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A fresh look at meetings as we head back into the office

Welcome Back

It is refreshing to be engaged in business meetings again. Real, live meetings, with people physically in those meetings. There is a vibrancy of people being in the same room that has been missing from our lives for more than a year.

This month I had an excellent discussion with  Noel Sobelman  which will be featured in an upcoming episode of the  Innovation+Talks podcast . Noel was talking to me from a hotel room. He is working onsite with his customers and he is very glad to be doing so again. There is nothing like the interaction of humans in a room, especially when the topic is related to innovation. Noel said it was good to be with people and that it was good to be using a real whiteboard again instead of a virtual whiteboard. I get it.  

Adapting During the Year of Virtual  

All things considered, we adapted rather well. We learned to work remotely. We learned to have patience when others were talking. We learned that we needed to do something extra to fully engage others in the conversation, and we learned just how to do that. We found techniques that worked, such as using cameras, raising our hands and using chat.

We held breakout sessions. During a virtual event in 2020, I was in a “room” where we suddenly saw a message on our screens that said we were going to be put back into the main meeting in two minutes, and then the countdown started. It was effective at getting us to conclude our breakout and gathering us all together again. This worked surprisingly well. In fact, it was better virtually than in-person because the organizers could call everyone back from the breakout room.    Those of you who have participated in events with breakout sessions know that it often works like this:

  • People break out and make notes on a flip chart.  
  • Then, they bring these notes into the larger group meeting.  
  • Someone from the breakout session talks to the notes.  
  • Then, the sheets are pasted on the wall for reference throughout the rest of the conference.  

Unfortunately, this portion did not work well in our virtual meeting.   

For all the good things we figured out during our time apart, there are some things that we didn't do well. In my case, we held a meeting and needed to put stickies on a wall and group them. A common task that we could do, but it wasn't as good as in person.

Meetings Before, During, and After the Pandemic 

We may always think of business as BP, IP and AP:   

  • Before Pandemic 
  • In Pandemic, and  
  • After Pandemic 

I imagine business AP can be so successful that our ways of working BP are no longer relevant and are becoming so quickly. And our memories of IP will fade away.

But there are some good techniques we learned IP that we really should keep using AP. It would be a mistake to go back to BP ways of working.

Before Pandemic, we still had meetings and teams that were remote. If the entire team was in one room, those meetings experienced a high level of attendee engagement and participation. If the entire team was remote, no two people together in any room, those meetings also experienced a high level of attendee engagement and participation. We may not have had the best tools available to us, but we made it work as best we could. It was not all that effective, so people still traveled so that they could be together in one room. The benefits outweighed the cost, and these benefits were obvious.

But there were always a few people who could not make it and they attended “remotely”. This is where the problem was. If eight people are in a conference room and two are remote, engagement and participation really suffer. We've all been one of these two. It was often impossible to get a word in and sometimes very hard to follow, especially any side conversations. The audio was often hard to hear. And there was no way to read the room, to understand the dynamic.

Our customer  Steve Moskowitz , Entegris Director of Digital Transformation, spoke to this phenomenon during our  April 2020 Crisis Response webinar  

The two big things we are seeing are a shift in our meetings — gate meetings, team meetings, portfolio meetings — where we typically have 60 to 70% of the folks in one room and everybody else calling in. When you have those meetings, the folks on the phone would pretty much be second class citizens, right? They will not always participate fully. They might present but they would not come in and ask all the questions. And you would really get the meeting dominated by the people in the room. We have seen a nice shift, with everybody being virtual it is a much more democratized conversation. Everybody is more engaged. Everybody is more involved. You do not have that one or two people dominating the conversation anymore. And so, it has been interesting to see a shift from being in person to everybody being remote, and having better teamwork that way, better conversations.”  

During the pandemic, once we figured how to have meetings, many sticking points were smoothed over and virtual meetings became more effective.   

Another Example: Selling Virtually 

Remote selling, using virtual technology, has its challenges. But I recently had a fun experience.  I was in a meeting, and everyone was remote including the customer attendees. The purpose of the meeting was to talk about our product and how it can solve the customer's needs. And it included a demonstration. The customer host of the meeting told his entire team to put all questions in the chat and we would address them after the meeting. This is like the “parking lot” that goes on a flip chart in live meetings; however, when questions are asked this way they do not disrupt the flow of the meeting. Collecting questions this way is very effective. And it enables the overall meeting to stay in its flow.

But there's more. I was not one of the active presenters, so I was watching that chat and watching the flow of the meeting. Although unplanned, I started answering the questions as they were asked in the chat. If Linda asked a question, I could reply with the answer: “Linda, …”. I could address Linda by her name. That made it personal for her and made her feel appreciated. And she got her answer. The entire chat, and all replies, were open to everyone in the meeting. Everyone could see the questions and the answers.

And in the end, the customer had a record of all the questions and answers. They didn't have to try to remember or try to keep notes. That's new.   

What we should keep doing 

Earlier this month, we at Sopheon had an executive meeting where many of the execs traveled to be together. Some could not make it. I was all set to be there, went to the airport and experienced a five-hour flight delay and then never made it to the destination  (hmmm… are we sure that it's good to be able to travel again?).  We kept using the techniques we established during the pandemic. In the end, it was a very effective meeting and I fully participated as a remote attendee.

Here are three behaviors in meetings we honed during the global pandemic that we should continue to use:  

  • Keep the virtual meeting with everyone as a participant Have everyone, even those in the room, in the virtual meeting with their cameras on (everyone travels with a laptop or iPad, right?). This is very effective for those who are remote. It was just like we've been doing for the past year. All attendees can see people, see their expressions, no matter where they are. Everyone is “present” in the meeting. It is amazing what this does for engagement and participation. 
  • Raise hands.  Continue the practice of raising hands, especially for the remote people. The people in the room need to watch for and respond to the raised hands. It is a great way to get keep engaged and make their participation effective. 
  • Chat Chat can really enhance a meeting, so keep doing it. It is a way to add value without disruption. If everyone is “in” the virtual meeting, including all of those in the physical meeting, the chat continues to be of value. 

Moving forward  

What new habits and behaviors in meetings would you like to see as we emerge from this year of change? Comment below or feel free to  reach out to me on LinkedIn.

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