you can also have an introduction slide. Like if you’re going to ask people to go around in a meeting and introduce themselves, give them a slide with what you want them to say. Is it, you know, is it their name, their title, their pronoun, where they’re from, whatever it is. Ally, anything else you’d add to, inclusive norm setting?

Ally Dommu: I think that obviously thinking about language, you know, if you have people that are, coming in with, that speak different languages, multi-language participants, then thinking about that in advance to make sure that people are, able to communicate with one another. And I would also say going back to the, hearing, making sure that there’s different ways to participate, right? So there was necessarily not necessarily one way to participate based on what people most feel comfortable with. So that might be using the chat, that might be talking, that might be participating through some other type of forum. But, to make a meeting as inclusive as possible so that you are encouraging and fostering participation, that you have set up different ways of engaging in that meeting and you’ve thought through that in advance.

Sarah Durham: Ann Marie also adds in Zoom. You can go in and you can rename yourself. So if you log into Zoom through your company’s, you know, tool, it’s gonna, it might default to something, but you have the ability to go in and rename yourself and you can also add your pronoun there or anything else you want to add too. Let’s talk about accessibility. There are a lot of people asking questions about how do you help people who have different abilities get access to some of the interactive features or, or other tools. And one of the things I have wondered about, and I haven’t tried this, so I’d be interested in any of you have, is if people have experimented with using Temi to do, to do transcriptions of meetings in, in real time in Zoom. So, one thing I have done is like a video like this for instance, after it’s recorded, you can upload it to a tool like Temi or and those tools will transcribe for you.

Sarah Durham: So, is done by, I think it’s done by robots. It’s very, very fast. You get your transcription very quickly and it’s very inexpensive. has some human components, so transcriptions cost a little more and they don’t come back quite as quickly, but they come back cleaner. They come back with a little bit of editing. What I wondered about is if, if Temi actually has, if you were recording with Temi and you could be posting as the meeting is progressing in chunks, a Temi transcription, for people with a hearing impairment. Any other suggestions about accessibility? I mean, there’s so many ways that we want to make people, whether they speak a different language, whether they have a different, type of ability around sight or hearing. Any other suggestions? Ally?

Ally Dommu: I was thinking about, just the range of, of comfort level with technology. You know, and sometimes tech feels so inaccessible because it feels so complicated and especially if you’re asking participants to use a tool, a tech tool they’ve never used before to, you know, host a meeting using a tech tool they haven’t used, something you could do as an organization is maybe, you volunteer, someone, you ask someone to volunteer to be a, sort of like the in house, you know, consultant for managing that tech. And to be responsive to questions. You could ask someone to volunteer to, you know, participants and say, if you need a tour of how to use Zoom or how to use, FaceTime or Google, you know, Google Hangouts, whatever you’re using, making that person accessible. And you know, walking them through step by step of how to actually, get online, and, and learning that tech tool. I mean I think video is obviously great for online meetings, but you know, phone calls are also, you know, probably something that more people feel comfortable with. So again, thinking about how do you foster a meeting and plan a meeting so that if someone is just calling in because that’s what they’re comfortable with, that they have a good experience as well.

Sarah Durham: A couple of couple of comments. First of all, somebody chatted in that Google meet offers real time transcription and apparently Zoom also has a real time transcription function too, although it only works in English, so it might be depending on, a Google Hangouts video, calls on G suite has closed captioning. So it sounds like some of these tools are getting more sophisticated, at least with, with subtitling and transcribing. Okay. A lot of questions here. I’m going to try to keep them universal. This is an easy one. Is there a dress code when you use video conference at home? What do you think?

Ally Dommu: Oh man. Is there a dress code? I think that, you have to think about your organization and the participants that are coming to your meeting and go from there. Sometimes you know, people use, you know, professional on top, you know, cas on the bottom sweatpants on the bottom. Personally I try to still, you know, even though I’m currently calling you from my in laws house in suburban New Jersey, I put on a button up shirt. And you know, presented myself, you know, with this lovely plant, you know, thinking about the aesthetics and the surroundings and that kind of thing. So no, I don’t think there’s a universal dress code. I would just think through what the vibe and culture is at your organization and of the particular meeting that you’re hosting and go from there.

