One-on-one communication can take place easily on the phone or through e-mail. Questions are easy to address because there is no competition for the time or communication resources. Group communication is more challenging. Technology affects the type of exchange that takes place. The users need to know the basic mechanics of the system in order to hear and to speak. The facilitator needs to know how to direct the conversation.
There are different types of group communication, which include:
Virtual group conversations can be very frustrating for people because:
The facilitator's role is to try to prevent these and other issues from taking place in the meeting. Ultimately, facilitation is simply ensuring that all members are respectful of other members and the conversation stays on track.
The objectives of facilitation are to:
When using discussion forums, disruptions and control are not often an issue because participants have equal opportunity to contribute, and they can contribute throughout the day around their work schedules.
Quality communication is informational, thoughtful, and respectful. The following are basic guidelines for the facilitators using audio and video tools:
As a manager, you are likely to be the meeting facilitator. Facilitators are tasked with making sure the meeting runs well and is productive. In online discussions, facilitators also need to:
In any synchronous meeting, three primary factors affect participation dynamics in meetings.
Most techniques used to encourage participation in live, online meetings are the same techniques we would use in a traditional face-to-face meeting. People who process internally are not likely to speak up instantly. When the facilitator gives them time, even though it feels awkward, he or she can encourage the quiet participant to contribute to the conversation.
People who find it easy to speak do not usually need encouragement, but they should be acknowledged. After they have shared their thoughts, the quieter people should be offered adequate time to respond.
In some types of live exchanges, rotation is the best way to handle time fairly. Be sure to allow time at the beginning and end of the meeting for introductions and wrap-up, and allow time for questions and discussion.
A challenge to communicating in a virtual environment is that it provides the quiet participant a better chance to hide and avoid contributing because they aren't physically "there." This makes it all the more important that the facilitator encourages participation. Rotating from one site to another and asking a question like, "Does anyone in Cleveland have a response to the last statement?" may bring the participants to the forefront without addressing one individual directly.
Discussion forums are excellent for bringing out quiet participants. If you struggle getting quieter staff members to share, open a follow-up discussion forum if one is available to you. Solicit ideas related to the meeting topics. This will:
There are certain people that tend to talk a lot, and some that simply like attention. These people can monopolize synchronous live meetings if not kept in check. The way to manage meeting controllers is to:
The last item is the most difficult. When a person known to be vocal is ready to speak, subtly remind them of the limit. For example, you might say, "Bob, the next four minutes are yours. What updates do you have for us?"
If the person is nearing the end of their time limit and appears to intend to go beyond that time, the facilitator needs to interrupt that person and remind him or her of the time constraint. Most people will wrap up at that point, but some will simply continue.
Unless the person is sharing critical information, the facilitator needs to stop the person. He or she might say, "Bob, I need to stop you here so others have a chance to speak. Let's write your topic down so we can hear more of your ideas if we have time at the end of the meeting, or in our next meeting."
When a person is speaking in a live, virtual meeting, all other participants should be as attentive as possible to hear what the speaker is saying. However, little unintentional sounds and behaviors can interfere with the message, including things that wouldn't take place or wouldn't be disruptive in a traditional face-to-face meeting. Consider these noises that are picked up by microphones:
Behaviors can also distract. Listed below are four examples:
And finally, meetings can be disrupted by avoidable technology issues, such as:
To minimize these disruptions, create a list of expectations for the meeting, and communicate them to the participants. The list should include the use of the features available within the system being used, and should include the following:
Additionally, you, as the facilitator, can minimize the time spent on problems by testing for technology issues. You should: