Monthly Archives: April 2016

Rules of Order for Videoconferences, Part 2

Last week, I wrote up a few Rules of Order for Videoconferences, focusing on reducing disorientation and on building connections with people. This post continues the list and proposes rules for having fruitful discussions and helping participants come to agreement. These ideas are pretty useful in any kind of meeting, not just videoconferences.

I’m dividing the Rules of Order for Videoconferences into the stages of the Grove Facilitation Model, shown here, in case you’re curious about my categories and where this is going. More about the model later.

Image of The Grove Facilitation Model

The Grove Facilitation Model v. 5.0. © 2006, The Grove Consultants International.

 

Rachel’s Rules of Order for Videoconferences: Part 2 (continued from Part 1)

C. Drawing Out Information

  1. Listen for understanding — not to respond. It’s natural to spend your listening time thinking of what you yourself are going to say in response. Be alert for this in yourself and try to put your own thoughts aside while you focus on what others are saying. If you’re afraid you’ll forget what you want to say, jot a quick note on a piece of paper, then go back to listening. (This is good general practice, not just for videoconferences. Read more about good listening habits here.)
  2. Ask good questions. Instead of following someone’s comments with a statement, try following with a question that invites them to say more. Or, rephrase back to them what you think you heard them say, to check for understanding. It’s often difficult to feel connected to people in video conferences. Asking good questions demonstrates that you’re paying attention and makes the speaker feel like you are really connecting with them.
  3. Be okay with some silence, especially after you ask a question. Silence can feel awkward, particularly on a video call. You ask a question and then nobody says anything, and everyone is just sitting there staring at you! So you start talking again to dispel the awkwardness. Don’t! What’s actually happening in that moment is that people are gathering their thoughts. Introverted thinkers in particular are framing what they want to say. Just sit and look relaxed and interested (even if you are privately freaking out) and leave an inviting space for others to fill. They will.

D. Getting Closure on Commitments

  1. Reflect agreements back to the group. There are lots of ways to do this, but if you’re in a videoconference, use what you’ve got. Keep a big marker and blank paper sheets handy. When an agreement is reached, write it down in large, clear letters and hold it up to the camera. (You might want to make sure your camera doesn’t reverse your image — but test with a friend, because some software shows YOU a mirror image of yourself even though other viewers see you correctly.) Give everyone a moment to read it and ask if it’s accurate. At the end of the meeting, run through them all again, then follow up with an email stating the agreements.
  2. Check for consensus explicitly. We’ve all been in meetings where the convener says, “Everyone in agreement? Yes? Great, let’s move on.” Wait, what? When was I supposed to consider, let alone voice, my level of agreement? Don’t mistake silence for agreement in videoconferences. Try introducing a simple agreement scale (see below). Ask everyone to write the scale down, or email it to them ahead of time. When you need to check for agreement, have everyone review the scale and hold up the number of fingers or otherwise indicate their level of agreement. Recall that consensus can mean no one is vetoing, though for more important decisions you might set a higher baseline of agreement.
  3. Allow responsible parties to state their own commitments. In the interest of time, it can seem expedient for one person to run rapidly through a list of who said they would do what. You’ll get more follow through if you give everyone a moment at the end of the meeting to state for themselves what they have agreed to do. It gives you a chance to address any misunderstandings or unclear action steps, too.

Two Simple Agreement Scales

Five point scale. Everyone holds up the appropriate number of fingers:

1 = totally agree

2 = mostly agree

3 = meh, don’t want to hold everyone up

4 = need to talk about it more

5 = complete disagreement

Thumb scale. Everyone holds their thumb in the appropriate position:

Thumb up: yes

Thumb sideways: not sure yet, maybe more discussion is needed, or it’s okay but not great

Thumb down: nope

The next post will cover Rules of Order for supporting action, monitoring progress, and leveraging learning. As always, remember that any ‘rules’ I share are like the Code of the Pirate Brethren: more guidelines than actual rules.

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Video Conferencing: Rules of Order

Screenshot of Rachel in a videoconferencing window

Seriously, look at the camera.

I’ve found myself in more video conferences than usual lately, so naturally I have been noticing what works and what doesn’t and thinking about why. I used to actually dislike using video in remote meetings. No matter where other people look, they seem to be captivated by something just out of view; all the social cues we get from following another’s gaze simply don’t work; and no matter how I wear it, my hair always looks really bizarre.

Despite all that, I’m starting to change my mind about using video in remote meetings. I’m getting accustomed to it and even starting to enjoy it once in a while.

However, I’ve noticed that it isn’t always used very effectively. As an inveterate fixer, I’ve therefore started to compile a Rules of Order for videoconferences. They’re nothing like as complicated as Robert’s Rules of Order, and strictly speaking they’re not even about order so much as about reducing the confusion and disorientation people feel. I’m still developing it, but here is the beginning of the list.

Rachel’s Rules of Order for Videoconferences

A. Reducing Disorientation

  1. In the first five minutes, have everyone in the meeting say hello and show themselves. This is especially crucial when some people are together in a room but not all of them are on camera at once, and others are remote. It’s very disorienting for the remote folks to hear disembodied voices chiming in unexpectedly. It’s also common politeness to make sure everyone understands who is within earshot.
  2. If some people are on camera, everyone should be on camera. If some participants don’t (or won’t) have video, at least show a photograph or other image of every speaker. The people who are actually on video will seem more present and animated than those who are not. Getting everyone on equal footing helps.
  3. Figure out where the camera is on your device and look at it when you are talking. It feels strange at first because your instinct is to look at the face of the person you are talking to. If you look into the camera, you will be making eye contact while you are speaking. If you look at their face on your screen, you will not. If you’re using a Mac, for instance, the camera is right next to the green dot at the top of your screen. Try moving the video window to the top of your screen so you are naturally looking toward the camera more, then just lift your gaze to the green dot when you speak.

B. Building Connections with People

  1. Look at your camera more than you look at your notes or at other parts of your screen, even when you aren’t talking. See A.3., above. It feels weird for you (at first) but it feels very natural to the person you are talking to. Video conferencing actually allows you to make ‘eye contact’ with multiple people at once, so take advantage of that.
  2. Take time to be social. Ask how people’s day is going, or what they did over the weekend. Really listen to what they say and respond to what you hear. It seems counter-intuitive; doesn’t socializing just waste time in meetings? In fact, everything goes smoother when people are relaxed and comfortable with one another. The few minutes you take in being social will pay off later.
  3. Have a hot drink while you meet, and encourage everyone else to grab a cup of something too. There are several advantages to this. First, if everyone is sipping some of the time, no one is talking all of the time. Second, it may actually make everyone more friendly. A 2008 Yale study seems to indicate that people who hold a warm beverage perceive others as warmer and friendlier, and are more likely to be friendly themselves. If you’ve had too much coffee already by the time your meeting rolls around, try hot water with lemon.

I’m still mulling over some other ideas. Meanwhile, what rules would you add?

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