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  • Writer's pictureLouise Carnachan

Zoom-bah Humbug

Initially it was fun to see everyone in their Hollywood Squares, especially if virtual meetings were new to you. Soon the thrill of waving to each other, having figures walk out of their boxes ala Harry Potter, and the secrecy of private chats became ho-hum. Meetings are much as they’ve always been— disorganized.

In an earlier post I wrote about the necessity of agendas. You need norms too. These rules of the road are designed to avoid conversational crashes. When we’re not physically co-located, nonverbals often go unnoticed. People talk over each other, a lot. Most prone to these problems are groups of five plus.

The various meeting platforms offer similar tools: icon to raise hands, chat functions, mute options, video on/off. Construct agreements to make communication as smooth as possible. Items to consider:

  • Ask regular meeting participants to gain a thorough understanding of all aspects of the platform

  • Decide if the person who reserved the meeting site is also the moderator. If not, reassign those functions

  • Ask individuals to use “mute” to eliminate extraneous noise

  • Agree that people will speak in the order of hands raised (the platform should signal this automatically)

  • Decide who conducts unmuting: the moderator or the individual who wishes to speak

  • Ask participants to turn video on with enough light in the room so facial expressions are visible

  • Agree to stay engaged and not stray to other devices. This means meetings should be short and/or have breaks

  • Determine how free-form discussions are handled so someone in “broadcast mode” isn’t allowed to hijack (i.e., have a time limit for folks to wrap it up)

  • Decide whether materials will be emailed in advance or screen sharing will be used

  • Determine the protocol for when computers freeze up (example: agree to sign out and log in again. If that doesn’t work, call into the meeting. If that doesn’t work, text or call another member to get on speaker phone). Although attractive, abandoning the meeting isn’t the first (or third) option

If you’re conducting training sessions, the webinar vs. meeting platform is much better suited for audience involvement and learning. A friend of mine, Cynthia Clay (, has written a best practices book on this topic, Great Webinars. If you’re repurposing your classroom-based instruction and materials to online learning, check it out.

What bugs you most about virtual meetings? What improvements do you recommend? Please comment in the box below.

Sending you appropriately physically distanced encouragement—and a reminder to stand up and move around more.

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