Sarah Durham: Yeah, I totally, I totally agree. And you know, I was talking to Hannah Thomas who’s one of the strategists at Big Duck on Ally’s team and she said something that I think is very applicable there. She said in online meetings, in some ways it’s, you prepare visually for an online meeting, the way you prepare for theater. Like, if you were getting on stage for a play, you might put on, you know, more extreme makeup or you might gesticulate on stage in a more extreme and dramatic way and you know, doing that, communicates more. So your clothing is one part of that, but I think I would encourage you to not just think about clothing, but think about all the, you know, all of the visual cues that you can use, to communicate. Somebody chatted in, Bradley, chatted in, an interesting comment. And I know you’ve read this book, Ally. I’m reading it right now. There’s a book by Priya Parker called The Art of Gathering. We have a book club at Big Duck and Advomatic and we’re ironically reading The Art of Gathering right now. So Bradley’s question is how about online gatherings that are meant to be interactive? I think we’ve kind of covered that generally. But Ally, anything you would add to that? Thinking about The Art of Gathering?

Ally Dommu: Oh man. I know there’s a festival that I just found out about called the, social distancing festival, which is cool. I want to check out with a lot of performances. It’s amazing the creativity that’s happening right now in terms of moving what were in person gatherings to online gatherings. Oh, so I mean, I guess if it’s, you know, thinking about gatherings, thinking about if the goal of a gathering is for connection, for, you know, more, human engagement. You’re not necessarily trying to make a decision but you’re trying to bring people together. I would think about, you know, going from that goal and working from there, you know, if you are bringing people together to make sure people are socially connected and feeling, you know, comforted in, in their community. Thinking about what are the strengths of that existing community, what are the things that you’ve done in person that you could bring online?

Ally Dommu: And just adding, you know, and thinking some other, you know, creative, options for doing that. I think that it’s a time in working online right now is the time for being dynamic and creative with how you’re using online spaces. Getting people to, you know, stand up or to move around and to take their phones and go on a walk. You know, you don’t have to be stuck at your desk when you’re in an online meeting. You know, you can think about getting people to move around in different ways, to connect and engage with people in different ways. Now, last night I was online in a live concert and it was really cool to see the stream of connection that was going on with people commenting and chatting to people. So there are amazing ways for building community and connections in an online basis, especially around like the arts and culture. Pretty phenomenal.

Sarah Durham: So again, to time check, Ally and I are going to stay here and we’re going to answer a few more questions for a few more minutes. But if you have a hard stop at 2, we are just about at the top of the hour and I thank you for joining us. A lot of the questions we are getting are actually around timekeeping. And so I want to share a couple of ideas about that, but we’re getting questions about things like how do you get people to stop making small talk and get into the meat of the meeting at the beginning of the meeting, we’re getting questions about how do we keep our meeting on time? Somebody wrote in that they have a 30 minute meeting and it keeps running over. So I want to share a couple of quick resources about that. I know Ally will too.

Sarah Durham: I am one of those people who is obsessed with time. I feel, it’s really important to keep meetings running on time because to me it’s a symbol of respect for other people’s time and I often use and recommend that other people use a separate timekeeping device in your organization. If you’re, you as an online facilitator are not the kind of person who is obsessed with time in that way, maybe that’s another thing you can assign to somebody. You can ask somebody on your team, for instance, to chime in every 15 minutes or to warn you 15 minutes before the top of the meeting. So think of, think of the role of who’s responsible for time timekeeping, as a distinct function. In terms of getting the meetings started on time. I think that’s a similar thing. It’s kind of like, you know, the, I would say it’s the role of the online facilitator who’s meeting is it and part of what they have to do is call the meeting to order the way you do a board meeting. Ally, what would you add? How do you keep meetings focused on time?

