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Meetings, Workshops, and Presentations: Success in Facilitation Styles With Distributed Teams

by Sococo Bob

If you work in a traditional office environment, you probably don’t give much thought to your day-to-day interactions with your teams. Whether it’s a brief meeting, a formal presentation for the C-suite, or a workshop with your customers, the style of your communication comes pretty naturally. But if you work remotely—or if some of your other team members are distributed across time zones—something as simple as a daily check-in meeting suddenly requires a bit more thoughtfulness and planning.

But don’t lose faith! With a little practice (and a lot of preparation), your distributed team can conduct meetings, workshops, and presentations just as smoothly in a virtual environment as if you were all in the same room. Here’s how:

For Quicker and More Efficient Meetings

Assign Roles Ahead of Time

Who owns your meeting? Is the person in charge also responsible for taking notes and emailing out action items afterward? The easiest way to make sure your meetings make the most of the time available is to set expectations in advance.

Bring an Agenda

Outline for everyone in attendance what the meeting’s objectives are, as well as any specific line items up for discussion. Create timeboxes for each section of the meeting, and if your team starts to veer off-course, gently steer them back on track.

Large meetings should be reserved for big-picture thinking—avoid getting into the nitty gritty with too many people involved. If Sarah and Paul are circling round and round about a solution to a product glitch while the rest of the team starts to nod off, suggest a sidebar to keep things moving for the rest of the team.

For More Interactive Workshops

Monitor Audio and Video

If you’ve ever hosted a webinar through a service like Go-to-Webinar, you know that attendees are often automatically placed in “listen-only” mode. That’s great if you’re delivering a presentation (more on that later), but what if you want to have an interactive learning experience? The mute button has got to go.

In your promotional materials—and again in your live introduction—let everyone know that you welcome active participation and people should adjust their audio settings to LOUD AND PROUD! If the workshop is only partially interactive (a presentation followed by Q&A or something similar), make a note of that as well. Provide clear instructions to your audience so that they know when and how to chime in.

Attendees: Be Bold! Be Brave! Speak Up!

Everyone remembers those awkward Lit classes from high school when nobody had an opinion on Hamlet’s “To Be or Not to Be” speech. The teacher stood patiently at the front of the class, pleading with her eyes for someone to answer while students grimaced for the moment to be over. If you thought that was painful, imagine how much worse it could be in a virtual workshop: people all over the country blinking at their screens, literally twiddling their thumbs as they wait for the dead air to end. Ouch.

As a workshop attendee, you have to do your part, too. If the leader of the workshop is encouraging participation, get in there and get ready to participate! Turn on your camera, turn on your mic, participate in the polls or Q&A. Not only will it make for a much smoother workshop, it’s the only way you’ll take away useful information from the experience.

Be Flexible

You never know where a learning session might lead—it has the capacity to be completely different every time based on who’s participating. And that’s awesome! But it does mean that unlike with repetitious meetings, for a workshop to be any good both the organizers and the attendees need to be flexible.

Go with the flow each interaction brings and learn from your experiences. Hold a retrospective after each session with your team and discuss your wins and your learnings, and if necessary, pivot to a new strategy for next time.

For Hiccup-Free Presentations

Practice, Practice, Practice

Before you deliver a presentation to your distributed team, test everything. Test the timing and delivery of your slides; test your audio, camera, and screen sharing features; and test your audience’s settings. The more prepared you are ahead of time, the fewer technical glitches you’ll face. (And the easier it will be to embrace the chaos and troubleshoot when you do!)

Tag a Team Member to Be Your Wingman

There is so much going on during a virtual presentation. You’ll have your hands full just delivering your speech and managing your slides, so to help you keep things as simple as possible, tag a team member to handle everything else. That person can tackle Q&A, address problems that arise for your remote listeners, and distribute materials or notes as needed during the talk.

Whenever Possible, Encourage Face-to-Face Time

Physical offices and events have the advantage of in-person communication. When Jerry isn’t paying attention to what you have to say, you can read it in his body language (or, if he’s particularly brazen, you can actually watch him scrolling through emails on his phone). But if you’re talking to your team members over a conference line or through virtual office software, who knows what distractions are stealing their attention away? They could be playing a poker game on mute, and you would be none the wiser.

Whenever possible, use technology that allows and encourages face-to-face conversations. Ask your team members to close the other tabs in their browser and take their hands off the keyboard. Even a distributed team can take the time to (mostly) unplug and focus on the task at hand, regardless of the format.