With school closures, event cancellations, social distancing and companies asking their employees to work from home all to slow the spread of COVID-19, many people are considering ways to continue personal interactions without meeting in person. And you may be thinking “What’s Next… virtual Forum meetings?”

It’s Not a New Concept

If you’re considering how to handle your next Forum meeting, a virtual meeting could be a good option. And this isn’t a new concept. Some Forums have been meeting virtually for years. 

  • Brian Brault, former Chairman of EO Global and entrepreneur, has been a member of a virtual Forum for 10 years. His Forum meets monthly on Zoom for 3.5 hours and they meet in person twice a year.
  • Mark Sanna, former two term EO South Florida Chapter President and serial entrepreneur, has been a member of a virtual international Forum for 4 years. His virtual Forum meets quarterly online and once a year in person for several days. (Mark is also a member of 12+ year standard, monthly face-to-face Forum.)

If your Forum is thinking about a virtual Forum meeting, it’s important to start by remembering three key pillars of a healthy Forum: Confidentiality, Communication and Commitment.

  1. Confidentiality 

It is important to be careful about where you are physically located when you meet remotely. Make sure it’s a private place where people can’t hear you or others. Preferably use a headset or bluetooth earpiece to ensure people around you can’t hear what is being discussed. Minimize noise and distractions, don’t have people walking around you or behind you, don’t be driving in your car, etc. Confidentiality must be maintained, and each member of the Forum is responsible for establishing a safe location where confidentiality can be honored during the meeting.

For Forums who still work with paper, this may be an opportunity to up your technology game. Consider setting up a shared space like Dropbox, ShareFile, or Google Drive to share documents like agendas, update forms, presentation information, and Forum Norms/Constitution. Be sure to password protect sensitive files for added security. Some Forums also use fake names or nicknames for each other, just in case something is printed or viewed over your shoulder accidentally. 

  1. Communication 

Remind the Forum that even though you’re not meeting face-to-face, it’s still important to follow the communication protocol of Forum – speak from experience, no direct advice/opinion, mindset of caring, concern and support. Assign a Process Observer as you would in a regular Forum meeting to watch for appropriate language and ensure you’re following the protocol. No judgement or criticism. Be authentic, open and vulnerable.

Be a good listener. Listen with super ears and eyes because you won’t have full body language to observe, just facial expressions. This is why internet speed and a strong audio & video connection are critical. Don’t interrupt or talk over each other.

Some Forums are good about going in a circle, aka round robin. This supports “approximately equal airtime” and that in turn contributes to a healthy Forum experience. Now is good time to get back into this best practice if you’ve slipped away.  And that means round robin, not popcorn, for most parts of the meeting.

Most video rooms offer the ability to raise a hand or type a chat message, which makes choosing your remote meeting software and tools equally important. There are a variety of remote meeting software options, such as Zoom, Skype and GoToMeeting. 

  1. Commitment 

When meeting virtually, commit to the same norms as you would in a regular meeting – prepare in advance, be on time, don’t leave early, be fully present, turn cell phones off, and participate! This also means eliminating distractions, which can be even more complex when meeting from home or the office. 

Don’t skip meeting prep… prepare your update in advance! Just because people can’t see your blank sheet of paper, doesn’t mean you should just wing it. Part of the benefit of the update is the thoughtful preparation that occurs during the few days before your meeting. Coming back to it once or twice before the meeting results in a richer, deeper share with different perspectives than we would see otherwise.

It will also be important to have a meeting agenda and stick to it. Assign a timekeeper to assist the moderator at keeping the Forum on track. Plan to take breaks, at least every 90 minutes, for 5 to 10 minutes, and build it into the agenda. Ensure that expectations are aligned before, during and after the meeting.

First virtual Forum meeting

For your first virtual Forum meeting, plan to start 15 – 20 minutes early to test the technology. Make sure everyone is able to log on, see each other and hear each other! Check lighting to be sure nobody has a brightly lit backdrop that washes out the ability to see the person. 

What about Presentations?

You may wonder how to do a presentation/exploration/deep dive when you’re not all in the same room. The truth is, it’s possible! And we have some tips to help you do this successfully.

  • First, don’t skip the preparation. At a minimum, the presenter should prepare an outline of their situation and a summary statement of the core issue. This helps them organize their thoughts helps them stay on track as they’re presenting the information.
  • For Forums that use a structured coaching process, don’t skip the coach’s meeting. Follow your normal coaching practices.
  • Next, follow the same steps and guidelines that you would follow in a regular presentation/exploration. The moderator guides the Forum through the steps, taking extra care to ensure that everyone participates (or says “Pass”).
  • Consider if you will use a round robin method (go around in a circle) or a popcorn method (free-for-all). With the round robin method, determine the natural order and keep in mind that the order of faces on the screen will vary from one person’s screen to the next. Keeping the flow going smoothly with round robin requires a bit of extra attention to detail. Ask each person for their input in a consistent, circular order. The moderator may want to keep a list of Forum member’s names, call out names for participation and mark a tick next to each name as they share around the circle.
  • At the end of the presentation, debrief on the process. What worked well. What didn’t. Talk about how we might want to change the process for the next presentation.

That’s a Wrap!

At the end of your first virtual meeting, check in with the group… rate the meeting (1 to 10) and ask what we should Stop, Start or Continue doing at future virtual meetings. You may want to do this on a regular basis, at least for the first few meetings. Use this feedback as an opportunity to identify changes or improvements that can help the Forum increase value at your future virtual meetings.

Need Help?

If your Forum is considering virtual Forum meetings and would like some assistance, reach out! We want to help your Forum… that’s what Sherpas do!