Ally Dommu: I mean obviously having an agenda is lovely because then you could use that as an objective, you know, thing to come back to. Okay, we had wanted to be, as you saw on the agenda, talking about this by 2:00 PM, we’re running behind, so I’m going to pause this conversation if we have time at the end to come back to it. So coming back to that agenda. And I think it’s important to really be respectful of people’s time and to know that, you know, a lot of people might be going, jumping off this one meeting and getting onto the next. So I would definitely recommend as a rule of thumb, as at about 10 minutes before the meeting to just have that pause point and say, we are 10 minutes. You know, it seems like there’s still a lot to talk about and name, Is there anyone that is able to stay on a few more minutes? We encourage you to do so if that’s possible. And, you know, just to, to name where you’re at in the meeting and to get consent from people to go over, you know, it really, it could feel disrespectful to participants when it’s, you know, 10 minutes after a meeting is supposed to end and you’re still talking and you haven’t even acknowledged it. So I would say that time management and time keeping in a meeting, it’s, it’s just a way of being respectful of people’s times and making it an inclusive, space that people feel like they want to be in and that they’re, you know, being respected for being there.

Sarah Durham: And I totally agree in to that point. I am gonna cap us at two more questions so that we don’t go too far over here. first I want to read a comment and then we’ll go to two, two questions. This comment is, great. It says this person wrote, and I was on a Zoom meeting today and the facilitator did a great job opening up and setting norms to note that “we’re all in unusual spaces and may have unusual distractions. That is okay”. That was a nice way to make people feel more comfortable and on equal footing, especially at times when your kids are at home. And I think that’s a great comment. I’ve been in a lot of meetings where there are family members, pets, people walking by. And I think setting that as a norm, is, is a great, a great point.

Sarah Durham: This is a quick one. Lighting can be a problem. What do you suggest? I have a couple of suggestions. The first thing is try to have any lighting sources in front of you, not behind you. So you can see, for instance, the room I’m in, there’s a window behind me. I’ve shuttered and closed that window because backlighting makes it hard to see people’s faces. I have a, lamp in front of me to shed light on my face. So think about lighting your face from the front. ideally not from the back or the side as I have here. Okay. And our, last question. Ae have, there’s actually a group of things here that I’m trying to all together. Okay. Thoughts on asking people to mute if they aren’t speaking? You know, my, my quick answer to that is, is make it a norm, upfront, set your norm for that upfront or you as the host might say, coming out of the gate. I am muting everybody on this call to begin with. Please unmute yourself if you would like to speak. Ally, what’s your recommendation for norms around muting?

Ally Dommu: I think, I love the idea of setting a norm around it. That’s great. And then I would also say, you know, the background noise, especially right now when people have family around roommates, you know, friends, and they’re at home, I think that the background noise can be distracting. So I do think as, you know, generally as a norm, it’s probably best, especially if it’s a big group meeting and there’s, you know, more than a handful of people participating to mute yourself if you’re, if you’re not speaking.

Sarah Durham: Great. Okay. So for those of you who did not join us, at the very beginning may not have heard me said this, we have recorded this conversation generally as a rule. I think it is great practice to record your online meetings as long as you tell the people that they are being recorded. In fact, some states have laws around that that you cannot record without notifying the participants. So this conversation has been recorded. We will be sending out a link to the recording and posting it with the transcription of it if you’d like to, pull out any notes or meetings, and that will be online next week and we’ll send the email out as soon as we have that all posted. I want to thank you all for taking the time to join us today and thank Ally for sharing her profound wisdom with us and and encourage you all to to email [email protected].

Sarah Durham: Give us feedback on this webinar. I also want to flag, I’m doing another webinar next week. It’ll either be Tuesday or Friday, it’ll be online later today about fundraising right now. It’s going to be specifically focused on fundraising communications, and I’ll be doing it collaboratively with Sevil Miyhandar from CCS fundraising. So if your organization is struggling with trying to figure out if you should be pursuing your year end appeal or your big campaign, I hope you’ll join us for that. That will also be free. and thank you all and, good luck with your online meeting facilitations we hope this was helpful. Bye Ally!

Ally Dommu: Bye Sarah. Bye everybody.

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Sarah Durham

Sarah Durham is the Founder, Board Member at Big Duck

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Ally Dommu

Ally Dommu is the Director of Service Development, Worker-Owner at Big Duck

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