Corporate meetings are now conducted with a mix of on-site and remote participants, so we need to tweak our productivity strategies.
That is probably the most complicated constellation to be a chairperson of. Here are some tips to keep things productive and fruitful:
- Manage the cadence
The number one challenge in my mind is latency. People in one room, they know in a nanosecond when they can speak and when it is their turn. People on the phone line need much more time to decide that it is their time to speak. As chairperson, you must manage the cadence of the meeting. You must stop the meeting at times and prompt those who are on the phone to speak up.
- Control the verbiage
If somebody who is in the room is speaking for too long, you have to interrupt them and invite others to speak, because in a meeting with remote attendees, you have to have shorter intervals and you have to have longer breaks between when people are saying something. This is so that everybody feels good about speaking up, when they have something to say. And if somebody is not speaking up, then you should draw out the person and ask for his or her opinion.
- Help participants identify who spoke what
Another challenge is knowing who is saying what. Even if we think we know each other, we may be mistaken on the voice. Those on webcams may also not necessarily have a good view of those in the physical meeting venue (or necessarily even paying visual attention when they are focusing on spoken words).
Therefore, as a chair person, you can often help by saying, “Thank you to Tim” or “that was Jane saying this”. Also, if people in the room start making visual gestures that are visual only, you have to explain them. You have to tell those on the line that somebody stepped out of the room, somebody is showing a victory signal, somebody is going under the table. Whatever it is, you have to explain it to those who are not in that same physical room.
- Recap and reiterate
It often makes sense to repeat or summarize the key points that have been raised, because in a distributed meeting, not everybody is paying attention at every moment, so you will give them a second chance to understand what has happened so far, and what is happening.
- Facilitate a concurrent back channel
My final piece of advice to make a meeting really productive is: it is good to have an instant messaging session or another way for people to type in their comments and questions for everybody to see. This allows for there to be a back channel and a back discussion, that does not disrupt the main discussion, but can add value to it. And you can handle the small questions in writing and let the meeting flow as it should flow.
When you follow these tips—they are simple to list but may not that simple to implement—you can run very productive meetings with both remote attendees and on-site participants.