The best preparation for running successful web meetings is teaching synchronous online class sessions.
If you are good at teaching synchronously online class sessions (through platforms like Connect, Collaborate, Skype, BlueJeans, WebEx, Hangouts etc.) you will also be good at running distributed online meetings (through the same platforms).
This should not be a surprise. Teaching is the best preparation that I’ve ever discovered for everything from public speaking to meeting facilitation. Teaching is the hardest thing that I’ve ever done - which makes everything else that one does besides teaching seem relatively easy.
Here are 3 tips for running good synchronous online classes and good web meetings.
Please note that I’m not talking here about running webinars. Webinars are a different sort of awful than an online meeting - in that webinars are 95 percent terrible. Online classes and online meetings are good things however - good things in that they are really conversations. They are small enough where everyone can and should participate.
So the tips below are for numbers of participants from say 5 to 30. Over 30 people in an online meeting or online class and you are in webinar land:
Tip 1 - Own It
Whoever is teaching or facilitating needs to own the digital space.
This is no different from a residential teaching / physical meetings. The instructor / facilitator must be fully in the moment.
They must have the confidence (or at least be able to fake the confidence) to bend the online conversation (both class and meeting) to their will.
This means bringing a high energy / high focus approach to the online class and the online meeting.
I was always exhausted after I taught a good synchronous online class - and I’m always tired after running a good online meeting.
Tip 2 - Be Explicitly Directive
Teaching a successful synchronous online class, and facilitating a good online meeting, means being willing to do something that we are often uncomfortable doing - that is be explicitly directive.
You need to tell people what to do.
This means being willing to tell people that they should speak now. (Or at least explicitly invite them to speak).
This means saying that you will go down the list of participants and ask for comments, ideas and reactions - and then going down that list.
This means telling participants to put on headphones, mute their mics, turn on their cameras, and to basically exhibit good online class and meeting etiquette.
Trust me, everyone in the online class / meeting will thank you. There is nothing worse than online classes and meetings where work is not done. Where objectives are not met. Where the conversation is not distributed. Doing all this takes a firm hand.
Tip 3 - Talk Less
My final tip for anyone teaching an online synchronous class, or running an online meeting, is to talk less.
Your job is to get other people talking.
Your job is to make sure that all voices in the class and on the meeting have been heard.
You should ask questions. You should probe. You should challenge. But you want to get those in the class/meeting fully engage in the conversation.
This does not mean that you should not interrupt. In fact, you are going to have to interrupt. You need to keep the discussion moving and distributed. You need to have a plan for the online time together. You need to have goals for the synchronous session - and you must do what it takes to reach those goals.
Hearing your own voice should not be one of your goals. You already know what you think.
What tips do you have for teaching a great synchronous online class or running a productive web meeting?
Should we talk about how to make webinars less terrible in a future discussion?
How has the rest of your professional life been made to feel easy by your background in teaching?