Over the past few months, we’ve all adjusted to conducting day to day business virtually and have become adept at leading everyday meetings. However, when it comes to strategy, business planning, and ideation workshops, it can be challenging to make them as productive virtually as they are in person. If you are already productive with these types of virtual sessions, that’s great. The rest of this article may have some tips to help you hone your skills. But if you’re feeling uneasy about how to conduct these rigorous team workshops virtually, then this article is most certainly for you.
I’ll cut to the chase with the good news.
Not only can workshops be effective virtually, they offer some distinct advantages vs the in-person version. Let's jump into some of the ways to create superior virtual meetings:
1. Virtual meetings can be optimized for both introverts and extroverts.
Extroverts usually dominate large meetings. Introverts and their great ideas are often absent from the conversation and never see the light of day. With a well-structured online session, it’s easier to give time and space for people to reflect and think, ensure everyone gets to participate, and deliver outcomes that synthesize the ideas of the full group. You can even encourage people to prepare for the session by thinking through their ideas ahead of time.
2. Virtual meetings can be designed to help visual learners excel.
Many of us are visual learners. We like to have something to see, look at, and reflect on. Virtual meetings allow teams to see and collaborate on content in real time. I love using online white boarding tools with my clients. Imagine a world where you can create sticky notes, cluster ideas, prioritize in grids, and use everyone's favorite tool: voting dots. The best part is that with today's technology you don’t have to imagine it. You can use all of these "in-person" tools and let participants see more clearly what they have created collaboratively as it happens.
3. Virtual meetings can eliminate ideation exhaustion or strategy burnout.
Think back to the times you've sat in a workshop. Before it ended, you were probably mentally exhausted. Everyone has been thinking so hard and pushing their creativity for hours and even days. You just don't have anything left. Plus, you are all busy, and it’s a lot to ask people to be away from emails, meetings, our actual "work," and our priorities at home. With online meetings, not everything has to be accomplished in one sitting. You can divide strategy, ideation, and idea development into three separate “mini-sessions” over three days as opposed to cramming everything into one continuous workshop. Keep people fresh and you’ll get better results.
Not only will this approach give you stronger ideas and less stressed participants, but it gives you the chance to adjust the course more easily as the meeting facilitator from one “mini-session” to the next.
4. Virtual meetings create room to think.
In-person workshops can feel pressured. We have to come up with all our ideas and thoughts in a tight time window and fit them on a sticky note in seconds. While some people thrive in that environment, others need time to "sleep on it," "think through it," or just "let it sit." They need to process what has just happened and what has been decided. Virtual meetings offer the gifts of flexibility and time that you can’t get from an in-person meeting. As with burnout, the session does not have to be decided in one or two non-stop days. To create room to think, leave your virtual whiteboard open for a few days and let people post ideas when they are feeling creative or encourage collaboration with others at their own pace.
5. Virtual meetings move more quickly from conversation to deliverable.
Often we leave a workshop with momentum, but then things just seem to fizzle. Maybe we don’t remember the outcomes, maybe the notes take too long to come out, or maybe they end up sitting on a flip chart in someone’s office. By capturing the meeting outcomes online in real-time, we leave immediately with a high-quality presentation to sell our teams and senior management on our ideas and recommendations.
Virtual workshops don’t have to be a compromise. By leveraging their unique features and attributes, you can create engaging meetings with exceptional outcomes that drive business results.